More than a pretty face – Celebs should study up, panel says.

At its annual conference in Los Angeles last week, The Council of Foundations challenged celebrities to become more educated advocates for causes they support, the Washington Post reports.

“If you’re going to take something on, you better know what you’re talking about,” actor and director Rob Reiner said in a panel discussion on celebrities’ philanthropic roles. Very few stars can discuss an issue in depth after espousing it, he added.

Reiner founded the I Am Your Child Foundation, which promotes early childhood development programs. He also campaigned for a 1998 state proposition that funded child health programs by raising the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack. The tax generates about $700 million annually.

Actress and singer Shelly Fabares, an advocate for Alzheimer’s research since her mother was diagnosed 12 years ago, agreed that celebrities need to improve their expertise about the causes they support. Fasares was forced to become an Alzheimer’s expert when she was asked to testify on Capitol Hill about the disease, the Post reports

Actress Morgan Fairchild said that too often, celebrities are used in photo opportunities but excluded from substantive debates about issues, the Post said.

Henry Cisneros, head of Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, also spoke. Univision focuses its corporate giving efforts on Latino youth. Cisneros, who sits on the Rockefeller Foundation board, is also secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cisneros said that philanthropies should focus on one issue rather than dipping in and out of faddish causes, the Post reports.

In the panel discussion, Cisneros and Reiner both stressed that foundations must pool intellectual and material resources.

“Organized philanthropy must be serious and systematic,” Cisneros said, especially when government has backed away from experiments in social welfare. “The glue that used to be goverment has eroded.”

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