Not all heroes wear capes. Some don't even wear clothes.
A Los Angeles-based Instagram model believes she's helped raise at least half a million dollars for Australian wildfire relief by offering her nude photos in exchange for proof of a charitable donation. Kaylen Ward, 20, told The Washington Post on Sunday that more than 50,000 people have taken her up on the offer since she posted it on Jan. 3 under the name "The Naked Philanthropist."
"I tried to see if I could get some of my loyal followers to raise some money," Ward said. "I maybe expected to get maybe a few thousand in donations from my followers."
In a not-safe-for-work tweet, Ward instructed her followers to send her their receipts or proof that they donated at least $10 to a designated charity such as the Australian Red Cross, Koalas In Care, and the Australian Lions Foundation. If the receipt appeared to be genuine, she'd send one nude photo for every $10 donated.
Ward said she had about 30,000 Twitter followers when she posted the offer; by Monday, she had more than 200,000.
Ward's fundraising efforts have largely been met with support; some people have tried to dupe her with doctored or duplicate receipts, but the vast majority appear to be genuine. The attention has triggered new headaches for her, though, and a spike in harassing messages, she said.
On Saturday, she said that Instagram shut down her accounts — @thenakedphilantropist, @nakedphilanthropist and @kaylenschaleenward — for violating its sexually suggestive content guidelines. It wasn't immediately clear which posts violated Instagram's guidelines. People have also created accounts posing as Ward and accrued tens of thousands of followers. Even though her own account has been taken down, Instagram hasn't banned the fakes, which have posted dozens of her photos over the course of a few days.
Since donors are sending money directly to the designated charities and not to a fund that Ward controls or distributes, neither she nor The Post could confirm exactly how much cash her act of naked altruism has raised. Ward shared with The Post several videos of her phone screen as she scrolled through hundreds of direct messages and receipts.
The response became so overwhelming that Ward drafted three people to help her manage and respond to all of the requests. Ward said Sunday that she's been "shocked" and overwhelmed by the response.
"It's so surreal and didn't feel like this could be happening," she said. "I'm so happy because it's really personal to me, and I wanted to see people making a difference."
Ward said reading reports about the wildfires spurred her to action having lived through the 2018 Carr Fire in California's Shasta County that killed at least six people and destroyed more than a thousand homes. The Carr Fire threatened her family's home, forcing them to take refuge on a houseboat. Her house was saved, but she said trips to Chico, where her then-fiance's daughter lived, put her in proximity to the Camp Fire, which would turn out to be the deadliest and most destructive in California history.
"We were driving to Chico to pick up my ex's daughter and the skies were purple and yellow and orange. It looked apocalyptic," Ward said. Even after the fires had extinguished, Ward recalled the smoky, eerie air over her home in Lake Shasta.
"You could see and smell the ash in the air. Over on Lake Shasta, everything was smoky," she said. "A month later, the sky was still gray."
Knowing how large the Australian wildfires are compared with California's 2018 wildfires put the crisis in perspective for her, she said.
Australia's fires are having a similar effect in the Pacifica region where the blazes are turning the skies orange over New Zealand, more than a thousand miles away.
Though there has yet to be a massive, coordinated charitable relief effort in the United States for Australia the way there was during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the Haiti earthquake in 2010, several celebrities and social media influencers are, like Ward, using their followings to drive donations. The singer Pink recently pledged $500,000 to local firefighting efforts, while several tennis stars, including Maria Sharapova, are donating thousands in relief after Australian player Nick Kyrgios pledged $700,000 to help his home country. Australian comedian Celeste Barber has raised nearly $20 million through a fundraiser on her Facebook page, according to Australia's News.Au.
Since Australia's fire season began in September, at least 24 people have died as more than 200 fires burn around the country in what officials are calling an "unprecedented" crisis.
Ward, who said she only recently added nude modeling to her portfolio, admitted she will probably have a hard time keeping up with the requests.
"I won't delete the original tweet," she said, "and regardless if people get a photo or not, I'd like them to keep donating."