One Entrepreneur’s Approach to Recession Relief: Sir Richard Branson Says: Give

Laid-off? 401(k) flattened? House Foreclosed? That’s no reason not to have a day of fun especially if it’s on Sir Richard Branson. The mogul behind the global Virgin Group is taking a decidedly entrepreneurial approach to both the economic blues and the annual Virgin Mobile Festival to be held August 30th at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. The idea: if the economy’s got you down, get up, make merry, and volunteer.

This year Branson gave away 35,000 tickets to the all day music festival (with a lineup that includes rock bands Blink-182 and Franz Ferdinand). Another 3,500 additional tickets were earned through volunteer service at youth homeless shelters (Virgin Mobile’s main philanthropic focus) – an incentive that netted 30,000 volunteer hours at centers across the country. Branson, a man who has shown it is possible to have fun, make lots of money, be innovative and charitable says: “In a time of economic challenges and daily sacrifices, we wanted to throw a fantastic party so people could let loose and have a great time — on us.”

Indeed, the spirit of “Free the Festival” is awash in freebies and philanthropy. Virgin America is providing a plane to fly a number of individuals from the Los Angeles area who donated 13 plus hours of community service to the concert and a shuttle bus will bring in homeless youth volunteers from Boston, Philadelphia and New York City. At the “Lucky Layoff Lounge” festival goers will have the opportunity to win Virgin Mobile phone service, Gibson Flying V guitars, Sony Play Stations, and Virgin America flight vouchers among other items.

It’s not all take, however. During the “Free Fest” concertgoers will be encouraged to give back too. For starters, Branson himself will be playing bartender at the Karma Bar where $1 off every drink purchased will be donated to youth homeless groups. Throughout the day, jumbotrons will direct people to various ways they can donate money or volunteer their time. While Virgin Mobile is the event’s sponsor, it has set up a texting system that will allow anyone — regardless of their wireless carrier — to donate $5 to a homeless center. The message: even free fun can have a price and why not make that a little charity.

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