In Boardrooms across the country, a similar suggestion is being made…”Get Leonardo DiCaprio/ Lady Gaga/Bono/insert famous person here, to support us.” Then you are in like easy street…right?
While many celebrities (like those mentioned above) are philanthropists, and do provide a huge boost to a cause, it doesn’t come without risk. And, it is not a substitute for growing a base of stakeholders who are committed for the long run.
A fundraising friend recently got a big "A-lister" (and supporter) to agree to participate in a series of ”meet and greets” with large donors and prospects to launch a capital campaign. This worked very well and kick started the hard work of turning those star-struck prospects into lifetime donors. My friend is very skilled at donor cultivation, so he had good success. However, he is savvy enough to know he needed to quickly to move beyond the WOW meeting and work to develop a long-term stewardship relationship. No press, just good meetings talking about the cause.
Other organizations have learned the hard way that stars don’t always follow the organization’s “playbook”. An organization I love recently had a popular, up and coming singer agree to attend their LA charity event and bring along some friends. These 20 friends didn’t buy tickets and just showed up for the red carpet walk. It made for a flashy evening as the entourage came in and cameras flashed, but the 20 friends didn’t feel any affinity to the cause, and offered no value outside the catwalk. In fact, they just ate and drank and dashed off to the next party. Basically the organization underwrote their evening and not one additional penny was raised. After the catering/bar bill was paid, the charity lost money.
Other risks are that the celebrity gets negative media attention for a period and your organization gets pulled into it. (Think Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen). It you attach your brand to their brand; you have to be prepared that not every media cycle involves unicorns and rainbows.
If you do go after an endorsement, work through the star’s agent. Approach it as you would a corporate partnership proposal. Know that they get as many solicitations as most of us get pieces of junk mail. Many stars want their participation to be genuine, but others are just looking for you to help them raise their visibility. Many celebrities agree to do PSA’s via Participant Media, which is another great path for engagement. Participant tends to support social change initiatives and films, not traditional charities. (Think The Cove and Spotlight)
So, having George Clooney endorsing you in your annual appeal is intriguing, remember that the time/energy you put into getting a celebrity engaged may not be worth the potential payoff.