Celebrities and the small nonprofit

Akash Ghai talks about the changing landscape of fundraising, and the desire of smaller nonprofits to seek out celebrities for endorsements. Do your homework, think carefully and expect the unexpected.

In the small nonprofit world, competition is strife, it’s difficult to sell a cause or purpose. Some nonprofits have seemingly different takes to address very similar issues. When it comes to expanding operations, building programs and justifying why a nonprofit exists – money is the key. Without it, small nonprofits become “things to focus on in the spare time”, no room to expand, build or justify. With it, it becomes a whole different ball game, if used in the right way, money can help open the right doors. There are so many demands when it comes to fundraising, legal requirements, value for money, return on investment and other significant factors that affect smaller nonprofits in their ability to receive funding. With the world the way it is now, moving towards alternative “millennial” methods is on the rise.

Celebrities, love or hate them are influential figures. What they say and do taps into the national and global social consciousness, in such a way that people read more about them than what is actually going on in the world. Nonprofits have caught wind of the celebrity endorser. This is a celebrity who aligns their brand, reputation and following with that of a nonprofit, hoping to “raise awareness for cause x” or “help prevent diseases in country y.” From the small nonprofit perspective entering an agreement with a celebrity can help them attain visibility, build a profile and above all attract more public donations. Despite these clear positives, a) it is very difficult to secure a celebrity endorser and b) making sure that the endorser is the right fit for the role is crucial.

A colleague attended a conference recently which outlined the roles of celebrities in working with nonprofits and NGOs. She explained that there were a number of positive examples, Angelina Jolie and Doctors without Borders and Matt Damon with Water.org. These are people with strong reputations, believe in the causes they support and have a conscious understanding of the organizations they endorse. That being said, for every successful example there are others that aren’t as seamless. The musician, Justin Bieber has had his share of troubles, in fact he was once affiliated with an nonprofit organization. His antics led to the organization losing significant funding. My colleague pointed out celebrities can experience momentary lapses that cause nonprofits they work with harm. Which is true some of these celebrities may have their hearts in the right place, but given that they are in the public eye, visible to the world constantly any slips can damage the reputations and value of nonprofits they endorse, support or work with.

Ultimately for the small-mid sized nonprofit finding the right celebrity that compliments the cause is important. The dream scenario when securing a celebrity endorser is that everything works out – more funding, increased profile, access to resources, validation etc.but in reality this is very rare, nonprofits have to work harder to secure money, market and align themselves with other organizations and put in the time to make a difference. There’s no quick fix to this, but it’s always good to have a dream.

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