Are celebrities good for your organization's fundraising efforts?

Are celebrities good for your organization's fundraising efforts?

Almost every charity I've ever been involved with prays for a celebrity to bring a higher profile to their event and its fundraising efforts.  This is a good concept and can indeed boost visibility and increase sales but is there a right way and a wrong way to utilize stars to raise money?  An expert on fundraising, Christopher Clinton Conway, takes this concept a step further.  "The photo op that matters is not the star behind giant sunglasses with enormous prop scissors cutting a fake ribbon. It’s not the event that matters, it’s the sustained support that stabilizes non-profits," said Conway. 

He is uniquely qualified to speak as an expert after spending years in the world of nonprofits, most recently as the executive director of The Joffrey Ballet.  Under his watch a successful $40 million capital campaign was completed; annual giving to the company doubled ; the Joffrey was re-branded and re-invented and garnered unprecedented media and corporate recognition;  a new artistic team was recruited after the death of beloved founder Gerald Arpino;  the new Joffrey Towers was designed and built (the first permanent headquarters for the company) and the Joffrey's subscription base increased by 300%.  Christopher also helped produce the 2012 hit documentary “Maverick’s of American Dance”; launched the “Choreographers of Color” competition in 2010;  and  launched the “Young Professional’s Board” in 2009 among his many other contributions.  So, as you can see, he is uniquely qualified as an expert in the art of fundraising.  Now he is the Vice President of Development for one of the biggest aquariums in the world, Aquarium of the Pacific, in Long Beach, California.  More than 1.5 million visitors come through its doors yearly.

For one of his recent blog posts, he wrote about celebrities, fundraising and what matters most.  His take will enlighten you and you'll see why he's overseeing an even bigger budget ($40 mil) with more responsibilities as his fundraising star continues to rise.  Next April, he will also be honored by his alma mater, Washington University School of Law.    "This recognition is bestowed on just two young alums each year, along with four of our more senior colleagues, and it means the world to me," said Conway.   Read his valuable advice below if you are involved in ANY fundraising efforts:

Cause Marketing and What Matters Most

By Christopher Clinton Conway

Here’s a bit of wisdom I share with friends about high-profile celebrity supporters. Ready to rethink?

The true value of a marquee name attached to your cause is really about time, not money. That’s because for celebrities -- and for the rest of us -- time is the most precious form of currency, and represents the ultimate investment.

In my experience, the most meaningful and successful pairings of causes and celebrities are the authentic ones, where the celebrity builds or comes to a cause because they’ve been touched. The Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron is a supporter of the Joffrey Ballet, because when she moved to the US from South Africa, she studied at the Joffrey Ballet School. Now she wants to support the organization that offers world-class dance programming, changes young dancers’ lives, and in fact, helped launch her own star. She knows dance matters.

Hollywood icons Warren Beatty and Annette Bening have given significantly to the Carter Center, dedicated to advancing human rights and alleviating suffering. Avid supporters of a range of humanitarian causes, Beatty and Bening travelled to Venezuela and Micronesia with Carter Center officials to participate in election monitoring; they are committed to the expansion of true and fair democratic processes around the world. They don’t just mail it in.

In other words, these celebrities are all in. They mean it.

My theory: this is one way the rest of us are not so different from celebrities. Once you’ve given part of your day, your whole day, or even many days to a cause you’re passionate about, writing a check –even a very big one, for some—comes naturally. And the modeling is more important than you may think. For-profits can pay hefty sums to celebs so they’ll lip synch a plug for a product. Non-profits need energetic, genuinely committed supporters to give of themselves, and dollars often follow hours.

So if your organization’s strategy is to go out and find a celebrity who might care about your cause, please consider this: the photo op that matters is not the star behind giant sunglasses with enormous prop scissors cutting a fake ribbon. It’s not the event that matters, it’s the sustained support that stabilizes non-profits.

Many celebrities give generously of their time, and that is the better story. The star cache is, of course, welcome, but what’s even more important is the messaging: this matters, I’m in, and I’m backing it up with what I can afford to give.

That’s the message you want to send to your donors and potential donors.
And it means that every community has its celebrities.
Honor yours.

(So very well said Christopher, thanks for your voice of reason in this roller coaster world of non-profits and fundraising!  To read more pearls from CCC, please visit his website here!)


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