Is It in the Stars?
Wouldn’t it be grand to have a celebrity spokesperson for your charitable organization! Just imagine what that famous face could do: generate support for your capital campaign, recruit a legion of new volunteers, raise the profile of your organization or encourage the population to embrace your mission.
It’s a wonderful dream, but one that needs to be thoroughly planned to actually grow to fruition.
Many organizations have strategically recruited a celebrity spokesperson with outstanding results. These highly recognizable individuals embrace the mission of the organization, providing valuable media clout. Consider:
- Boys and Girls Clubs of America is thrilled that Denzel Washington enthusiastically supports its mission.
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital not only welcomes the long-time help of Marlo Thomas but also benefits from the striking visage and enormous popularity of Jennifer Aniston.
- The Alzheimer’s Association has benefited from the tireless support of David Hyde Pierce of “Frasier” fame.
What makes these celebrities outstanding spokespersons is their personal commitment to the cause.
“You have to find the natural connection with the celebrity,” says Rita Tateel, president of Los Angeles-based The Celebrity Source, which specializes in finding celebrities for charitable organizations. “When a charity comes to me, I’m going to ask what it is they’re trying to accomplish by having a celebrity involved. Are they trying to generate media attention, raise money or sell products?
“Just having a celebrity connected to your cause doesn’t really guarantee anything,” she adds. “You have to do something with that celebrity’s name and/or likeness.”
Ask the right questions
Before your organization begins recruiting a potential celebrity spokesperson, it’s critical you answer a number of internal questions.
- Why do you want or need a celebrity spokesperson? Your staff and board members should carefully discuss this question, listing all the pros and cons of involving a celebrity. A written plan of action and a job description for the celebrity are a must.
- What do you want the celebrity to do for you? Are you simply looking to add a name on your stationery or is this person going to be your media star? Will this person represent your organization on talk shows, during press conferences and as a central focus of special events?
- When do you want the celebrity to join your organization? Ed Yoe, president of EdYoe.com, which specializes in talent exclusively for private events, charities and benefits, suggests it takes at least six to eight months to recruit the right celebrity and to make all preparations for his or her involvement. “The more time you spend up front, the better your end product will be if you give yourself plenty of time to find the right celebrity for your unique needs,” he says.
- Where are you located and how far would the celebrity have to travel? Yoe suggests that charitable organizations on the East Coast look to find celebrities living in New York or Florida. West Coast organizations should look to Hollywood. And organizations in the Midwest should look in every direction. “Traveling time is a key consideration for celebrities,” he says.
- How are you planning to locate and recruit a celebrity? Both Yoe and Tateel encourage e-mails and phone calls. They agree the more information you have, the better your chances of finding the right celebrity. They also suggest researching celebrities on the Internet, reviewing industry publications and talking to other organizations that use celebrities.
- How much do you have to spend on a celebrity spokesperson? Although a celebrity might agree to support your cause pro bono, he or she still has to travel, eat, sleep and sometimes bring along support personnel. Most celebrities are not paid for their charity service, but the use of an honorarium is fairly standard. An honorarium can range from a low of $1,000 to more than $100,000.
- Who do you have in mind to serve as your celebrity spokesperson?
“A charitable organization should consider at least three different celebrities, because probably one or two aren’t going to be available,” Yoe suggests. “Do your homework. Find out who has a connection or an affinity to your mission.”
With answers to those questions in mind, you’re getting there but you’re not quite done. There are three more important questions your organization must answer before you embark on finding a celebrity spokesperson:
- Are you a creditable organization? Can you honestly present a legitimate case for enlisting the help of a celebrity?
- Are you ready, willing and able to present your case to the celebrity? If celebrities don’t see a need, they generally will decline service.
- Can you commit the time necessary to groom and educate the celebrity spokesperson?
“You can’t just think that you can get a celebrity spokesperson and hope that person is going to be knowledgeable of your mission,” Tateel emphasizes. “You have to train them, give them briefing notes so they know the most important elements of your mission. Educating a celebrity about your organization takes time, patience and enthusiasm.
“It’s not easy to get a celebrity spokesperson,” she continues. “Sometimes it starts with developing an honorary board of advisors that includes celebrities who already have an interest in the cause. Initially, all they have to do is lend their name or give a quote for a mailing. Once you have obtained their interest at that level, then you begin to educate them slowly about the work of the organization.
“Eventually,” she says, “there may be an opportunity to involve the celebrity with an appearance or some interaction with clients or children.
“You need to emotionally connect them to the organization,” Tateel adds. “Once they are connected emotionally, then maybe they will be willing to be a spokesperson and do more for you. Organizations must understand that the most valuable commodity the celebrity has is their time. So you don’t want to ask too much of a celebrity in terms of their time if they are not connected to your organization. Start by asking for a little bit of time, and then get them emotionally invested in your cause.”
There is considerable work and planning in finding, recruiting and motivating a celebrity to serve as your organizational spokesperson but, as Tateel explains, “The payoff for your organization can be huge if you find the right celebrity and it’s the right match.”
Bill J. Harrison, CFRE, is the president of iteachfundraising.com. He teaches fundraising strategy in classes at Arizona State University and to charitable organizations nationwide. Contact: www.iteachfundraising.com.