The Top 5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Attempting to Engage Celebrities

Michael Phelps has started his own nonprofit focused on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthy and active lives.

The Olympics have long come to an end and America has a whole new set of heroes and celebrities with newfound fame and glory. As a marketer, it was almost impossible to watch the Olympics without contemplating the celebrity, ubiquitous sponsorships, and nonstop social media involved in this worldwide event. Perhaps it is because of all this marketing and public relations excitement that celebrity sponsorship seems to be top-of-mind for many of the organizations that I am working with right now.

Though I focus the bulk of my efforts serving the nonprofit realm, my colleagues at IMPACTS do a significant amount of work with the entertainment industry. Operating in both the entertainment and nonprofit sectors comes in handy when these worlds collide. And, when it comes to nonprofits asking for celebrity endorsement or spokespeople, the two worlds often crash! We see a lot of nonprofits going about things all wrong…

Want to know how to increase your chances of getting noticed? Here are five mistakes that nonprofits often make when reaching out to celebrities and what you need to understand when considering your ask:

 

1) Understand that being a nonprofit is not unique.

When asked why they think celebrities will consider taking part in an event, many nonprofit folks seem to respond, “because it’s a good deed. We are a nonprofit!” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your organization is probably not the only one asking for a celebrity’s time and energy in the name of social good.

Many big celebrities receive several requests for services each day. This includes requests for pro bono work from nonprofit organizations, asks for appearances at reduced rates, requests for time and even for donations. Nonprofits generally over-estimate the uniqueness of the opportunity for a celebrity to align him/herself with a social mission. Celebrities can do this without your nonprofit (many simply start their own foundations or nonprofits). This needs to be understood in order for your nonprofit to make a compelling ask.

 

2) Immediately articulate the return on investment in terms that matter most to the celebrity (not to you).

When reaching out, come knowing the details and exactly why your mission fits with the celebrity’s mission and overall brand persona. Don’t lead with the “charity” card, lead with the “fit” card (though charity might be an element of that). Ask yourself, “how can we help the celebrity do what they care about?”

One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make is assuming that A and B are the same circle. (“How could this celebrity not care about youth homelessness?!”) Even if a celebrity – or any person, for that matter – cares deeply about your cause, they are not your nonprofit. They have their own story, connections, and attitudes toward the cause. Successful organizations will do diligent research, find out where passions cross, and make an ask or create an event that caters to that unique focus. They make sure there’s a good fit so they can make the right ask.

 

3) Do not overestimate locality.

In the connected world that we live in today, celebrities don’t “belong” to any single place. In fact, they often strive to be a global brand. Understand that when asking a celebrity to do a hometown event, you should do your research to be sure that the celebrity actually is actively involved with or maintains connections to that town. While having the “hometown” card (or a similar location-based affinity card) in your hand may be helpful, don’t overestimate it as a driving indicator of fit.

 

4) Know that your nonprofit lends credibility, not reach.

Many (mostly larger) nonprofits misunderstand what they bring to the table by trying to bait celebrities with statistics on reach. If you try to encourage engagement by saying, “our museum has 1.5 million visitors annually,” to a celebrity who had 4.5 million people see their movie last weekend alone, then something is wrong. Already, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has sponsorship deals with Speedo, Gatorade, Gillette and Nissan that place him at the center of their respective global marketing campaigns…not to mention 1.1 million eager Twitter followers of his own!  Celebrities have reach. That’s likely a large part of the reason why you are contacting them in the first place.   Moreover, they often are “handled” by their own Dream Team (of sorts) of A-List PR and marketing experts.

However, many nonprofits do have something that can be extremely valuable to a celebrity that isn’t always capitalized on by the organization when making an ask – credibility. Celebrities that align themselves with authoritative nonprofits choose to align their respective brands with reputable, trusted endorsers. For celebrities with causes that they greatly care about, this can be a big driver of engagement. In sum, understand that reach is what your brand is getting and authority and credibility can be a powerful thing that your brand is giving.

 

5) Make it easy to say “yes” and understand that if you are requesting their skill set, you should offer to pay them.

While time is indeed money, asking a celebrity to work for free is still different than requesting an appearance. For instance, if you want to hold a concert with a well-known musician and sell tickets as a fundraiser, you should generally expect to pay the talent. In a few instances that I’ve witnessed, the celebrity has declined the fee and/or donated back the fee. However, even if they don’t demonstrate such largesse, nonprofits must understand that it is not their right to a celebrity’s free talent.

Also, it is critical to understand that big celebrities get many, many requests (paid, unpaid, nonprofit, for-profit) every day. In order to be considered, you must have your ask well articulated. A celebrity’s publicist is not your nonprofit’s party-planning committee and they don’t want to be. Make it easy for the celebrity to say “yes.” If you come in having done your research and knowing exactly what you want and what you can offer in return, you’re saving time and increasing the likelihood of engagement.

 

In sum, do your research, be thoughtful in your ask and approach, and don’t overestimate the power of any potential surface fit (your status as a nonprofit or your location, for example). Like attracting donors, you need to know what drives the person and not just want their brand is, but what the celebrity wants their brand to be. Have an idea of how you can help the person get there.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

About the author

colleendilen

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

One Response to The Top 5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Attempting to Engage Celebrities

  1. Jerry Yoshitomi

    Thank you very much for this post very helpful!

     

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