Last fall, Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation scored a hat trick when they announced a historic partnership with P.K. Subban of the ​Montreal Canadiens. Not only did the star hockey player pledge $10 million to the Hospital but he also joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors and became their spokesperson. Subban was lending his name, face and brand to the charity and the announcement garnered immediate media attention. It is what all nonprofits dream of when they think of securing a celebrity spokesperson.

But like the quest for the Holy Grail, securing a well-known spokesperson for your nonprofit is something you may very much want – but can be very hard to achieve.

Before you begin searching for a personality to become the face of your organization you should first examine your goals and determine if a spokesperson can help you achieve them.

According to the article Signifying the Public: Celebrity Advocacy and Post-Democratic Politics published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, celebrity spokespeople can help nonprofits achieve social and political goals but their ability to influence donors is limited. The researchers found that “people support charities because of personal connections in their lives and families which made these causes important, not because of the celebrities.”

There was a similar finding in the article Analysis of the Value of Celebrity Affiliation to Nonprofit Contributions published in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. This study found that “the effect of celebrity affiliation on donations is relatively small and likely secondary to prospective donors’ primary focus on the charity’s core mission, beneficiaries, and activities.”

Even though celebrities might not be the key to unlocking new donor dollars, they still can be a good vehicle for pursuing some of your communication goals.

Three good reasons to recruit a celebrity spokesperson for your nonprofit

1. You need to attract media attention

Having an attractive, famous person associated with your nonprofit can definitely help break through the media clutter and draw significant attention to your nonprofit. Think George Clooney and his efforts for Sudan or Angeline Jolie’s work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A-list celebrities certainly bring global media attention to causes but unless you work for a large, international nonprofit it is highly unlikely you will be able to get a superstar advocating for your organization.

Instead you may want to look closer to home and work with a local radio or television personality. In addition to being recognizable, they also bring the added bonus of working in the media. You may be able to leverage additional air time for your messages from the television or radio station they work for.

2. You need to attract a new audience

In the case of Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, Subban certainly attracted media attention but in the long run the Foundation is likely hoping he can also engage a new audience with their organization.

The right celebrity for your nonprofit is one that not only fits your cause but also has the ability to reach the audience you are hoping to engage. A well-known and well-liked sports figure that is admired by millenials is a great spokesperson to have if you are trying to draw a younger demographic.

3. You need to increase event attendance

Many celebrity spokespeople for charities are financially compensated but the general public doesn’t necessarily know that.

If you aren’t prepared to pay for an endorsement, it may be easier to request a celebrity appearance at an event rather than a formal spokesperson role. You might not have the budget to get a big name artist to perform at your gala but she may attend if you offer her a complimentary table. With the celebrity’s permission, you will very likely be able to promote her attendance in advance. At the event you can take her photograph and use it to promote that same event the following year.

Could a spokesperson support your communication goals?

With so many worthy causes needing support, landing the perfect celebrity to promote your organization is a difficult enterprise. To increase your chances of success, be specific with your ask and ensure this partnership aligns with one or more of your communication goals.

However, if you can’t find the right celebrity spokesperson don’t let it bother you. There are other people you can turn to who can do stellar work promoting your organization, such as key staff, volunteers, or donors. A celebrity spokesperson can be a great mouthpiece to tell your nonprofit story but if you can’t find someone who walks the red carpet to take the job you might find the star you need closer to home.

Suzanne Hallsworth

Suzanne Hallsworth

VP, Development & Communications at Oakville Hospital Foundation
Suzanne Hallsworth is the VP, Development & Communications for the Oakville Hospital Foundation. In her role, she leads the annual giving, community fundraising, and special events teams and develops marketing communication strategies to help the Foundation reach its fundraising goals. Suzanne has been working in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade following an earlier career in the book publishing industry.
Suzanne Hallsworth