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Nonprofit Celebrity Engagement — How-to

Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri Martino host Critic's Choice Awards afterparty for Heifer International (

By Chris Talbott

It’s frequently asserted in conference rooms and casual conversation that a nonprofit celebrity supporter is some sort of silver bullet that will propel an organization towards its fundraising and brand awareness targets. We could all point to celebrity-cause pairings that look like a match made in heaven.

But people seldom consider the nuts and bolts of these successful nonprofit celebrity commitments. Before investing time or money in building celebrity relationships, ask yourself these Nonprofit Celebrity Readiness Questions:

  • Do you have pithy powerful stories that demonstrate your impact?
  • Is your organization prepared to reap the benefits from access to national media?
  • Will third-party endorsements convince more donors or partners to support your work?
  • Do you know how to benefit from access to celebrities’ networks of friends and colleagues?
  • Can you invest in worthy campaigns, trips and events that make the best use of your celebrity volunteer’s time and talent?
  • Is social media part of your brand-building efforts?
  • Does your web site represent you well? Is it optimized for donor conversion or another call to action?
  • Do you have people on staff suited to these projects?

If you answered no to three or more of these questions, you either have some work to do before you are camera ready, or your organization just may not need celebrity support. This is not the most immediate priority for your scant resources.

nonprofit celebrity

But if you are ready for the big screen, when a celebrity lends their time and talent, your organization can reap big rewards. If you have a strategy for engaging their talent and leveraging their fame for national media opportunities and other brand-lifting opportunities, my experience has shown it will help in untold ways.

First step is a nonprofit’s celebrity casting call. If you work in New York or Los Angeles connecting to your wish list of celebrities may come intuitively to you and your staff. If not, you might consider hiring experts with their own professional networks.

After a successful casting, with the right strategy, nonprofit celebrity supporters and the commitments they make will amplify your story, boost your credibility and increase your access to powerful influencers. They will complement almost all of your marketing and fundraising efforts.

nonprofit celebrity

With poor strategy, these relationships can be wasted, entirely. Why ask your supporter to sign merchandise for an auction with an audience that can’t bid big? For the effort spent coordinating and shipping, you could instead inspire a national audience with a smart social media request, an opinion piece in a national media outlet, a video or much more.

Some tips for success in working with celebrities:

  • The committed celebrity is a volunteer not a paid spokesperson, the distinction in approach is very important.
  • Employ media-savvy staff or agents who are sensitive to the rhythms and cultures of Hollywood and your organization.
  • George Clooney is busy. Do your research. Only approach celebrities with an affinity for your cause.
  • What causes are celebrities into? Check out
  • How do I reach someone? In the best case scenario, through an organic personal introduction, of course. But if that’s not an option, we recommend subscribing to
  • Build long-lived authentic relationships with many committed credible partners through smart immediate well-described requests.
  • Have fun, leverage the talent of your supporter, not just their fame. Think big.
  • You don’t need the A++ list. Many young TV actors have millions of twitter followers and a passion for changing the world.
  • Leverage a celebrity’s professional and personal network.
  • Create tangible photo and video assets to own and re-purpose so that events and PR have lasting value.

For additional ideas and opinions on the subject this Fast Company article on the subject is a good resource.

And here are some examples of celebrity brand-boosting videos.

If your work is changing the world and you’ve got the tools to tell your story, with some focused effort and investment, you can attract celebrity talent who will spread that story far and wide. But the story they tell can only ever be as good as the story you are selling and your plan for selling it. Surprise, there is no silver bullet. Celebrities can boost every aspect of your integrated marketing scheme, but if you don’t even have a scheme yet, start there, and we’ll let George Clooney keep his focus on the Sudan.

Chris Talbott is the founder of Cause Effect Agency, an integrated marketing agency specializing in leveraging celebrity for worthy causes.

See Expanded Page here.

Photos: Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri Martino host Critics Choice Awards after party for Heifer International (  John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-in for Peace, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief. Shay Mitchell with the Somaly Mam Foundation (

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