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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

How to win famous friends to support your cause

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

TFN has joined forces with Saadia Usmani of Shor Communications to create this step-by-step guide to recruiting and managing celebrity supporters

Saadia Usmani, director, Shor Communications
Saadia Usmani, director, Shor Communications

Ewan Macgregor’s visits to Rachel House bring heartwarming smiles to the faces of its young patients, Annie Lennox has done loads to highlight the impact of HIV and Aids, and JK Rowling is one of Scotland’s most generous charity supporters.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to be gained from celebrity support – not least increased donations, brand awareness and influence.

Charities looking for a celebrity backer, however, should think carefully before spending a lot of time and energy schmoozing the rich and famous. Diva-like temperaments, conflicting agendas, and public disgraces can quickly turn a celebrity supporter from a dream into a nightmare.

So before you approach a celebrity, get a small group from across your charity together to think about why you want a celebrity supporter and how you intend to use them. Make sure you have things for them to do, such as attending events or leading a campaign.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what they can help you with, create a strong elevator pitch. If you want to sell your organisation and its aims and objectives make sure you are confident of its merits and can articulate them quickly and easily.

It’s important to be realistic about who you want to approach too. Big names may not always be the best. Don’t forget to look at local celebs who may have an interest in your charity and, most importantly, make sure their interests do not conflict with your work.

It helps if you have a personal connection so try putting some feelers out. Find out if any of your staff, trustees or their friends or relatives know the person and ask for their help. And, of course, try approaching your chosen celebrity’s agent.

If you want to sell your organisation and its aims and objectives make sure you are confident of its merits and can articulate them quickly and easily.

You also don’t have to rely on just one person. Celebrities have busy schedules so approach a selection of people with different interests and backgrounds. Match their skills and interests to specific areas, activities and initiatives.

Once you’ve got someone who’s interested in helping out, don’t confuse them with too much information from too many sources. Assign one or two people from your organisation to work with them. It’s not just about attending an event – it’s about building trust, nurturing and sustaining a good relationship. Keep them updated and informed, and don’t forget to thank them!

There are a few key pitfalls to look out for before and during your relationship to ensure it continues to be worthwhile for your cause. Keep an eye on what your celebrity supporter is up to and beware of personal agendas. It’s not too much to expect a celebrity to be engaged and supportive of your cause, so if they only focus on their own agenda and waste your charity’s time and resources, then it’s time to say goodbye.

Accept the fact, however, that celebrities are in the public eye and not everything is positive. You need to be prepared for potential crisises and consider what situations would warrant distancing yourself.

Finally, just remember: no publicity is free publicity! Your celebrity supporter may be working for free, but there may be costs from travel expenses, tickets to events, special meals or hotel accommodation.

Saadia Usmani is the director of Shor Communications, a media consultancy that specialises in media training, crisis workshops and presentational skills training.



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