Show business can be risky charity business
Thursday 24 April 2014
Not for Profit organisations need to develop a tight risk management plan when taking on celebrities to endorse a cause, says Swinburne University Senior Lecturer and philanthropy researcher Dr Elizabeth Branigan.
And Dr Branigan says taking on a celebrity ambassador or patron needs a whole organisation buy-in that includes the board and particularly the CEO.
Dr Branigan, who works at the university’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment, is currently conducting an empirical study of celebrity philanthropy and Not for Profit cause endorsement in Australia alongside Swinburne University Marketing Lecturer Dr Ann Mitsis.
According to Dr Branigan, who will be presenting her research to the International Society for Third Sector Research conference in Germany in July, celebrity endorsement is currently a rapidly expanding field for Australian Not for Profits.
“The trend at the moment is organisations are not just using the one patron, there’s a real trend towards a whole suite of patrons that organisations are using in various ways and purposes,” she said.
“There’s an ever increasing competition for donation dollars and some organisations believe it’s giving them the competitive edge.”
As part of her research, Dr Branigan has interviewed the key decision makers from Not for Profit organisations who are engaged or seek to engage celebrities to advance their causes on what the organisation hope to gain from the strategies and develop an understanding of what motivates and guides Not for Profit decision makers.
Dr Branigan has also documented each organisation’s contractual arrangements and risk management strategies that are used to manage the relationships.
She said her findings so far have shown that many Not for Profits had not invested enough time into risk management around celebrity philanthropy and endorsement.
She said many of the risks that organisations needed to bear in mind included the chance of a celebrity causing bad press and dictating public policy, keeping celebrities on message and putting the celebrity ahead of the cause.
“Not for Profits need to acknowledge [using celebrity endorsement is] a complex process and weigh up the pros and cons and apply those to your risk management strategy,” she said.
“Just because someone down the road is doing it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you.”
Dr Branigan also said one of the risks was that Not for Profits were putting all their funds into the same endorsement strategy - which could potentially put whole campaigns at risk.
“It’s not just one person’s role, you need the whole organisation’s buy-in and that includes the board and particularly the CEO,” she said.
Dr Branigan said that Not for Profits need to feel confident in setting out clear outcomes for celebrity endorsement strategies and not to be shy when asking a celebrity to sign a business contract.
“If a celebrity makes an offer to your organisation - you need to have a proper business contract that lay out all the terms,” she said.
“If you approach a celebrity make sure it’s a very good fit. You are valuable and you are adding value to that celebrity’s credibility.”
She said a good example of an effective celebrity endorsement strategy was used by The Alannah and Madeline Foundation.
“The Alannah and Madeline Foundation has a very targeted and very strategic strategy by using particular people for particular roles,” she said.
“It has to be a genuine alignment.”
Dr Branigan will be part of a panel running the workshop called “Celebrity Endorsement for Not For Profit Organisations How to begin, how it all ‘works’ and how to avoid potential pitfalls” on May 8 at the Swinburne University campus in Hawthorn, Melbourne. For more information, click here.