Having a household name as a charity spokesperson can earn a nonprofit big dollars, big donors, and big press.

The key, however, is to balance the celebrity endorsement such that overhead costs that are minimal and that the celebrity’s brand matches up with the foundation’s core values.  Forbes recently examined the latest tax returns of 175 nonprofits that had celebrity connections and found many operate with “admirable efficiency, while others run up high expenses.”

If the foundation has a celebrity at the helm and simply gives money to a cause without running any programs, the nonprofit can typically operate with very low overhead (David Letterman’s charity, for instance, gave out $1.2 million with an overhead expense of $25).

Still, to keep costs low in established nonprofit organizations with employees, property and programs, it’s important to make considerations if they’re trying to find a famous face:

Cost: It is going to take time and money to snag a celebrity endorser. Time, because scouting a celebrity for support requires phone calls, meetings and travel to flesh out details of their involvement. While many celebrities will agree to donate their time and contribute to the organization, it’s important to also balance those gains with the costs associated with  transportation, hotels, meals and other amenities that can be included in an endorsement agreement.

Find a Match: You want a celebrity who is not only famous (which is fleeting in most cases) but one who also fits your brand. It’s also important that the celebrity match up with the types of donors at your organization. You want to find a face that they’ll know and recognize.

Think scandalous: If 2010 will be remembered as anything, it will be the Year of Celebrity Scandals. A celebrity scandal can be harmful to an organization’s image. While impossible to know whether they’ll be involved in a future scandal, do your due diligence and get to know the celebrity’s values and personality so that you can get at least a window into their private life.

Has your organization ever used a celebrity? If so, did it help your cause?


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