Many a Board member has gone to a nonprofit gala and seen a popular celebrity or influencer, and come back to your nonprofit’s next board meeting and suggested getting “insert celebrity name here” to attend your next event. But what does that entail and how does a nonprofit start engaging celebrities or talent? A few tips and reminders:
- Know the cost. Many nonprofits actually pay a fee to get celebrities, talent, or influencers at their event. Appearance fees can range into the six figures depending on who you’re hoping to get, but keep in mind there are other costs that frequently come along with this like first class travel, ground transportation, hotel suites, and even hair and make up. The celebrity generally sees their time as the ‘charity’ (if it’s even donated), but the other costs are expected to be eaten by the organization bringing them. A way to minimize this? Try to find out when the celebrity will be in town for something else, and ask to piggyback or split these costs.
- Be prepared to justify this cost. Regardless of how large the cost is or what it’s paying for, prepare to explain why your organization decided this is a worthwhile expense. Staff members, volunteers, or even donors may point out that this is money not spent directly on programs and since this rarely ties directly back to revenue generation, if not handled well, may cause some uproar.
- Hire an expert. There are agencies that actually specialize in matching a celebrity with a nonprofit. This exists because it can be complicated, particularly if this is a new relationship. Moreover, the agency can help match a celebrity who may have had previous background or experience with your cause, or may be working on a project that lines up well with the issue area. And most importantly, the agency can help guide you to celebrities that tend to perform well in these situations and will have private knowledge of who might freeze up, be uncomfortable, or inadvertently say something offensive. Do note that these celebrity wranglers are not cheap.
- Script or minimize speaking roles. We often think of many of our favorite celebrities as great orators, or warm friendly individuals because we feel like we know them from their role on a TV show or movie. But those are characters and we don’t know them. We don’t know what else they have going on that day or if they just came from a 15-hour shoot day. Moreover, many celebrities, particularly actors, are used to being prepped or handed scripts before getting on stage and don’t tend to do well off the cuff. Just like anyone else, they need to be prepped with a script or speaking points. But keep in mind, you may not get prep time with them and in that case, it can be more beneficial to minimize or eliminate a speaking role. We’ve seen one too many celebrities butcher the organization’s name by accident or worse, say the wrong one!
- Create a contingency plan, and then another one. From local political leaders, to YouTube sensations, things seem to always come up. From an external perspective, be careful marketing them as confirmed attendees – they may only attend for a brief meet and greet with select individuals, for example – and be sure to have someone prepped and ready to stand in during the program in case they run late or cancel last minute. No one is ever offended to be asked to stand in for a celebrity if they’re pitched as ‘the next best thing’!
- Allow for flexibility in the schedule. From an internal perspective, just expect that they’ll show up at a different time, or can only stay for a different part of your program, and you’re already better off. Pad in flexibility and alternate speakers that can be easily stalled or moved on faster, and you’ll stress less when the celebrity shows up at an entirely different time than agreed upon.
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