The Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers, the last paper I coauthored as a Zoetican with Henry T. Dunbar, was released this morning. The conclusion: Online celebrity fundraising efforts are hit and miss, and often get outpaced by lesser known web-based personalities or weblebrities who have deep ties to their communities.
The research, conducted across a wide range of PayPal customer fundraisers, from Network for Good and Operation Smile to DonorsChoose.org and TwitChange, reveals three key reasons about what makes lesser weblebrities succeed:
- They have a personal story to tell about the cause;
- They are willing to engage a pre-existing tight-knit community that interacts with the spokesperson on behalf of the cause; and
- They have an authentic tie to the cause that resonates with that community’s knowledge of the weblebrity.
The paper is filled with case studies that over and over again reaffirm these three principles. From Stephen Colbert’s fantastic interaction with the Reddit Community on DonorsChoose.org to Paddy O’Brien’s stunning story that won the UCSF fundraising challenge on Causes, the hyper-engaged, authentic celebrity/weblebrity was the key to success.
As time has progressed, it’s clear that social media-based online fundraising best practices have uncanny similarities with traditional fundraising best practices. First and foremost is finding that truly engaged personality who will act on an organization’s behalf. Moving forward, helping the celebrity or weblebrity cultivate donations with their community is reminiscent of the white glove service large donors receive from their favorite causes in organizing private events.
In traditional fundraising, having great name recognition and devoted fans can generate increased awareness and raise funds if a celebrity cares about the cause and invests time. Yet, online celebrity efforts are hit and miss, and often get outpaced by lesser known web-based personalities or weblebrities who have deep ties to their communities. It appears the “if a celebrity cares” part of the traditional formula is still the most important factor in considering potential fundraisers.
You can read the whole paper online here, or simply scroll through the below embed. There are tips to cultivating strong online celebrities as well as several case studies in the end that illustrate the thesis points made here.