My latest contribution to the Stanford Social Innovation Review is up. Read the post below or visit SSIR to read and comment with that community.


I’ve recently shared a couple interviews exploring two case studies of really successful online fundraising campaigns: SXSW4Japan Raises Over $120,000 and $100,000 in Three Days with #TeamAutism. Both of them involved celebrities. And I couldn’t help think to myself, “oh, so all we need to do to raise funds for a great cause is get a celebrity? That’s not realistic or sustainable!” But, I looked at both case studies again, more deeply, and realized that both of them weren’t really about the celebrity at all. Both campaigns created opportunity for people to participate and then share it with their networks and make personal recommendations. Both campaigns leveraged the community and competition aspects of social media. The celebrity involvement was part of the branding, not part of the winning solution.

Getting Over Celebrities

Then, why do we keep thinking celebrities are so important to raising money? The data says we should move on. Two recent reports share data about the actual role celebrity connection plays in nonprofit fundraising and both say the same thing: forget celebrities.

The 2011 Millennial Donor report, the second in an annual series, focuses on engaging Millennials in fundraising. It’s an interesting and valuable report with a lot of great insights. When it comes to fundraising, though, one of the areas of most interest is motivation – this can help fundraisers and organizations align their message and delivery with the points of interest and the channels that are the most influential to the target audience. The Millennial Donor report uncovered that celebrity is the bottom of the charts:

When asked to describe what motivates them to give, 85% of Millennials pointed to a compelling mission or cause, and 56% cited a personal connection or trust in the leadership of the organization. A friend or peer endorsement compelled 52% to give, while a nudge from a family member prompted 42% to give. Slightly more than a third (34%) gave as a result of a workplace fundraising 52% drive. A compelling video won over 12% of donors, while fundraising contests only    42% inspired 5% to give. That high-profile celebrity 35% or influential leader endorsement? Apparently it’s not worth the effort from a strictly fundraising standpoint: Only 2% of Millennials said they were motivated to give by such endorsements.

Yep, only 2% said celebrities were motivating their actions! But, on the top of the chart: a compelling cause. In the newest eNonprofit Benchmarks report from NTEN and M+R Strategies, it’s easy to see what a compelling cause may be to Millennial donors: disaster.

Online fundraising revenue grew overall by 14% between 2009 and 2010. This rebound was led by an enormous 163% increase in the International sector due to emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti and flooding in Pakistan.

Beyond having just a compelling cause, Millennials are looking for trust – aren’t we all? According to the report, 57% of Millennials gave in response to a personal ask and 90% would stop giving if they did not trust the organization.

As Allyson Kapin wrote recently on the Care2 Frogloop blog, “Activists and donors rely more on their personal and social networks today, not celebrity endorsements.” In looking at TV ads, The 2010 Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing a Myth of Advertising Effectiveness,  report showed less than 12% of ads using celebrities exceeded a 10% lift, and one-fifth of celebrity ads had a negative impact on consumers.

Celebrities are out; Trust is in.

All these numbers lead us to ask: “Just how do we earn Millennials trust?”

This is something to continue exploring in posts to follow, but here’s a start, thanks to the Millennial Donors report:

1. Friends or family endorsement– create campaigns, messages, and “asks” that your supporters can modify to make their own, and that are shareable across platforms

2. Report financial condition– transparency is key, your 990 and other paperwork is public data (it’s already posted on Guidestar so you might as well be open about it!)

3. Opportunities to meet leadership– being transparent doesn’t just mean with information and data, but also in being accessible, put your organizations leaders in a place where they connect with the community

Have you seen online donations increasing for your organization? How are you working to build trust with your community? I’d love to hear your experiences and suggestions!

New on SSIR: How does celebrity impact your fundraising?
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