While many corporate charities might only see the upside in having
a marquee celebrity supporter serving as their brand ambassador, drawing
attention and donations to a new charitable program or partnership they are
launching, there are some risks involved that could make such an association
more trouble than it’s worth, experts say.
According to Drew Hawkins and Melanie Schnoll Begun, who handle
philanthropic investments for high-profile, high-net-worth clients at Morgan
Stanley, it’s important for companies and their charitable partners alike to
understand the nuances of bringing on board athletes, entertainers and other
high-profile individuals who can offer star power, cash and connections.
not done right, it can actually do more harm than good,” said Begun.
work with a wide range of athletes, entertainers and their associated
charities—including the likes of Goldie Hawn, Christy Turlington and the Amy
Winehouse Foundation—Hawkins and Begun have learned the importance of due
diligence before partnering up with a high profile supporter.
needs to be an honest discussion about the level of commitment the individual
has for the cause and organization,” Begun said. If their heart’s not really
into it, a celebrity might regret attaching their name to a group or project,
she said. They might not fulfill the responsibilities they signed on for—in
terms of appearances and fundraising support, for example. In the end, the foundation
or nonprofit partner may be worse off because it wasted time and resources on
an investment that didn’t pan out.
often, not enough time is spent establishing expectations at the outset,” said
Begun. “Both sides need to be really clear—this is a business relationship.”
charities also need to better understand the intricacies of celebrity
philanthropy. According to Begun, where individuals are in their career cycle
has a big impact on how they manage their philanthropy. When they first start
out, they often will focus their attention on a cause they have a personal
connection to, and leverage their new popularity to draw attention to it. But
as their careers mature, their focus transitions to establishing a legacy that
will endure after their star power has waned.
also a big difference between how an actor or musician approaches philanthropy
and how an athlete does so. According to Hawkins, most entertainers have had their
careers develop over the course of many years, and their fame and level of
influence has risen gradually. Marquee athletes, on the other hand, often see
their stars rise literally overnight, and the results can be chaotic, he said.
these athletes are quite young and suddenly find themselves with a lot of money
and high popularity,” Hawkins said. They want to do something to give back to
their communities, often aimed at helping provide education or economic
opportunity in areas where there was none when they were coming up. While
that’s admirable, they might not understand how much it will cost in terms of
time and resources, he said.
is that they overcommit—they sign on for all kinds of different charities and
causes, and their star power gets a little diluted,” Hawkins said. “Their
financial commitment might also be bigger than they considered as well.”
to Hawkins, due diligence on the part of corporate charities and their
nonprofit partners should start with a philanthropic audit to see what past
commitments the individual may have made, and they should weed out anyone who
seemingly endorsed or partnered with a charity but weren’t effective advocates.
Did they headline a fundraising gala but then disappear from the field? Or have
they remained a public supporter of the group and worked to spread its message
far and wide? While there are times when the former is fine, the latter is
usually the better of the two.
to note: Just because an athlete or entertainer might be in the spotlight
doesn’t mean he or she is comfortable with public speaking and, most
importantly, asking others for money. According to Begun, many celebrities
don’t instinctively understand how to tell a convincing personal narrative that
connects with the cause or issue they are championing.
a fundamental expectation—that they will help with fundraising,” Begun said.
“But while they may be great at what they do, they are not great at asking for
money. Many need some help and training in that to be effective.”
For more information,
Hawkins can be contacted at email@example.com and Begun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.