I’ve recently shared 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 but think, “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 and realized that neither of them was really about the celebrity at all. 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.

So why do we keep thinking that celebrities are so important to raising money? Two recent reports share data about the actual role celebrity connection plays in nonprofit fundraising and both say the same thing: Forget ‘em!

The 2011 Millennial Donor report focuses on engaging Millennials in fundraising. When it comes to fundraising, understanding donor motivation is key, and it’s important to align message and delivery with the points of interest and the channels most influential to the target audience. The Millennial Donor report uncovered that celebrity is at the bottom of the charts:

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

Yep, only 2 percent said celebrities were motivating their actions. But, at the top of the chart: a compelling cause. In the newest report from NTEN and M+R Strategies, it’s easy to see what that means to Millennial donors: disaster relief. A highlight from the report:

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

Millennials are looking for trust too—aren’t we all? According to the report, 57 percent of them gave in response to a personal ask, and 90 percent 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.”

The 2010 Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing a Myth of Advertising Effectiveness report showed that less than 12 percent of ads featuring celebrities saw more than a 10 percent increase, and one-fifth of celebrity ads had a negative impact on consumers.

Celebrities are out; Trust is in.
So just how do organizations earn the trust of Millennials?

This is something to continue exploring, but to start:

  1. Friends or family endorsement: Create campaigns, messages, and “asks” that supporters can personalize and that are shareable across platforms.
  2. Report financial condition: Transparency is key, and 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: Be accessible—put your organization’s 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?