The lure of celebrity
After sharing a few thoughts on the impact celebrities can have on appeals on Conor's fundraising blog, I've spent some time thinking about the recently announced NCVO celebrity-laden campaign aimed at encouraging people to donate £2 a month (or possibly volunteer a few hours). You can see Adam Rothwell's (Intelligent Giving) views here and Tania Mason's (Professional Fundraising) views here.
The campaign is likely to revolve around the question, "What do you believe in?" and aims to promote giving via a focus on generic causes.
Louis High, the NCVO's head of communications and campaigns, said it would feature celebrities making statements such as "I believe that all children should grow up free of fear. What do you believe in?" or "I believe in equality for disabled people. What do you believe in?"
Anything that is going to encourage people to give money to charities gets my support, so good luck Louis, more power to you. It seems the Giving Scotland campaign was pretty effective – albeit under very different circumstances – so this is worth a go.
However, I do have a few concerns…
The £2 (or £3) a month message has been used very heavily on TV, on packs and in inserts for years.
The thinking behind the approach is that it reduces one of the main barriers to giving – the I can't afford it reflex. As a result, it generates a fairly good response. With careful handling, it's not too difficult to encourage donors to upgrade and give a little more each month.
But, as fundraisers, we know that the good intention that our appeals create, lasts for a flash before being lost in the general hurly burley of people's daily lives. The faster and easier we make it for someone to respond, the better our response rate will be. From pre-paid envelopes in packs, to telephone numbers and text response on TV ads, easy is essential.
Because the fact is, people get distracted very quickly, and though they often mean to give, we need to make it simple for them to do so. It's pretty much the main reason we run reminder appeals – it's sad but people tend to forget about us.
It's likely that a generic £2 a month campaign will act as a prompt to remind people about their good intentions and uplift response rates for charities that already use the £2 a month method – which will bias the effect of the campaign towards the bigger fundraising operations – smaller charities should get ready for this campaign by preparing some work with a £2 a month prompt – but what success we'll see really depends on which celebrities get involved.
Most of my experience in using celebrity endorsement in appeals has been in standard DM, where it can have a profound effect. I was involved in developing a pack for one charity that featured an endorsement from a celebrity that had first hand experience of the organisation's work. This person was a national treasure; trusted and loved by millions. The appeal was a fantastic success which I put down to our brilliant creative work. But a few years later the celebrity decided to concentrate their support on another organisation and was to have their endorsement removed from the pack. Luckily we tested their absence and the results showed that this celebrity was responsible for over half the responses to the appeal (which helped the charity persuade the celeb not to withdraw completely).
I've also been involved in testing endorsements from celebrities against those of donors able to talk with authority about the work of the charity. And in these cases, the donors always won. If I remember correctly the best endorsement was from a rural doctor (from Devon, if you're interested).
I should also point out that I've seen some appeals dependent on celebrity endorsement absolutely bomb. Just because someone is famous doesn't mean we'll listen or be influenced by them. But how do we know who might be best to include in this campaign?
The NCVO could use the Davie-Brown Index, which offers marketers a systematic approach to quantifying the effect a celebrity might have on an advertising campaign. The index consists of a 1.5 million member consumer research panel that scores celebrities on eight criteria: appeal, notice, trendsetting, influence, trust, endorsement, aspiration and awareness. Getting access to the index isn't cheap, but New York Magazine had a chance to assess a group of New York based celebrities back in 2006. They found Michael J. Fox had the highest overall appeal with a trust rating of 75.9, which compared to Paris Hilton's 36.7.
And if they wanted to find out what causes Michael (or Paris) is interested in, they could check out www.looktothestars.org which details the charity work of 1,642 celebrities (and counting). They would find that apart from his own foundation that is looking to develop a cure for Parkinson's, he is also supporting causes involved with HIV/AIDS. youth, children, disaster relief, health, homelessness and women.
And then we come to the message. The small amount of information currently available on the NCVO campaign doesn't really excite me. How many of us really want children to grow up in a world of fear or discrimination? It's a bit of a no brainer and we know that's not always the best way to motivate donors. But Professional Fundraising reports that this was tested regionally over Christmas, so the rollout campaign should be based on a solid foundation. I'll look forward to seeing the final execution.
There's a similar-ish campaign backed by Intel that has recently been launched in the US – The Small Things Challenge (Similar because it's taking a celebrity based approach and placing emphasis on small gifts. Not similar because income raised is being distributed to just two charities – Kiva and Save the Children). Intel is pledging to give 5 cents for everyone who visits www.smallthingschallenge.com and clicks a magic button. It's not a new idea, but it's driving people to a place where they can be signed up by the participating charities or get involved in the auction where they can bid for things like laptops and guitars signed by various celebs. This is half the battle. Maybe the NCVO might be considering some similar means to drive traffic to a central site where people can flag up interest so charities can contact them.
I'll look forward to finding out what exactly the NCVO have in store for us. We are sailing in uncharted waters and though all the evidence is pointing to individual giving staying strong, a little nudge in the right direction shouldn't do us any harm and will hopefully do us some good. I'm sure all charities will be given a heads up on the final theme and dates so they can factor this into their own fundraising campaigns. But won't that mean everyone is out there asking at the same time? Cripes, that'll be overkill. Think of the giving fatigue!
You just can't win can you?
Good luck mates.