PayPal Paper Shows Celebrities Not Always the Best Choice for Fundraising

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A recent study sponsored by PayPal Nonprofit, and penned by Geoff Livingston and Henry Dunbar for Zoetica, shows that a personal story, a tight knit community and the authenticity of the messenger count more than simple fame.

Through case studies and examples the paper outlines the following four tips for fundraisers looking to incorporate celebrities or weblebrities in their online campaigns.

Four Tips for Using Weblebrities for Fundraising

Personal connections and authentic passion for the cause.

As demonstrated by cancer survivor Paddy O’Brien in UCSF’s Causes and blogger Ali Edwards in the Six Degrees launch contests, personal connections are critical in generating donations. DonorsChoose’s Doherty notes the vital connection between passion and success. “It is more about identifying the person who would be a strong advocate,” she says, “It’s not social media. The base level [for successful campaigns] is really a passionate advocate. Social media just helps them.”

Willingness to ask their personal friends to get involved and not just their ‘publics.’

For its blogger and social media challenges, Anna Doherty at said they have learned that this is critical for social fundraising success. She said the celebrity champion should be willing to go beyond their public contact. “Once we know that person is willing [to contact friends and family] then we know it is going to be successful,” she said.

Identify avid users of social media, both by the celebrity and their social networks.

TwitChange’s King said they now look for celebrities who are better engaged with their fan based, specifically citing Zack Levi as a model. “His followers are part of a community,” King said. “He engages with them a lot. They feel personally connected.”

Another example is Colbert, who had twice promoted social fundraising campaigns for, raising $190,000 and $167,000 respectively. His collaboration with the Reddit community was much more successful. By adding his star-power to the already engaged social network on Reddit, the Restore Truthiness campaign raised more than double his first two efforts, netting $610,000 from 11,000 donors. Finding this kind of nexus of celebrity combined with a passionate online community can be huge benefit for nonprofits.

Operation Smile’s Kastrounis said they sought out singer Charice because of her engagement with fans. “She’s young and social media savvy, and she had just joined our cause as a Smile Ambassador so we figured she would be great face for the campaign and mobilize her fans to support us in this campaign,” Kastrounis said.

Welcome the non-traditional celebrity.

TwitChange’s King notes that they kept being surprised by which celebrities had the most response in their auctions. “Having followers is not the same as a fully devoted fan,” King said. “We have learned that.” Additionally, blogger Ali Edward’s and cancer patient Paddy O’Brien’s success on Six Degrees and photography Jeremy Cowart’s on TwitChange have shown that lesser-known and even “unknown celebrities” can be extremely effective fundraisers.

You can download the Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers, in full from the Scribed site.

Special thanks to PayPal’s Clam Lorenz, Network for Good’sKatya Andresen,’s Anna Doherty, Operation Smile’s Kristi Kastrounis, and TwitChange’s Shaun King, all of whom provided the outstanding content and insights that made this paper possible.

Other coverage of the paper:


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