CAMDEN — Nonprofit organizations seeking a boost in donations might want to pay close attention to box office numbers and Billboard charts during the upcoming season of giving.
That’s because research being done at Rutgers–Camden suggests movie stars, musical performers, and other celebrities who are associated with philanthropic causes help increase financial support from the public.
“It’s easy to say that if you have a celebrity on board, you’re going to get more donations,” says Erica Harris, an assistant professor of accounting at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden. “However, we find that celebrities also offer a credibility signal to donors, which is especially important for nonprofit organizations.”
"We find that celebrities also offer a credibility signal to donors, which is especially important for nonprofit organizations."
Harris and colleague Julie Ruth, a professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, are working together to determine just how much impact celebrity endorsements have on charitable donations. The scholars are co-authors of the forthcoming article, “The Relationship of Celebrity Affiliation to Nonprofit Contributions: A Donations Demand Model Assessment.”
Famous public figures often use their celebrity to not only sell products, but also promote good causes. Ruth, an expert in brand strategy and consumer behavior, says celebrities bring attention to charities just as they would a product, creating image-related links on the basis of qualities such as attractiveness and likability, expertise, and trustworthiness.
“A brand that is able to break through the clutter of marketing messages by being associated with a well-known, attractive, and sometimes expert endorser is typically perceived to be more credible and more likable,” Ruth says. “Both of those aspects — credibility and likeability — add value to a brand, which in turn makes it easier and more likely that consumers would choose the particular brand. We believe it’s a fairly similar process for celebrities and nonprofit organizations, as reflected in donations.”
Harris and Ruth referred to a sample of more than 500 charities with known celebrity affiliations, including organizations that raise money for arts and culture, the environment, education, hospitals, human services, and international causes. They also drew upon data kept on looktothestars.org, a website that tracks celebrity charity news and information.
The Rutgers–Camden researchers found that athletes, movie stars, and newscasters are associated with the largest increase in public donations.
Harris and Ruth posit that it is difficult for the public to gauge how successful charity organizations are in meeting their stated goals, but celebrity support lends credibility to those organizations.
Furthermore, a relationship with a celebrity allows nonprofit organizations to allocate more resources to service missions than fundraising campaigns, Harris says.
“Charitable organizations have to spend a lot of time to cultivate the relationship with a celebrity and we think that speaks well of nonprofit managers,” Harris says. “We hope nonprofit marketing professionals may increase awareness of their organizations through celebrity endorsements.”
A Haddonfield resident, Harris is an expert in nonprofit accounting who has performed extensive research on how nonprofit board governance and executive compensation impacts donations. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, her MBA from the University of Miami, and her PhD from Temple University.
Ruth is the author of numerous articles on emotions and consumer behavior, marketing relationships, and brand marketing strategy, and is an associate editor at the Journal of Advertising. A Philadelphia resident, she received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, her master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and her doctoral degree from the University of Michigan.