The Celebrity of Not-for-Profits

Today, more so than ever before, not-for-profits are emerging on the map with lineups more prominent than your “average joes.” Famous celebrities and athletes are using their names to help achieve philanthropic goals, and many established not-for-profits are enlisting such names to help bring buzz in for their cause. One wouldn’t think ethics would get sidelined in charities’ quest for star-power endorsements, but recent articles examining some charities lack of standards have put the celebrity ties in the limelight.

Not-for-profits expect their celebrity partners to have a visibility which can allow them to raise dollars and impact societal needs to aid in a platform for change. The potential is monumental. Following appropriate standards and ethical practices is crucial for these high-profile organizations.

ESPN recently aired an investigatory segment titled “Athlete charities often lack standards” on the program Outside the Lines. The show examined how, when investigated closely, some athlete-backed charities appear to have lax governance and oversight. Further, lack of grant funding for the cause of choice, or falling behind on IRS tax filings, are not behaviors supporters of any cause expect. Raising funds for programmatic purposes but creating a bloated overhead can quickly attract negative publicity as well as governmental scrutiny.

Some not-for-profits establish themselves with a “name,” and not with the expectation of the hands-on involvement of the celebrity. But who would want to be name-tagged on a cause when it wasn’t meant to stick? These not-for-profits are set up with a celebrity with the hopes of providing a platform for positive PR, or to help garner support and awareness for their cause. Without careful attention paid to the actual oversight of the charity, this can be dangerous. An alternative approach to creating a charity is to lend celebrity support to an existing charity.

Following codes of ethics and required standards allow these not-for-profits and their celebrity backers to provide for others with the longevity needed to make an impact. These code of ethics requirements should be monitored as closely as any game or cinematic production; if a foul is made or a scene edited incorrectly, repercussions occur.

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