Image of Taylor Swift and her album cover for “Red” on a phone with ear buds.

Photo by Omid Armin, Unsplash

Nonprofits, fundraising campaigns and the Taylor Swift effect

By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

If you follow the National Football League, and even if you don’t, you have probably heard about the romance between Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce, and music superstar, Taylor Swift.

MarketWatch reports that Taylor Swift’s association with the NFL has boosted the league’s brand value by over $122 million in just a few months. But the NFL has not been the only organization to benefit; nonprofits are also cashing in.

When Taylor was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, one of the cover photos featured Taylor and her adopted cat, Benjamin Buttons. That’s when the team at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals created the “Taylor Swift Challenge.”

Some readers may remember the Ice Bucket Challenge held in the summer of 2014 that raised $115 million for the ALS Association and increased its annual funding for research by 187%.

The Taylor Swift Challenge was an online campaign to encourage people to donate $13 (Swift’s lucky number) to their local animal shelter on Dec. 13 which is her birthday. The drive was promoted by animal rescue and adoption organizations and quickly raised $20,000.

In another twist, some animal shelters lowered their adoption fee to $13 in honor of Swift’s birthday and saw adoption rates skyrocket. A Boston shelter with a special-needs cat named Era, after Swift’s Eras Tour, raised $20,000 for Era’s advanced medical treatments in less than a week and saw all but three hard-to-place cats adopted.

In another example, a cat rescue organization in Buffalo received over $260,000 from Taylor Swift fans who donated $13 to show their support for Tayler Bass, who faced online criticism after missing a game-tying field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Most nonprofits would not turn away the publicity and revenue an affiliation with Taylor Swift would generate. But if that’s not a likely scenario, here are a few takeaways from these examples that could help your favorite nonprofit.

1) Act fast

Be ready to act when an opportunity presents itself. I doubt the folks at the animal shelter were planning a Taylor Swift challenge when the cover photo with Taylor and her cat was revealed. Kudos to them for acting swiftly (pun intended) with an easy, clever way to give that aligned with their mission.

2) Be choosey

Your organization’s brand is one of your most valuable assets and has most likely taken years, even decades, to establish and grow. Earning the public’s trust is the result of accountability, transparency, effective leadership, and quality service delivery which are critical to your nonprofit’s ability to recruit staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and funding partners. Before aligning with a celebrity, athlete, or other public figure, do your homework to ensure the affiliation reflects well on your organization and aligns with your mission.

3) Think local

Consider identifying “celebrities” and other high-profile people at the local or state level that could bring positive awareness and credibility to your mission, especially among a group of people you have been unable to reach or engage. Incorporate these efforts into the overall marketing plan and always do your homework before reaching out.

4) Value loyalty

When it was announced recently that former President Jimmy Carter was receiving hospice care, most of the stories I read highlighted the 38 years of volunteer work and partnership he and his wife, Rosalynn, have contributed to Habitat for Humanity.

While there are other notable exceptions, most celebrity affiliations tend to be short-lived. That’s why it’s important to make the most of the opportunity and not be surprised when the interest and corresponding revenue quickly fades. Keep asking people for money by sending appeal letters, writing grants, hosting special events, conducting capital campaigns, and reporting on results.

These activities are the foundation of every annual fundraising program and should not be stopped or delayed for a one-time celebrity affiliation.

The long-term success of any fundraising program is dependent on the loyalty of your members, donors, and volunteers who are most likely to keep giving their time, talent, and treasure in support of your mission long after the celebrity fanfare ends.

Notes on Nonprofits is a column in the Tallahassee Democrat – USA Today Network produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. This column first appeared on January 5, 2024 in the Tallahassee Democrat – USA Today Network. Please send your comments and questions.

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