Being a public figure in today’s day can be very profitable and comes with a far-reaching platform that can be used to make a significant impact for charitable causes. Along with this, however, comes an unprecedented spotlight with increased scrutiny and significantly more reputational risk than the average person.
We help navigate this critical area with some helpful tips.
Decide on Structure: Partner up or Start-up?
The philanthropy market is fairly crowded; there are approximately 1.5 million 501(c)(3) organizations in the U.S. supporting numerous charitable causes. Running a charitable organization is a significant undertaking and requires much time, effort, and oversight. While there are a lot of high-profile people who come to it from a very well-intentioned place, that does not necessarily mean that the best outcome is starting and running your own organization.
An important consideration before starting up a new charitable endeavor is whether it could be better accomplished more efficiently through a partnership with an existing charity. For a nonprofit organization, a celebrity endorsement is an attractive opportunity to differentiate themselves and draw attention to the organization and its charitable work, resulting in increased awareness and support.
Rather than taking on the full burden directly, working with an established charitable organization can still produce a significant impact without as much administrative burden. For example, while we may not be able to see John Cena, somehow over 650 people were able to spot him as the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the actor and WWE superstar for the most wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Know Whom You Are Working With
In the age of the nonstop news cycle, we always have access to immense amounts of information. Bad publicity, mainly if it goes viral, can be extremely damaging to a reputation.
Furthermore, operating within the charitable sector is intended to be an inherently transparent undertaking within the public trust and is, therefore, particularly subject to reputational risk. Any uproar or backlash could divert attention from your positive accomplishments and leave behind reputational damage that takes years to repair.
Whether through working with a charitable organization as a partner or operating charitable activities directly through your own foundation and deciding where to focus your efforts/funds, it is critical to do your research and diligence to know whom you are working with and eliminate potential partners that may present financial, legal, reputational, and ethical risks; ultimately it will reflect on you!
Understand How To Make the Biggest Impact
People in the spotlight tend to be “do-ers,” and there is an inclination to dive in and try and solve a problem. While this altruism is commendable, it is equally important to spend time planning and understanding the best strategies to facilitate desired charitable outcomes.
Without proper planning, it is easy to invest time, money, and resources on charitable endeavors that may look great on paper and have a lot of great celebrities involved in them but do not actually make an impact.
It is also essential to think through the size and scope of your charitable impact. When the area of focus is large relative to charitable contributions, the difficulty of identifying and selecting beneficiaries is less likely to be scrutinized. For example, a food bank that only serves some of the hungry will not be criticized for helping only a small number of people.
Ultimately, in order to ensure that a program is having an impact, there needs to be a plan for tracking progress toward the goals and measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
Financial Accountability: Show Me the Money (And How You Spent It!)
Charitable funds are public funds in trust and require transparency and accountability. The public’s assumption is that you are going to be the steward of their money and ensure it is used to advance charitable causes; misuse of funds in any way can lead to major liability.
To ensure the money is used properly, nonprofits must maintain legal compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations. These regulations promote transparency and accountability, improving public trust in all nonprofit organizations, including yours.
This is especially important in today’s digital landscape, where new and innovative ways of doing traditional charitable activities and fundraising can lead to unintended compliance consequences. For example, a click to donate on your website could trigger compliance requirements in the state where that donor resides, even if you have never actually operated in that state.
Stay Committed: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!
For many, the act of starting up is the most exciting phase. Developing a vision and working to plot out each exciting step leading up to that vision’s ultimate being is a thrilling act of creation. While it is really easy to start a charitable project, it’s keeping things going sustainably that is the real challenge. Between the time commitment, the effort required, and the difficulty of continually raising money, it is easy to get discouraged.
In the social impact world, we crave results, and everyone around us demands those results, regardless of the resources we have been equipped with to create them. It is easy to feel like you are falling behind or failing without seeing big, mind-blowing results quickly.
However, it is imperative that you maintain that focus on what your day-to-day efforts are ultimately leading to. Having a crystal clear vision for your long-term outcomes will help ensure your short-term goals are in alignment.
For more information on this topic, please contact a member of Withum’s Professional Sports Services Team.