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The Power of Celebrity

I once saw an extremely funny American comedian who explained that the only way you could ever hope to be cured of a major disease was if someone famous also had it. 

I wish I could remember the guy’s name as his point seems very well observed.  This week, Conservative Leader David Cameron has made the national press highlighting Tory plans to help families of disabled children get better access to specialist services.  I believe he is writing from the heart when he recounts  the difficulties he and his wife had in looking after their son Ivan, who died earlier this year having suffered with both cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

As a result, he is committed to several important objectives:

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I’m not here to bang the Tory drum in particular.  I want to know why these great initiatives weren’t a priority for the previous leader?  Why is it that as soon as Gordon Brown has a family, that children are at the heart of a multitude of policies and fundraising plans?

The answer is simple; issues close to home always rate a higher priority.  And if an individual has influence, they tend to exert it.

This is the reason charities try to find celebrities to support their cause.  By default, celebrities have a  louder voice than the rest of us and can raise awareness of all sorts of issues.  But the most successful fundraising campaigns seem to be where the celebrity is not just interested but has a personal stake in the cause.

Think how powerful the support of people like Roy Castle, Bob Monkhouse and Lance Armstrong has been and still is to cancer charities.  Before the comments come flying in, I’m not so crass as to suggest that we should all seek out poorly celebrities to exploit them for fundraising ends.  That would be in poor taste and probably deeply unethical for many.

Instead, we could look for the positive signals and triggers rather than the negatives.  For example, celebrities like Mr Brown starting a family might signal an increased interest in children’s causes with them.  Similarly, Olympic success for an individual might signal support for local or community programmes.

Using celebrities well is a bit of minefield but can bring great benefits.  The best resource I’ve seen to help is a book written by Eileen Hammond called Patrons, Presidents and Personalities.  It’s basically a step by step guide for charities who want to use celebrity to support their cause and well worth a look.

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