The lure of celebrity and media endorsements.

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What do you look at when choosing a charity to support? Good governance perhaps? A famous Patron, maybe? Trustees whose names start with “Sir” or “Dame”?

The lure of celebrity

Having a celebrity Patron certainly can help raise public profile – what charity right now wouldn’t want Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as Patrons?  A politician or business leader can open doors and an expert in the charity’s field of work can lend credibility too. Donors, however, should look beyond the famous name to see what the Patron really does for the charity. Most larger charities have Patrons but they may be little more than names on the letterhead.  Do they come to events and actively promote the cause?  If so the charity is likely to be able to “speak truth to power” so may be able to put your donation to greater good.

Most small charities would love to have a powerful Patron but you don’t secure a top name Patron just by writing a nice letter; you need to have connections who will vouch for you and small charities don’t have the way in that would get them through the door.

When choosing a charity to support, look beyond the Patrons and trends in media headlines and choose the causes that matter most to you.

Governance and income generation

There are regular media headlines about how little of your hard-earned donations reach charity beneficiaries so does what your chosen charity spend on income generation and governance matter to you?

Should it matter? Possibly a touchy point.

There is no doubt the bigger, often global, charities operate in a world of double standards. They want to attract the best possible candidates to work within their large organisations, but if they pay ‘market rate’ commercial salaries for the job they’ll be pilloried in the media for unacceptable behaviour.

How much should be spent on marketing and brand, and income generation?

Good marketing is a great investment for a charity. It’s a proven fact.

What is acceptable to you?

There is no standard amongst charities as to what is the norm in terms of percentage of annual income. Viewing the Charity Commission website tells a story. There is a vast difference in spending on themselves between many of the charities listed, with some claiming as little as 10% and others over 35% or higher. Some of this will undoubtedly be connected to the way the accounts are drawn up but if it’s important to you, the facts are there for you to see.

As with any organisation the need for good governance is a given and the cost for this must be borne, not only to meet compliance with law and regulation but to ensure that the organisation is well run and efficient and it meets the stated objects. As with all business generally, there are well run charities and some that could do better.


It’s the board of trustees that make the key decisions within a charity, not individual trustees or employees. Understanding the skills and experience on a trustee board may help demonstrate its capabilities.

Whilst the ‘hard skills’ are sought and necessary – legal, financial, management, etc – the ‘soft skills’ are also very valuable – team working, problem solving, etc. A good trustee board is one with diversity in its people and its skills.

It is, however, very difficult to find trustees that have all the skills needed, can commit to give the time needed (don’t forget, trustees are volunteers taking on onerous legal responsibilities) and represent all the diverse mix of our communities.

Be realistic in your expectations with small charities, but don’t ignore the importance of trustees.

If you are keen to support small, local charities, take a read of our thoughts on a different way to do things, and get in touch.

Quartet Community Foundation are the West of England’s experts in linking businesses to local good causes.  Using our charity’s 30 years of experience, we’ll help you focus on the key social needs of the area to build an action plan for your charitable goals that makes a real impact on local communities, charities and voluntary organisations.  We also work with business that has a wider geographical base using the network of UK Community Foundations. Contact us on 0117 989 7700 and we’ll help you plan to deliver your that works for your business and local people.