Patrons and Ambassadors

I was asked in a consulting session the other day, ’How can our Patron assist in our fundraising?’

I asked who she was. I had not heard of her (but that did not matter as she is a sportswoman, and I don’t follow sport). I wanted to know how strong her social media presence was – how many followers she had.

‘She is not well-known and does not do much on social media’, was the response.

I suggested that she becomes an ambassador (as she is a role model for those served by the NPO) and that a famous patron be sought. This reminded me of the value of having a high-profile person as a patron. There is no fixed rule, but generally an organisation has one patron and several ambassadors.

Legendary comedian, Pieter-Dirk Uys, is the patron of The Darling Trust, which he started. South African music icon, David Kramer, loves donkeys and cares deeply about their abuse. He is the patron of the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary and he composed and recorded his song Donkiehemel, to create awareness of the plight of working with donkeys and the welfare work that takes place at the Sanctuary. SAYes Mentoring has a great line-up of patrons, including the wonderful Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa.

NPO patrons play a crucial role, serving as advocates and catalysts for positive change. They should, ideally, be eminent figures from various spheres such as entertainment, sport or the business world (I would avoid politicians . . .) and lend their support, influence and resources to advance the missions of NPOs. It’s important to have a clear and obvious connection as to why a particular person is approached to act in this role. And that is not just because they are famous! One of the primary roles of non-profit patrons is to raise awareness about the causes they support. Their prominence and networks enable them to amplify the message of the NPO, attracting attention from the public, media and, of course, potential donors. By lending their name and reputation, patrons can significantly enhance the visibility and credibility of the organisation. Patrons often contribute financially to the organisations they endorse, and they sometimes leverage their connections to secure further contributions from other philanthropists, trusts or companies, multiplying the impact of their support.

A patron’s time must be respected, and they should be involved on a quality rather than quantity time basis. It is best to plan a year in advance and obtain a commitment from them to be involved, in whatever way this means in each case – anything from a personal appearance/hosting of an event, to posting on social media – to use a patron carefully and optimally. Asking high profile people why they withdrew their patronage from NPOs (as part of my research for a recent book) showed that some organisation’s staff or volunteers called on their patrons too often and were also disorganised with requests made at the last minute.

Sometimes an organisation is just lucky – asking the right potential patron at the right time. Generally, there should be an obvious connection or fit. It’s easy to think of a list of famous people you’d like as a patron, but the main question should be, ‘Why would they feel that this would be a good idea?’ What is the reason that they would associate with your organisation? Why would they choose it above others? And the answer is not because you asked first.

When applying to a well-known person to act as patron:

  • Do so by email to the appropriate person (PA or manager) – don’t try to track down a personal email for the star. The correct email address is usually easy to find on their website. Reaching out to them on LinkedIn rarely works.
  • Do not phone, even if you can find a number and don’t accost/embarrass them if you meet them at an event.
  • Before approaching a potential patron, read up as much as possible about them.
      • Was someone in their family affected by an illness – physical or mental – that your organisation works to alleviate, prevent or cure?
      • Is there a geographical connection? Does your organisation operate in a small town or rural province where a well-known person hails from?
      • Look at existing patron relationships in non-profits locally and globally. What is the link or connection?
  • Keep emails brief but include relevant information. Screeds of waffle and attachments about the organisation are not wanted or needed. The simple inclusion of the website in your email signature (where is should always be), is enough.
  • Clearly but briefly explain the impact that the NPO and its projects bring about. (This merely reinforces the point that it is not about the organisation, it is about those served. Why do so many lose sight of this?)
  • Before wasting time in carefully crafting a great letter, be clear as to why the well-known person would/should/might be interested. What is the connection? This is the most critical factor. The answer is not because your NPO does great work.
  • Explain why you feel that they would be an ideal patron.
  • Clearly spell out in this initial exploratory email what would be expected of the patron.

I once arranged for a popular Springbok rugby player to take on the role of a patron for a client organisation. There was no BackaBuddy crowdfunding platform in those days and the tech supporting the organisation’s website was not as evolved, developed or powerful as today. A fundraising campaign was planned for a specific day, (the term ‘crowdfunding’ was not yet in use), with donations to be made on the NPO’s website. As the world’s leading players follow each other’s social media, it only took one post by the Springbok. The majority of the All Blacks, British and Irish Lions, French, Argentinian and other teams’ players donated and, in response to being asked to do so, in turn posted on their various social media channels. Our client’s website crashed! Lesson learnt – the organisation’s website was upgraded. (I was delighted to discover BackaBuddy a year later) This underpinned the fundraising benefits of having the right patron.

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