• raising awareness of your organisation, among donors, key influencers as well as the wider public.
• getting stories about your organisation into the media as journalists are more likely to use your stories if celebrities are involved.
• attracting new people to your organisation, particularly at events. If people don’t know about you as an organisation or what you do, the patron, particularly a celebrity patron, can be the draw to get people there. Generally people love to meet celebrities or others that may be attractive to them eg leaders in their field (we once had an event that was well attended by lawyers because they heard that a high court judge was coming along and they were desperate to meet him!)
• raising the credibility of your organisation, particularly if they are leaders in their fields or very famous. If people have not heard of your organisation, the fact that a celebrity is involved (particularly if they are actively involved) often means that they are more likely to trust that your organisation does a good job.
• Getting more commitment to support you from highly achieving people and celebrities, who are more likely to get actively involved as a patron as they have already made that commitment psychologically. In fact, you may have actually asked for a certain level of support when inviting them to become a patron.
• linking you to their contacts. As a patron they may be willing to use their influence and reach out to new high level people for you for their support.
• help to put your message across to a wider audience and increase credibility of a particular appeal.
• brighten up and increase interest in your literature and media by providing quotes, photographs or even by just having their name included.
They can help to encourage and motivate staff who may be proud of their involvement, particularly if they think that they may get the chance to meet them. We go into more detail on some of these points below.
We have also outlined a strategy of how to find and choose your potential patrons and how to manage those relationships.
Characteristics of a Patron
Ideally your patrons should have some or all of the following characteristics to be able to offer the most useful support to your organisation:
• They should share ethos and passion of your organisation, so that they can speak convincingly about your work, why they support it and they come across as credible to the audiences that they are in front of. Further, if they are truly committed to your organisation they are more likely to go that extra mile to ensure that their support can really make a difference in enlisting other support (whether financial, or with regard to using their connections). In some cases, patrons that are committed might also become major donors to your organisation.
• Part of a patron’s role is to raise the profile of your organisation, or to encourage other people to come on board, either directly or as a result of their own profile and standing. As mentioned above, if particularly well-connected, they may be willing to use their influence to bring on board other supporters to your organisation, including other people in their field eg actors can bring on board other actors, authors other authors etc.
• The best patrons are truly willing participants who are keen to be involved. Those that are involved under an obligation, or purely to raise their own profile are less likely to be flexible, to learn scripts or about the project that they are being asked to support, or follow your strategies. In a small, or understaffed team, it can also be hard work to keep up with high demands that they might make! Further, they might not be as convincing when asked to speak about your organisation.
If, on the other hand, you have a very willing participant it is important not to overuse them, otherwise you could damage your relationship with them and exhaust their goodwill. It is therefore important to come to an agreement early on in the relationship about what you expect of them and what they are agreeing to do you for you, and review this regularly, so that you can ensure that they remain happy to be involved in your work.
• Patrons that can easily reach your usual venues for events or meetings, or attend projects are ideal. Local celebrities, although maybe having a lower profile, can be excellent ambassadors for local projects as they are more likely to be respected by the local community (good for local fundraising), easier to pin down and more likely to be committed to the project as it is within their vicinity.
• Capable of involvement. It is better to have patrons that can actually commit the time and energy to your project, even if on a limited basis (which should be agreed early on in the relationship as highlighted above). Having said this, if you are able to recruit higher profile people eg A-list stars who may live overseas, who are able to at least give their name to the project, write the occasional quote or letter or give you a contact, this can be extremely useful, even if they cannot attend events. Ideally you would have a mixture of both high profile (but maybe not very accessible) as well as lower profile, but more available, people on your patrons’ list.
• When choosing a patron, ideally you would engage people at the right level who have a good understanding of your work eg those who may have had some personal experience of the type of work you do; those who can feel emotionally engaged in the project but also can talk from their own experiences of the importance of your work. Of course, this is not always possible, in which case it is important to engage the people that you are bringing on board with your case for support, either through various literature, visits or meetings, where appropriate. This is particularly important prior to an occasion when they would be expected to talk about your work eg at an event.
• Articulate and good speakers. Some of the best patrons are actors and actresses, as they are often good, emotional speakers, can talk passionately about your work and can learn a script! They are used to projecting their voices and engaging with an audience.
• In most cases you will have to work around the availability of your patron, as they are often busy people, however, ideally they would have a degree of flexibility, particularly as things can go wrong and you need them to be supportive of your changing needs.
• For particularly types of activities or events, you would need to be able to prepare your patron to play a particular role and will need to engage them in the work, project or activity properly beforehand. If your patron is not accessible, at least for conversation, the relationship and the role you expect of them can be difficult to manage.
Types of Patron
It is a good idea to have people from different sections of society. As mentioned above, different groups might have different demands and capabilities, or might play different roles, so a mixture is ideal so that you can involve different people for different types of activities at different times:
• Leaders in the field: You might decide to have different people from different professions or backgrounds who can influence, as well as have contacts within, different communities eg legal, academic, business, arts (visual and performance) etc. Ideally you might include people who are leaders within the field that you work eg medical, care etc.
• Celebrity: As mentioned above, it might be a good idea to have both A-list (for profile), B-list (as more likely to be available) and local celebrities on board (as local heroes, helpful in local fundraising).
• Religious: You may decide to bring on board leaders from different religions, however, unless your organisation represents a particular faith, it might be advisable to have representatives from different religious backgrounds if you support people from different faiths, otherwise you may appear to have a bias which might alienate some.
• Survivors/cause-related: Occasionally people are famous because of their experiences that relate to your cause eg John McCarthy (former hostage) and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. In many cases patrons with these backgrounds can be excellent as they can talk very personally about their support and the cause.
• Royal: Having at least one royal patron can be very helpful, particularly if they agree to host an event for you (often needing to be booked well in advance eg 1 year to 18 months). Royal patrons are usually involved in a lot of organisations and are often name only, however, this depends upon how much of a relationship you are able to build with them, how connected and committed they are to your type of cause and their position in the Royal Family.
You may decide, in certain circumstances to adopt patrons for particular appeals rather than for the whole organisation, as then their support will be time-limited. Some potential patrons might find this more attractive and be able to commit more time as a result, or they might like to see that their support has achieved something within a particular time-frame. Alternatively you may be concerned that you are bringing on board too many people or that they may not be very effective and this way you be able to reduce your numbers in the future.