Whether they’ve funded scholarships, projects, programs or given millions to many institutions – Celebrity giving has allowed U.S. colleges and universities to gain their highly needed resources, all while giving them a boost of positive publicity at the same time!
The headlines in mainstream media are just the beginning, the majority of celebrities are making sure their good deeds get noticed on social media too. (Insider tip: Your past, present, and future students, along with your donors are also following these celebrities on social media!)
How are Celebrities Making Differences in Higher Ed?
While many examples of celebrities supporting education tend to be in public schools; From Mark Zuckerberg’s 7-digit donations to California and New Jersey Public Schools to Taylor Swift giving $50K to New York Public Schools – there are celebs that are putting their dollars and fame to work in colleges and universities too.
Music industry icons Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine created the USC Jimmy Lovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation. Together they created an environment for those rare undergraduate students whose interests span in fields such as marketing, business entrepreneurship, computer science and engineering, audio and visual design, and arts. Their $70M gift in 2013 has transformed the educational opportunities now available to USC undergrads.
Celebs Supporting Students Directly
In 2017, Beyoncé started the ‘Formation Scholars’ Program for Young Women. The pop superstar designed the program to award four scholarships annually to incoming, current, or graduate female students studying creative arts, music, literature, or African-American studies at Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College.
In addition to her support for public education, Taylor Swift has found herself supporting university functions too. T-Swift supported University of Connecticut’s Huskython in 2016 with a gift of $1,989 (reflecting the title of her Grammy award-winning album, 1989).
What’s interesting is that Taylor wasn’t contacted by the Advancement Office at UConn to give this gift, her donation to UConn was in support of an accounting major, Igor Lekontsev, who was participating in the HuskyTHON charity dance marathon.
Celebrity Gifts Impact More Than Just Institutions
The superstars that are making generous gifts towards education don’t seem to be writing checks “to schools,” they are trying to make an impact on the students. The publicity that makes its way through social media and into the mainstream media is all about improving the future of today’s students. Occasionally, you hear about a celebrity that makes a sizable gift to their alma mater, but the most transformative gifts – with the most publicity – are about making an impact in the lives of young learners.
What Can Schools do to Attract Celebrity Support?
Rather than adding this year’s Grammy winners to your Annual Fund mailing list, think about inviting specific celebrities to connect with your school as presenters. Dartmouth got great press from their alumna Mindy Kaling speaking at their 2018 commencement ceremony. Non-Ivy Dillard University landed Chance the Rapper as their commencement speaker in the same year. These speakers not only grabbed national headlines, but they also inspire graduating students and guests, all while grabbing the attention of alumni who might not have stayed connected with their alma maters.
The Bottom Line
While you might not be able to use your conventional fundraising techniques to attract donations from celebrities for your college or university, you may be able to leverage a celebrity sighting, engagement or student interaction to motivate your alumni to re-engage. These alumni may not be in the spotlight during awards season, but they are the rock stars that keep our schools growing!
Sources & Additional Reading
 Celebrities Who Really Care About Education, theadvocate.org
 Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine, iovine-young.usc.edu
 Taylor Swift Donates $1,989 for UConn’s HuskyTHON Fundraiser, billboard.com
 2018 Commencement Address by Mindy Kaling ’01, news.dartmouth.edu
 Dillard University Commencement Speech, rollingstone.com