If you thought getting a big-name celebrity like Ashton Kutcher or Nicole Kidman to endorse your charity campaign is the best way to raise awareness and raise funds, think again. A new report published by PayPal shows being aligned with lesser known celebrities or plain folks with a good Internet profile is often more effective.

The report looks at six major online fund-raising campaigns and it’s main finding is that star power and follower counts have little to do with fund raising effectiveness, instead those individuals who raised the most money spent time online interecting with people.

This echoes the advice I give clients; authenticity and involvement are the keys to social media success. The report says, “Engagement matters with social media, often much more so than having a large online fan base at the beginning of a campaign. Social fund raising requires an active, authentic, and continued involvement … even if only for a short time.”

It’s important to examine the data to understand the real value that a celebrity brings to a charity. One example cited in the report involves Save the Children, for which in one day Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber helped raise $100,000 to fight famine in Somalia and other parts of East Africa. It’s a good sum of money, but when you consider the number of online fans of these two A-listers, the amount equates to only a fraction of a penny per follower.

Consider the work done by Paddy O’Brien, a California boy who shared the story of his battle with bone cancer as he raised money for the children’s hospital that treated him. Paddy was successful in securing 1,000 donations via Facebook. Actor Ashton Kutcher delivered just 114 donations to the same campaign.

A DonorsChoose.org fundraising competition among bloggers, including TechCrunch‘s Michael Arrington and All Things Delivered’s Kara Swisher, was dominated by a blogger offering to parade around in a tomato suit.

The report studies six case studies and offers many best practice examples. It also offers solid advice on how to select celebrities as charity partners including:

  • Choose a celebrity who is already actively in social media and interacts regularly online with fans.
  • Find a celebrity who has a personal connection and an authentic passion for your cause.
  • Ask the celebrity to ask personal friends to get involved, not just fans and followers.
  • Open your mind to working with different kinds of celebrities. A passionate tweeter is often better than a big name celebrity with a million followers.