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There are important lessons to learn from a festive fundraising scandal involving influencer Chiara Ferragni, says Italian fundraising association ASSIF.
Ferragni, whose career began as a model, has more than 37m followers across her social media accounts. Ahead of Christmas 2022, she promoted a specially-branded pandoro (cake), implying that sales would raise money for the Regina Margherita hospital in Turin.
In December 2023, Italy’s competition authority AGCM issued fines of nearly €1.5m to companies connected to Ferragni, and to Balocco, the company which made the cake. AGCM found that Balocco had made a single donation of €50,000 to the hospital, but that this would not increase based on sales.
Ferragni has become increasingly vocal on various social issues including violence against women, and she and her musician husband have frequently criticised the country’s Government.
Her high profile meant that the story made national and international headlines, and gained further traction when Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made a veiled criticism of her.
Ferragni soon admitted to a “communications error” in an Instagram video, and pledged a €1m donation to the Regina Margherita.
ASSIF: two main issues
A statement published on the website of ASSIF in late December suggests that there are two fundamental issues that led to the scandal.
The first is the evolution of influencers as a category. Famous people lending their support to charitable campaigns is “nothing new”, it points out. However, these engagements “now form a part of the marketing strategy of the influencers themselves”, it adds. This has implications for the motivations and objectives for such campaigns, which fundraisers must work to understand and balance against their own targets.
The second is that the trend of fundraising for public organisations, in particular hospitals, grew significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic. ASSIF says that in many cases, hospitals may not have fundraising skills in their staff, and have struggled to understand how best to manage such activities.
ASSIF says that an expert fundraiser would “certainly” have been able to anticipate the issues in the Balocco-Ferragni campaign, adding:
“We hope that this affair can be the starting point for more informed and appropriate conversations about the role of fundraisers in public organisations.”
In January, it emerged that Ferragni faces a criminal fraud investigation. Media reports say that brands such as Coca-Cola have now paused campaigns which included Ferragni.
Picture by August Columbo on Pexels