May 1, 2011; Source: Associated Press | Remember the controversy over Sarah Palin’s secret $75,000 speaking fee for a speech at California State University at Stanislaus last year? This year, West Hills College in Lemoore, Calif., shelled out $115,000 for her to speak at the inauguration of the college’s Golden Eagle Arena.

Not a bad haul for an hour’s worth of Palin, no? No wonder the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee seems to be shying away from a presidential run in favor of writing books, giving speeches, doing reality TV shows, offering punditry on Fox News, and vaulting herself into the category of comfortable seven-figure earnings.

Why would Stanislaus and West Hills pay so much for an appearance by Palin? The Associated Press revealed Palin’s secret. Palin’s mere presence at the dais constitutes a phenomenal fundraising tool.

For the $75,000 Stanislaus paid Palin for a 40-minute appearance, the school raised more than $207,000 for scholarships. West Hills said that its $115,000 payment to the Washington Speakers Bureau for Palin has already been recouped through ticket sales to a private, post-dinner speech with the political star. Additional ticket sales will fund scholarships and maintenance of the school’s arena.

Sarah Palin as a nonprofit fundraising tool? Assuming Stanislaus and West Hills don’t factor in what it might cost the schools in terms of security, janitorial, and other costs associated with the Palin show, Sarah Palin may be a very cost-effective fundraising strategy. Imagine how much the American Civil Liberties Union could bring in with Palin as its next fundraising headliner! Imagine how much money Nonprofit Quarterly could reap with Palin featured in an NPQ trendcast!

Oh, the possibilities are just endless.—Rick Cohen