Peter Deitz, Social Actions
When it comes to online fundraising, an obvious tip is to meet your current and potential donors where they are. With 300 million active users, Facebook is a natural starting place. Moreover, the company reports that people who are 35 years and older make up the fastest growing user demographic, which corresponds to the demographic mostly likely to make a donation online.
As of September 2009, scores of Facebook applications have been developed to support the nonprofit sector in one way. The most well-known among them is Facebook Causes, with over 30 million active monthly users. According to the Facebook Causes blog, the application has helped raise more than $12 million for nonprofits based in the U.S. and Canada. Over $5 million has been raised in 2009 alone.
Other notable fundraising applications include Firstgiving's Fundraising application, the Justgiving application, and the ChipIn fundraising widget. These applications, and others, add a powerful philanthropic layer to Facebook.
To help tech-savvy nonprofits make use of Facebook, this brief guide includes four strategies.
1) Raise Meaning Before Money
Facebook describes itself as "a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers."
An effective strategy for using Facebook does not compete with the steady flow of status updates, pictures, and videos exchanged among friends, family, and coworkers. Instead, it embeds messages about the nonprofit and cause in these exchanges.
To the extent that Facebook users respond to your invitations to share news or donation opportunities with their friends, family, and coworkers, you will have effectively created meaningful opportunities for people to serve as amplifiers and participants in your work.
As a strategy, your goal in using Facebook is to create as many meaningful opportunities as possible for people to learn about, contribute to, and most importantly, spread the word about your shared interest in a particular mission.
Raising meaning before money can take many forms, including joining a Fan page, creating a Cause, "liking" a status update, posting a link, or simply referencing your nonprofit or cause in a status update.
Once an active community of supporters and fans has developed around your nonprofit or cause, you can encourage them to contribute to and spread donation opportunities.
2) Money Is Not the Only Metric
In April 2009, the Washington Post published a critique of Facebook Causes on the basis that it wasn't an effective tool for raising money. Nonprofit bloggers including Alison Fine, Beth Kanter, Steve MacLaughlin, and Brian Reich were quick to point out that donating money on Facebook is just one of many actions people can take in support of a nonprofit or cause.
Any strategy that leverages Facebook should embrace a range of metrics for evaluating its success. Principle among the appropriate metrics are number of supporters or fans recruited, number of comments on status updates, number of "likes" for status updates, number of visitors referred to the organization's website from Facebook, and number of Causes or Birthday Wishes created that benefit the nonprofit.
As these metrics rise, you will have a solid indication that users are engaging more deeply with your nonprofit or cause. Then and only then should a nonprofit or cause concern itself with number of donors and amount raised.
#3 - Your People Are Your Impact
The most effective online strategies for nonprofits put people at the center of creating impact, telling their stories, and asking their friends, family and coworkers for donations.
Prior to encouraging your supporters to create impact through donations, make sure to engage your fans and supporters in other ways. You can present them with light-weight opportunities to show their support online by voting in a contest, participating in online and offline events, and taking part in volunteer and do-it-yourself actions.
Genuinely putting your supporters and fans at the center of impact-creating activities will provide a strong motivation to donate to your nonprofit or cause.
When the time comes to raise money, the most basic approach is to ask supporters and fans to share a status update that links to a donation opportunity and to explain in their words why the donation opportunity matters. Another option is to ask people to donate their birthday or create a Cause that benefits your nonprofit.
#4 - Be Specific and Timely
Last month, Facebook Causes added a feature called Donor Choices. This feature allows nonprofits to specify the projects and outcomes that people can support when making a donation.
Here's how the Facebook Causes blog explains the new feature:
Donating to a nonprofit's name or to a general concept is not as compelling as the feeling of fulfillment you get from knowing to whom, what, and where your hard-earned dollars went. We've seen that nonprofits that do a good job of informing their supporters what their donations fund and who is impacted by those donations often see the number of donations, average donation amount, and repeat donations increase.
Donor Choices allows your nonprofit to designate price points at which members of your cause can donate and modifies your donation page to display those options.
Getting specific combined with a timely reason to give can be very effective in increasing donations. As you and your supporters launch fundraising campaigns on Facebook, you should work toward specific outcomes and designate a fundraising deadline for each campaign.
Nonprofits are learning -- if slowly -- that maintaining an authentic presence on Facebook and other social networks is hard work, but necessary. One way to ensure success is to experiment alongside and in full partnership with your supporters. As you experiment, remember to let your supporters do the talking.
Note: The original version of this article was written in 2007. The revised version focuses less on innovative fundraising applications and more on effective strategies for making use of Facebook. The author updated this article in September 2009 as part of Mozilla Service Week.