Facebook Causes is one of those conundrums in the nonprofit world – it seems like a perfectly wonderful tool for gaining attention for a cause, but there are significant barriers to adopting Causes as an online giving mechanism. It may appear to be a good solution for the nonprofit seeking new revenue streams: Give! Where you already spend time online! Easily! It’s viral! – but very few organizations have figured out how to translate this idea into any type of reliable or significant source of revenues. I attended two workshops at NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference that addressed Facebook Causes and offered statistics, best practices and guidance. (I’ll save summaries from those sessions for another blog post.)
However, what arose out of those sessions was this concept:
Facebook users are not used to giving money on-site; in fact, it’s not how they use the site. Yet. Facebook users are going to a party, not a fundraisng house party.
Think about it: when you are visiting Facebook online, do you also think, “I’m on Facebook and I’m ready to also give some money while I’m here…socializing?” Not really. That’s what you do at a fundrasing house party, and not at a social event.
Here is how most people use social networks:
I don’t see “giving money” on the list. However, “organize with others for an event, issue or cause” is listed. Facebook seems ideal for communicating ideas.
Maybe donating money within a social network is closer in nature to clicking on an ad? The habits of social network users are one obstacle. According to emarketer, “In 2008, IDC found that 43% of social network users never clicked on ads, a dramatic difference from the 80% of other Internet users who did so at least once a year. Further, 23% of nonusers who clicked on an ad then made a purchase; only 11% of social network users who clicked on ads did the same.” When people click on ads, they are interested in making a purchase, or thinking about making a purchase. When people on social networks click on a Facebook Cause, they may be interested in supporting the cause (possibly the 43% cited in the Pew Internet study), but not making a donation (purchase) to the cause.
According to the session that I attended at NTEN, “Valuing Online Fundraising,” only two nonprofits have raised more than $100,000 through Causes. Fewer than 50 nonprofits have raisde more than $10,000. However, from 2007 to 2008, the average average amount donated per cause has increased from $31.25 to $41. According to the Causes developer’s page, the average donation is now $45.52, and there are 155,000 Causes listed (for 32,000 unique non-profits). According to this article by Allison Fine, only about 8,000 of those Causes have also created a Network for Good fundraising dashboard to raises money for the Cause. If you take that into account, then the average donation per organization with a Network for Good dashboard is closer to $930.That shows some signs of improvement. Which organizations have raised the most? Both the Nature Conservancy and Students for a Free Tibet have raised over $100,000, and Save Darfur has raised about $80,000.
I don’t think any organization should give up on Causes, nor any other social network-based fundraising efforts. It’s just that people are socializing on social networks. They are meeting up with friends and chatting at virtual events or parties online. They are even making people aware of causes by organizing for a cause (see chart above). They aren’t, in large part, raising funds on social networks. Raising funds through social networking is the future – but the Causes application is in no way the “fundraising house party” widget that it needs be to raise awareness and funds.
And maybe that is the issue. Perhaps Causes should to divide itself into an awareness application and a fundraising application. The expectations are just too high on the part of the nonprofits - that awareness passed along easily through social networks will translate into donations. This is the same translation challenge on every medium- from email fundraising to offline event organizing. The difference is that when a nonprofit supporter receives an email from a nonprofit, that person is now acculturated to expecting a donation request.
According to Facebook Causes, “a cause is an online campaign for collective action that can be started by any Facebook user. The creator of a cause can champion any issue…like ‘Support the Berkeley Y.M.C.A.’ The cause creator conveys the primary goal of the cause in the title they choose and the various fields they can fill out to describe the cause.” The offline equivalent would be asking people to take action, such as signing a petition or making a phone call. It’s different than asking people directly to give money.
I know the argument: engagement leads to donations. That is a true fact. What I’m arguing is: the expectation is that if one joins a Facebook Cause, the money will follow. This has more to do with how people want to use social networks than whether or not Causes can raise money. Engage with your supports on social networks – it will lead to donations. But right now, those donations are happening where donors are used to donating: from their checkbook, or when led to donate on a website.
adoption barriers, people have to first change their patterns of online behavior. If your organization isn’t currently trying to raise money through Causes or any other social network fundraising application, it is missing an opportunity. Two years from now, I predict that online behavior will again have shifted and that social network users will become accustomed to donating through social networks. Early adopters will be at an advantage in two years’ time. They will be the ones that understand best how to utilize Causes to create large fan bases and raise funds…by the time their fans are ready to give regularly online.
It’s just a waiting game now.