This morning the Washington Post published an article titled "To Nonprofits Seeking Cash, Facebook App Isn't So Green: Though Popular, 'Causes' Ineffective for Fundraising." When I first saw the article, I thought it was the article from a year ago where they said basically the same thing. Proclaiming that fundraising using Facebook Causes was a failure based on a calculation of dollars per donor.
Back in 2007, when Facebook opened it doors to people older than college students and nonprofits started the early experiments on Facebook Causes, Froggy Loop did an extensive analysis "The Long, Long Tail of Facebook Causes" using the dollars per donor analysis. At that time the Facebook Causes was only two months old and in their conclusion they pointed out that fundraising on social networks was not a silver bullet and that it takes time.
It's still too early to measure success in aggregate dollars per donor. Steve MacLaughlin points out "If the reason why you want to use social networks is just to raise money, then stop now. It doesn't work that way." And, as Tech Hermit blog notes, there was quite a discussion about this on Twitter.
I asked my colleague Allison Fine if she was blogging about this article and she published a great piece called "Washington Post Disses Facebook Causes" She points out some inaccurancies in the post article that skews the dollars per donor number because of the large number of inactive causes on FB or the number of causes who never intended to raise money using Causes.
Allison goes on to reframe how we need to think about Causes. I'll boil it down to "Causes is A Friending Tool, Not A Fundraising Tool." (Credit to Steve MacLaughlin for that) Go read it and come back. I agree with her points:
- Causes facilitates the spread of your organization's message. The nonprofit doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting. Allison suggests that we're looking at the wrong metric - we should be measuring success using awareness not dollars. I agree. So does the GummyPrint blog who shared this case study of their work on Facebook Causes.
- Allison reminds us that while we've read a lot about the dramatic increase in babyboommers getting on to Facebook, the majority of Facebook users are younger and they aren't in the prime earning years (yet)
- Causes has demonstrated its ability for distributed fundraising for causes where there is the right stimulus. Allison points out the numbers for America's Giving Challenge on Facebook sponsored by the Case Foundation.
I'd also add that if you do the relationship building piece, you can get better results with fundraising dollars on causes. Earlier this year, I was able to raise $6,893 for the Sharing Foundation using Causes birthday application from 167 donors. If you do the math, that's $41 per donor. There were 349 people that joined the cause, so that brings the average down to $19 per donor. It's the relationship building, it's the relationship building .....
My fundraising colleagues concur. Betsy Harman says:
Any nonprofit who thinks they can simply put a donate now button on their website or simply create a "Causes" page on Facebook and wait for the money to roll in, doesn't understand online fundraising. It's still all about building relationships, telling your story, and taking potential donors through the process of cultivation, stewardship and solicitation The Facebook Causes application is just a tool for peer to peer fundraising but in order to raise money that tool has to be used by someone who is passionate about the organization and proactive about telling the organization's story, making the ask, and linking to the tool. A lot of people and organizations have also created causes pages that don't even offer the ability to donate through NetWork for Good. They were created as a marketing/ awareness building tool so that people can say "yes, this is an organization I believe in and I'm proud to tell my friends and colleagues that I care about this cause."
Almost six months ago, I wrote a chapter for BJ Fogg's Psychology of Facebook apps about fundraising applications on Facebook. My conclusions about Facebook Causes were all of the above, plus I did make some points about the need for Causes to improve some of the interaction design to better support the fundraising workflow. They've started to make improvements, but there is probably more they could do as my colleague, Brian Reich, pointed out on a wall post on my facebook profile:
Causes doesn't understand nonprofits, they just built a great tool. They should be doing more to help organizations understand how to take advantage of it. And organizations need to shift their view on how to use technology/the internet to accomplish things (and especially do more than just raise money).
Brian shared some more thoughts in his post, "The Internet Has Made Us Lazy." He points to this paragraph in the article:
It seems foolproof: nonprofits using the power of the Internet to raise money through a clever Facebook application. After all, the Web earned gobs of cash for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. And besides, going online means sending fewer fundraising letters, which makes it appealing to penny-pinchers and environmentalists alike.
Brian suggests that too many nonprofits have taken the build it and they donate approach - that simply by using the tools we'll raise lots of money. I agree that's not true. It's the relationship building and that takes time.
Ivan Boothe in the comments of Allison's post puts in another way:
Causes has been incredibly effective at organizing activists and keeping them engaged through a variety of different means — not the least of which is the building of an identity (”I am a climate change activist,” “I am part of the anti-genocide movement,” etc.). In fact, asking for and receiving donations has, in the nonprofits I’ve worked with, only ever been pursued on these networks as a way to reinforce this identity, not as a way to raise large amounts of money.
Someone who expects Causes — or any social networking approach — to replace their development director doesn’t understand the nature of social networks. It’s not about building a more effective ATM — sorry, “donor list” — it’s about cultivating relationships with your most passionate supporters, giving them ways to speak in their own voice and connecting them with other people. Most young folks who are on social networks get this, since it’s how they’re relating socially on these networks already. (As danah boyd has said, “We’re not addicted to computers, we’re addicted to friends.”)
It’s the nonprofits who expect to replicate their year-end fundraising drive whole-hog on Facebook, and the media who cover them, who don’t get it.
Well, not all nonprofit organizations "don't get it," I got some private messages from folks who work in both fundraising and social networking tell me this:
All to say, I think the article provides really useful way, frankly, to change the conversation from "I gotta have this Facebook thing right away to raise money" to "gee, let's talk more about overall strategies to raise more funds online and offline" with folks who have little experience in interactive topics. Any help i can get on that front is always welcome, welcome, welcome!
I want to return to the whole dollars per donor metric and the question of whether we can put a dollar amount on social connections made through social networks. Stephen Baker at BusinessWeek is working a series of posts on value of virtual friends. The post summarizes some recent research about businesses looking to calculate the dollar value of social connections.
In Allison's post in the comments, Joe Green, Founder of Causes, points out that while "on a per user basis it may be low, the total number of donors and dollars is something we are very proud of, especially for a new start up raising money $25 at a time." Allan Benamer shares the numbers in the comments
So I think we need to look at the lifetime value of getting a potential donor to join our Cause on Facebook and engaging and educating them about our work.
What do you think?