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Facebook Yields Scant Returns with Donation Program

(April 28, 2009) Aside from a few standouts, the Causes application on the social networking website Facebook has shown little success for charities as a fundraising tool, as many of the organizations using it have received no donations through the site.

An April 22 article in The Washington Post points to the fact that for the 179,000 total Causes profiles created on Facebook, the median gift is just $25 and “only a tiny fraction have brought in even $1,000.” Fewer than 50 groups have raised $10,000 and just two have raised $100,000 or more, the Post reports.

The article says that Causes “has been largely ineffective in its first two years, trailing direct mail, fundraising events and other more traditional methods of soliciting contributions.”

It goes on to say that despite the high hopes of nonprofits that they could replicate the online fundraising success of Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency, nonprofits have found online fundraising to be less fruitful due to the greater level of outreach needed to gain visibility.

But not everyone agrees that Facebook’s Causes application is a failure. Some point to the non-monetary benefits of the application as well as the newness of fundraising on social networking websites.

Building a Following Just as Valuable

A widely followed social networking expert Allison Fine notes in a blog article that Facebook has value beyond the amount of dollars per donor raised.

“Causes enables a lot of people to ‘support a cause.’ In old thinking that meant only one thing: give us money,” Fine writes. “But in connected thinking, it means that each one of us can be more than an ATM for our causes.  Causes on Facebook enables us to tell our own world—distinct from the world—about the issues, campaigns and organizations that they are passionate about. We can bring our networks of friends, our ingenuity, our passion, our time, our expertise to support causes.  It enables lots and lots of people to learn about causes and to share them with their friends easily, quickly and inexpensively.

“Using dollars raised as a critical measure of success has allowed others to hammer Causes without much cause,” she continues. “Remember that the overwhelming number of Facebook users are still under 25 years old. This is very young for donors, and it is unreasonable to expect them to give the number and size gifts of their parents and grandparents.”

“The bottom line here is that Causes isn’t just about raising money, it’s also about raising friends and awareness, and in the long run turning loose social ties into stronger ones for a cause may be more important than one-time donations of $10 and $20 dollars right now,” Fine writes.

Allison Fine’s blog, A. Fine Blog (http://afine2.wordpress.com/) covers topics of social media and social change.

What do you think about the value of Causes or other social networking tools? Has your organization had success with a particular technique? Is it worth the effort at this point or are you building for the future? Let us know your thoughts at ewire@afpnet.org. Please write “Facebook” in the email subject line.

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