The future of Facebook fundraising

This is an article I wrote back in October 2012 and has just been published in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing (you’ll know it as the IJNVSM). It’s predominantly based on a presentation I gave at the IoF National Convention in 2012, so some of the data is now a bit old – for the most up-to-date data check out this presentation instead – but the thoughts remain the same…

The future of Facebook fundraising

When people talk about Facebook in relation to charities, they often ask what the ROI is. The general perception of Facebook is that it’s not a great way to raise money, but is fantastic as a communication and community building tool. This is true, but only to a certain extent. At JustGiving, the UK’s largest online fundraising website, we have found that encouraging and enabling individual charity supporters to share their donations or updates about their fundraising events on Facebook has a great impact on amounts raised – just one share on Facebook encourages between £1 and £18 in extra donations.

To look to the future and understand the true potential for fundraising on Facebook, it’s first necessary to look to the past. In the summer of 2007 Facebook overtook Google to become the biggest source of web traffic to JustGiving, and then at the end of 2008 Facebook started to bring us more traffic than online email. In the intervening years, Facebook has continued to grow in importance and become the primary way that people who use JustGiving to raise money for charity tell their friends about their fundraising event and ask for sponsorship.

In 2011 alone, Facebook drove over 1 million individual donors to JustGiving, who collectively gave £22 million – of which £1 million was donated by people coming to the site from the mobile version of Facebook. By May 2012, 32% of donations on our platform came from Facebook, a 130% year on year growth. One of the ways we reacted to this growth was by building an application that people could use to donate to charity or sponsor a friend without leaving Facebook – this generated over £250,000 in the first 9 months of 2012 . Given the continuation of this growth, we expect that by 2015, 50% of donations made through JustGiving will come from Facebook.

In a way, this growth in fundraising reflects Facebook’s own incredible growth. As of June 2012, it had 955 million monthly active users and steadily closing in on a billion users, of which 543 million users accessed the site through their mobile. In the UK, there are over 31 million active users and over half of them use the site every day. And in a study of 30,000 adults by the London Science Museum, more people would prefer to live without toilets than Facebook! (Source: The Next Web)

So from a British perspective, the prospective audience is huge, and more importantly, hugely engaged. But how do non-profits make the most of it?

Making the most of Facebook

To start, organisations that have Facebook pages should make the most of its features and plan an approach that engages their online community. Advice from Facebook themselves includes setting clear guidelines about what is and isn’t acceptable to post on your wall – this will help when users veer off topic or post things you don’t approve of. It can also reduce the risk that people will leave negative comments, a fear which puts off  many first time social media users. By having clear guidelines, you can reduce that risk and give yourselves the room to ban people who don’t abide by them.

Another useful approach is to create a ‘conversation calendar’ whereby you plan the content you will share on your page in advance. This helps create consistency of communication, as well as making sure you have a good mix of messaging – so you don’t bombard people with messages about campaigns one week and only fundraising events the next, but have a rich mix of topics that show the breadth of work your organisation is involved in.

For more insight on using pages, see Facebook tips, Facebook studio or the Non-Profits on Facebook page.

Share more, raise more

At JustGiving, we have found a way to monetize Facebook by encouraging the people taking actions on our site to share them with their Facebook friends. Specifically, when someone sponsors a friend who’s taking part in a fundraising event, as soon as a donation has been successfully processed we prompt them to share a link to their friend’s fundraising page on Facebook. As some people do not like sharing how much they give to charity, or that they give to charity at all, we frame the request as a way of helping their friend raise more money. So the perception is that sharing is an altruistic act, not a way to show off their generosity.

Whilst we promote sharing to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google + and by email, sharing to Facebook is by far the most popular option, accounting for 90% of shares. This is not entirely surprising, given Facebook’s scale compared to the other networks and that most people will have been asked by a friend on Facebook to sponsor.

Redeveloping our website to encourage and highlight social sharing has had a massive impact on the number of donations made, raising an extra £1 million in eight months. This is because for every share a donor makes to a social network, a certain percentage of their friends will see that message and click on a link to make another donation on JustGiving. Our data has shown that this means each share to Facebook is worth, on average, an extra £4.50. In contrast, a share to Twitter was worth £1.80 and a share on LinkedIn £3.30. From September 2011 to April 2012, Facebook sharing generated over £925,000, Twitter £55,000 and LinkedIn, £22,000.

What has been fascinating to observe, however, is how the impact of a share on Facebook changes depending on the context of who is sharing and what they’re sharing. For example, if a donor shares a message on Facebook about them donating directly to a charity, it is worth £1 per share, but if someone shares a message about donating to a friend’s fundraising page, it is worth around £5. But if a fundraiser (ie, someone taking part in a fundraising event for a charity) themselves shares a text update about their event, it is worth around £12 per share. And then if the fundraiser records a video about their event and shares that, the average value per share increases to £18.

In each instance, the content that is shared appears in a Facebook newsfeed in broadly the same way, but the motivation and interest of the messages is totally different. It may be self-evident on reflection that individuals in a social network are more likely to respond to someone doing something for a charity (that the network may or may not be interested in) than a person just donating to a charity (that the network may or may not be interested in), but the way we built our product and tracked the data proves that this is actual behaviour. This could be summarised as ‘the greater the effort of the individual, the greater the response from their network’.

So what does this mean for charities wanting to use Facebook to raise money? Well, it proves that encouraging people to share their charitable actions on Facebook can help you raise more money. And that the impact of sharing varies a lot depending on the type of content being shared, so more care should be taken on how people are encouraged to share.

Most non-profits will have a way of accepting donations online, but very few of those processes actively encourage the donor to share their donations with friends. It is clearly beneficial to prompt those donors to share their donation on social networks, but it’s important to frame that request as a way of helping the charity raise more money from their friends and not as a way of ‘showing off’. Given that each Facebook user has an average of 130 friends, just one share could reach many people that the charity doesn’t have access too – and the message may be more effective coming from that friend than from the charity itself. In addition, non-profits should encourage people to add more content to these shares – to say ‘why’ the donor gave to that charity, sharing the interesting story that motivated the donation. Encouraging donors to share their motivation will make their share on the social network much more interesting and engaging to their network and increase the impact of that share.

Many websites enable people to share their site on Facebook or Twitter without thinking about what content is being shared. Just sharing a link and a title of a webpage isn’t going to be very interesting to the network of the person who’s sharing, so you have to both think about how to encourage the ‘sharer’ to share, and what content is going to most engage the friends of that ‘sharer’.

To summarise, after every action someone takes on a non-profit website, whether it’s making a donation, signing up to a newsletter or registering for an event, they should be prompted to tell their friends on social networks that they did it and equally importantly why they did it.

Where next for social sharing?

The future for social sharing is already changing, thanks to a feature Facebook introduced at the start of 2012 – Timeline. The Timeline is a way individuals can collate all their activity on Facebook in chronological order, but it also enables application developers to add more richness to the experiences they create. Before 2012, users could only ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ things on Facebook, but Timeline allows app developers to create their own vocabulary on Facebook that more accurately describes the actions a user is taking. It also shares the content in more places on Facebook: as well as posting content in the newsfeed like most shares, the stories are shared in the ticker and on a user’s Timeline.

For example, by connecting the music streaming service Spotify to Facebook, you can share a ‘song’ you’re ‘listening’ to, or by using the Guardian newspaper’s social reading app, you can share an ‘article’ you’re ‘reading’. In both these examples, you can set-up the app to share on your behalf so the act of listening becomes the act of sharing, and the act of reading becomes the act of sharing; you don’t have to click a ‘share’ button to tell your friends what you’re reading or sharing. Thanks to this integration, both the Guardian and Spotify experienced huge uptakes in their user base, with the Guardian going from 0 to 3.9 million active users in just a couple of months. (Source: Facebook developer blog).

Facebook launched JustGiving’s integration in April 2012, which allows users to share the ‘donations’ they’ve made, enables fundraisers to share ‘thanks’ to their sponsors and gives people a way to ‘remember’ someone who’s passed away, on their Timeline. (Source: Facebook developer blog). In this case, the act of clicking a ‘thank’ button on JustGiving creates a story on Facebook that you ‘thank’ that sponsor, and by connecting their JustGiving and Facebook accounts, every time someone donates, a story is automatically shared on Facebook sharing the donation. All these actions are then aggregated on a user’s Timeline, showing the friends they have supported, the charities they have donated to, and the people they have thanked.

Open graph integration (since changed)

These aggregations are only available if you integrate with Timeline – they add richness to a user’s history with your app, showing their friends what they’ve done in a more interesting way than a single story. Since adding our Timeline integration, we’ve seen the number of referrals from user’s Timelines be almost as much as the referrals from the newsfeed. This was surprising, but it shows that Facebook users do look at other’s profiles and find the content that’s aggregated there from Timeline applications interesting enough to click on and take the same actions themselves.

The growth of mobile

One other way we have seen Facebook’s impact on fundraising change has been the growth of people accessing Facebook from their mobile devices. As quoted earlier, 543 million people access Facebook every month using their mobile, and this number is growing steadily. Understanding the impact of mobile optimisation as a general trend in online fundraising is important, especially in relation to social networks.

The growth of mobile visits to JustGiving has increased massively over the last three years, from 6% in April 2010 to 15 % in April 2011, up to a massive 32% in April 2012. Building a mobile experience for those users has helped to increase conversions by those users, but the main driver of that growth is social networks, and especially Facebook. In April 2010, mobile Facebook accounted for only 0.18% of visits to JustGiving. That grew to 4% in April 2011, but by April 2012 it was responsible for bringing 11% of all traffic to JustGiving. That’s a massive growth in a short space of time, and so we are trying to give those users who come from mobile Facebook a better experience – this will be a key challenge for the future.

One thing we have done is encourage mobile users to share their donations on Facebook, and whilst this doesn’t have the same volume as those sharing from our desktop site, it’s still generating a reasonable impact and is growing more every month. In September 2012, sharing by sponsors to Facebook on our desktop site brought in almost £140,000, whereas sharing from our mobile site brought in £27,000. We expect these numbers to start to converge over time as people become more familiar with transacting on mobile devices and technology makes this type of sharing easier for the end user.

In summary

Facebook is the world’s largest social network and its scale and influence cannot be ignored. In relation to fundraising, we may not yet have reached a point where charities can actively raise significant funds themselves, but their supporters certainly can. By encouraging supporters to share donations or their relationship with charities on Facebook, it can and will bring in extra donations from the friends of those supporters. It’s key to both encourage sharing andthink about what gets shared by supporters too.

For those non-profits who have the technical capabilities, through partners or in-house development teams, Facebook Timeline gives a new and powerful way to enable sharing by doing – to add a rich layer of context and interest that makes Timeline stories and their aggregations relevant and impactful. With the recent launch of native Facebook integration in the latest Apple operating system release (iOS 6), adding a social layer to mobile experiences is now even easier and will become ever more the norm. The future is undoubtedly mobile, so understanding people’s behaviour on mobile, making the experience optimised, easy-to-use and above all social, will be essential for the non-profit looking to the future of Facebook fundraising.


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