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Facebook is learning how to boost online giving

As more and more dollars are being donated on the platform, it’s experimenting with nudges to get people to give more.

Facebook is learning how to boost online giving
[Source Image: Facebook]

In November 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined forces with Facebook to conduct a unique psychological experiment. The nonprofit offered up to $2 million in matching contributions for people who donated to nonprofits through the social network on Giving Tuesday.

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Then Facebook gave the whole thing a promotional nudge: The company shared the opportunity ahead of time through in-platform ads and its News Feed. It also coached charity page administrators on how to create their own fundraisers.

Naturally, Facebook also tracked the results, and in a recent report, they show that on that one day, 475,000 people donated $45 million to 46,000 organizations. More importantly, 75% of those who gave were first-time donors on the platform–and nearly 20% of those people gave again to either the same or another organization within a few months of the event.

[Image: Facebook]
That shows just how impactful smart digital fundraising can be, especially for small to mid-size nonprofits that operate with tight budgets and need creative ways to fundraise. As the report notes: “The nonprofits that raised the most as a group are the ones of moderate size.” (In this case, that’s quantified as between 1,000 and 10,000 “Likes” from followers.) “The total amount raised by the smallest nonprofits combined is very comparable to the amount raised by the largest nonprofits combined.”

Giving Tuesday falls on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is widely considered both a national day for donating to charity, and an unofficial kick-off for nonprofits ramping up their holiday season and end-of-year fundraising campaigns. According to Facebook’s calculations, the event raised about $301 million last year; 15% of that on Facebook. That’s up from 4% of the $180 million that was raised in 2016.

It’s a nicely strategic move for the platform: Popularizing a free and altruistic service is both good humanity and brand loyalty. In this case, the platform enabled Giving Tuesday online fundraising in several ways. For instance, nonprofits could create their own shareable fundraisers or add “donate now” buttons to their profile pages. But the most powerful technique was motivating people to start campaigns for groups themselves. It’s a strategy that’s worked well for GoFundMe and DonorsChoose, although much of that money is directed toward individuals and teachers, respectively, as opposed to nonprofits.

Collectively, these types of individual fundraisers raised more than $31 million. Nonprofits that started their own campaigns or simply used “donate now” buttons on their own pages generated around $12 million in contributions, with the remainder of the total coming from personal birthday-related fundraising campaigns that coincided with the event.

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Most of the people who donated to these groups were already in the network of those making the ask (basically friends or family), although many had never opened up their wallets before. Just as the match seems to have motivated more people than usual to start fundraisers, the power of hashtags and social sharing enabled more people than normal to find them: Facebook says that the number of unrelated or “unconnected” people donating to newly discovered campaigns was more than double that of other non-Giving Tuesday fundraisers.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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