Donations directly from the news feed
Originally Published: December 2017
The two latest online giving tools from social media giant Facebook could transform charity fundraising in the UK — if charities are prepared to explore new territory.
Facebook Donate allows nonprofits to insert donate buttons on page headers and in video, photo or text posts, so that users can give money instantly without even leaving their news feed. Donate buttons on Facebook are not new, but previously sent users to a third-party site to make the payment.
Facebook Fundraisers open up new tools to individuals: anyone with a Facebook account can create their own personal fundraising page within the site. Again, supporters can donate directly and quickly, without leaving the site.
Available in the US since 2015, these features will now be available to nonprofits in 16 European countries. Initially just a small number of UK charities (including Movember UK, Oxfam GB and Unicef UK) are trialling them, but Facebook plans to open them up to all registered charities in selected countries that meet their application criteria. The application process is now open, although some organisations have reported delays and some confusion.
An exciting — and low-risk — opportunity
Stephanie Siddall, policy manager at the Institute of Fundraising, says Facebook Donate could be “hugely transformational” to online fundraising, citing research that shows people now spend more time on social media than watching television. Fifty-nine percent of UK adults online use Facebook daily (2016 figures), and the network has 2 billion monthly users worldwide.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is among the UK nonprofits testing out the new features.
“Facebook is our largest social audience, so the potential of boosted posts and Facebook Live activity meant that [with these tools] we could be reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with fundraising messages or appeals,” explains Kate Cooper-Owen, head of content and communities at Battersea. It makes a lot of sense, she adds, to enable donations via a platform “where so much of [a charity’s] most engaging content exists.”
Potential donors only have to submit their payment details once to Facebook, after which they can donate to any organisation or individual with just a few taps.
“It’s the most frictionless journey I've seen for giving,” says Ali Walker Davies, digital strategy director at consultancy Open, which has managed the fundraising for major events including one of the first US telethons (for the American Civil Liberties Union) to be broadcast via Facebook Live and using Facebook Donate in March 2017. Walker Davies says fewer boxes to check or fields to complete is likely to result in higher conversion rates — in other words, more payments completed.
And, unlike most online donation tools which charge either a flat fee and/or a percentage of each donation made, Facebook’s version should cost charities in Europe nothing. (Initially there was a 5 percent fee on donations, but in November founder Mark Zuckerberg announced they would drop all such fees.)
Fundraisers: helping out a friend
Anyone aged 18 or over can now create a fundraiser page on Facebook for an organisation or a personal cause. One US user raised US$38,000 (£28,500) in this way for his daughter’s medical bills, according to Charity Digital News, while the anniversary of the 2016 US presidential elections prompted numerous fundraisers in support of causes championed by Hillary Clinton.
The new feature makes total sense, believes Walker Davies. “These days, one of the places you ask for money most often is on Facebook,” she says; if supporters have to go to another site to make the donation, “you lose that traction.” With Fundraisers donating happens in the news feed, which could make giving “‘as social’ as liking, commenting and sharing,” writes digital marketing expert John Haydon. And, because people are prompted by their friends, says Cooper-Owen, “there’s a chance we’re reaching individuals [via Fundraisers] that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to convert with fundraising messaging.”
While Battersea has had relatively limited success so far with Facebook Donate, Fundraisers have raised thousands of pounds for the charity since their launch at the end of September 2017. Cooper-Owen believes that’s partly because Facebook has been heavily promoting personal fundraising, for example prompting users in the lead-up to their birthday.
In November 2017 Zuckerberg also announced the launch of a new API which will allow users to sync online fundraising campaigns elsewhere to their Facebook Fundraisers, meaning donations made on Facebook will show up on their other campaign page, and vice versa.
Facebook’s latest offerings are taking online fundraising into new territory, requiring charities to “stop thinking like fundraisers and start thinking like publishers,” according to strategists Jim Bowes and Julie Dodd. That means working hard to understand what types of content, what tone and what frequency will encourage donations and other support. Getting the message right is crucial, agrees Walker Davies. “Focus on: why should someone give right now?”, she advises. “What’s the most immediate or time-sensitive story you could be telling?”
Some of Battersea’s supporters have said they’re uncomfortable with the idea of giving money via Facebook. Such reluctance may well fade over time; for now, a bigger question for nonprofits is the lack of data captured. For example, a donation form on a charity’s own website allows them to request as much information as they wish, including what prompted the donation. On Facebook, the forms are all predefined, so charities can’t necessarily attribute income from an individual to a specific appeal.
This is something Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is mulling over. Cooper-Owen says that whether they continue using Facebook Donate will depend on “whether we feel that those donating on Facebook would have given to us via another more visible method, or whether these are donors we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.”
So Facebook would not replace other fundraising channels, but might complement them, particularly, she says, to “drive impulse giving” such as via Facebook Live during an online telethon or event. It’s unclear if the success of Ariana Grande's Manchester concert in June 2017, which raised an astounding $450,000 (£337,000) via Facebook Live, can be replicated for less high-profile causes. Indeed, Battersea’s first Facebook Live using Donate prompted just 16 donations.
But it’s still early days for these features in the UK. And advocates are excited about the potential offered by a donation opportunity wrapped up in an event: “People in their twenties and thirties… don’t mind parting with cash, as long as there’s an experience and it involves them,” argues one of Open’s strategists in a blog post.
And while it’s good to be aware of risks, given Facebook’s strength there’s little to lose in trying it, says Walker Davies. The only real risk, she adds, is doing nothing and “leaving money on the table.”
For more from Facebook on their fundraising tools see their FAQs.