We at Blue Avocado want to encourage people to make use of Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites as more ways to support our communities. At the same time, there's so much hype about these sites that we also want to demystify them and temper expectations. This First Person Nonprofit story does both perfectly, and at the end we draw some conclusions for organizations.
As my 40th birthday approached I decided to try the Facebook Causes Birthday Wish application to raise money for a nonprofit. I had recently donated to a Facebook friend's birthday campaign and was impressed that she raised over $2,000. My goal was more modest : $800 (25 friends at $40 each).
Unexpectedly, my first challenge was choosing a nonprofit to campaign for! A couple of my favorite nonprofits have not set up Facebook Causes for their organizations so that eliminated them. I finally settled on a local community nonprofit -- the Women's Cancer Resource Center -- and dedicated my efforts in honor of a friend and colleague who passed away of cancer a few years ago.
Facebook Causes Birthday Wish Application is very easy to set up. I customized my message and information about my wish. It helped me send messages to my network of Facebook friends as well as automated reminder posts to my wall (okay, if you don't know what that means you're probably not using Facebook). My biggest fear was that no one would donate to my birthday wish and of course that failure would be out there for everyone to see.
Above you can see what it sent out as my post.
Fortunately, that fear was laid to rest quickly when in three short days my friends gave over $1,000. Donors included neighbors, relatives, close friends, people from my professional network, old acquaintances from high school and college (some of which I hadn't spoken to in years). My smallest donation was $10 and my largest $420! It felt really good to know that my efforts netted 20 times more than my own individual donation.
My overall experience with Facebook Causes Birthday Wish was very positive. I liked the easy to use features such as creating thank you's, email notification of donations, helpful promotional tools and a "single click" online credit card donation. All of this made a campaign like this less daunting and helped me reach out to people I usually would not have approached for a cause.
One thing I wish were different is that Facebook doesn't have the ability to include donations in the final tally that were made outside the Birthday application (you'll notice that it says that I only raised $430 on my birthday wish page, but $660 was donated outside the Birthday Wish application). Below you can see what it looked like in full on the Causes page, and how I explained that as well.
It was also interesting that no one from the Women's Cancer Resource Center contacted me during my campaign. I did email them directly and they told me that they noticed the donations, but didn't realize someone was doing a campaign for them. (I contacted Facebook for this article and was told they have just started to email nonprofit recipients of campaigns.)
Based on my experience I would advise nonprofits to invest a little time getting your organization set up as a Cause on Facebook and letting your constituents know you're there. It might not raise millions, but it can raise several thousand dollars pretty easily, and lets people hear about your organization from a trusted source.
Some considerations when trying this yourself:
- Don't forget that all your Facebook friends will see your post, so be sure you're okay with all of them knowing you support this particular cause.
- I also ruled out nonprofits where my support might look self-serving, like my kid's nursery school, the soccer club my wife belongs to, or the nonprofit where I work.
- I'm a little worried that pretty soon we'll all be getting five Facebook Birthday Wishes a day from our contacts. So do this quickly before everyone is doing it!
Editor's note: In Facebook and other online environments, the case statement that makes sense elsewhere may not be the most effective. Traditional requests for funds sound something like, "Join me in supporting this great cause." Facebook fundraising is more similar to seeking pledges for a bike-a-thon: the request is best structured as a "Help me help this great cause." This is a subtle but important difference.
This year, consider asking board members who use Facebook to use the Birthday Wish app!
Nelson Layag is a nonprofit "lifer" who works at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services; he has been an employee, volunteer, fundraiser and fan of good causes for as long as he can remember. When he's not working or playing with his band, he's cooking Filipino food and enjoying life with his wife and three children on a street nicknamed Christmas Tree Lane on the California island of Alameda.
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