How I Raised $1,000 on Facebook Without Breaking a Sweat

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.

See also:

Comments (11)

  • Maybe the lack of comments here means readers are just too busy getting their Facebook Birthday Wishes page ready... Bravo, Nelson!

    Aug 03, 2009
  • I raised $500 for my favorite charity, and a lot of it not from folks I consider "real world" friends that I would have expected them to give. My only complaint was that when I signed up I okayed what I thought would be one notice a day the few days before my birthday but instead it was updating every 2 hours with a new kind of cheesy ask, even when I had already met my goal. I ended up having to post apologies every time a new one came out. And I work in development, so I am comfortable with asking for money, but these were over the top.

    Aug 03, 2009
  • Hi, I did it too and raised $120. I agree with the issues with the frequency of the postings on the day of. I didn't like it either.

    Aug 05, 2009
  • Definitely give people at Causes your feedback (I know they read this article, but maybe missed the comments). They implemented features that users suggested and are continuing to make improvements.
    -Nelson Layag

    Aug 14, 2009
  • Thanks for this article. I'm tired of being told we "have" to be on Facebook without anyone telling us exactly what to do once we are.

    Aug 11, 2009
  • Thanks for the article. I am currently completing an internship with ASCEND: A Humanitarian Alliance and just started a Facebook Cause for them.... we've only raised $10. =) But my birthday is coming up next month and I think it would be a great idea to try out the same thing you did. Hopefully mine will be a success as well. Thanks for the advice!
    Barbara Fuller

    Aug 13, 2009
  • Good luck. Again, it's surprising who ended up donating. I would also suggest that you also let people that you're not FB friends with know you're doing this. There's a great feature in Causes that allows you to email people not on FB. I would only suggest you email people you have a personal connection with (not your org's database), however. Also, if you have a newsletter, write an article like mine and link to your cause.
    -Nelson Layag, CompassPoint

    Aug 14, 2009
  • I'm just embarking on my non-profit career - since I can't find a job. I am a new Board Member of Sadie Holmes Help Service near Orlando. FL. She is a 501-C3. She had her home rebuilt by Extreem Makeover 3 years ago. She then refinanced it to buy a building contractor's home (addition after addition) two blocks away. She has housed homeless folks there up until recently, when the bottom fell out. The water has been turned off and she has had to turn out people who don't have anywhere else to go. It's routinely 90+ degrees each day here in the summer and a person can die form heat exhaustion, esp. the undernourished & elderly.
    She also has to lease a store (across from her home) to sell goods donated everyday - everything from collectibles to appliances to second hand clothing, furniture & household items. She doesn't get much traffic, has no advertising budget & the place is decrepit. She fell 20 feet and was severly injured trying to repair a leak in the roof. She is hounded by city code officials.
    Sadie has tried to do all this on her own. Now she realizes she needs help.
    Tell me what to do to get this dear woman's dream to help the needy back on track.

    Sep 01, 2009
  • Anonymous

    You present a number of challenges in your message - the first being that you seem only to have chosen a career in the non-profit sector since you "can't find a job." The non-profit sector employs some of the most talented people available, and in Canada provides more employment than all of the resource extraction industries combined (i.e. mining, forestry, etc). It is a REAL job and requires not just skill but passion and commitment. Secondly, it sounds like Sadie Holmes has a great heart and good intentions, but there is clearly more necessary to run a successful non-profit. Her lack of ability is resulting in her clients being exposed not only to additional negative experiences, but potentially life-threatening situations. And it sounds like her lack of wisdom is causing her to have her own life-threatening situations. Your board of directors should invest in ensuring that you collectively have the skills and experience necessary to help Sadie - make sure you have a lawyer, accountant, communications professional and fundraiser on your board. Secondly, you need to take a look at her financial statements and get a professional (not someone on your board) to help. Finally, you need to make sure you have proper insurance coverage (i.e. Director and Officer Liability, Commercial General Liability and Errors and Omissions) - it sounds like you will need it! Good luck!

    Apr 27, 2010
  • Congrats on raising those funds!
    I've created a cause on Facebook as well, Podcasting for Water, that has raised nearly $1500. I've noticed that I haven't had any contact from the beneficiary, Living Water International, as well. Hopefully, Facebook will do a better job of letting these charities know that we're actively raising money for them.

    Sep 09, 2009
  • Happy Birthday! I raised about $7,000 last January using it, but also worked with the organization's cause and did a match challenge during the same time.
    Wrote up some lessons learned
    http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/birthday/

    Sep 20, 2009

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