Facebook, Fundraising and the Dawn of a New Age
Five years ago, many of us believed that social media in general, and Facebook in particular, were going to be big — “the future of fundraising” and how we’d acquire many of our new donors. We saw the fundamental desires of people to share things they’re passionate about and their natural inclination to come together in communities as signs that Facebook would soon play a major role in nonprofit fundraising. And … it didn’t happen. Let’s face it: With a few exceptions, Facebook has been a bust from the perspective of fundraising and donor acquisition — and even volunteer recruitment and advocacy. (Just ask Roger Craver, who uses far more flowery language than the editors of FundRaising Success allow in print!)
But are we are finally poised for the real dawn of the Golden Age of Facebook for nonprofit fundraising and donor acquisition? No, we’re not proposing that Facebook (or social media more broadly) will overtake direct mail, or even e-mail, tomorrow. However, we do believe that Facebook now has a much more important role to play in integrated campaigns and even as a stand-alone channel.
What’s changed? As it turns out, a lot — especially on the paid-media side. Facebook has transformed itself from a direct-marketer abyss to haven in little more than a year. Before 2012, marketers had to use Facebook’s native ad function with no ability to do individual-level targeting. (See chart below.)
In March of last year, Facebook Exchange launched, enabling cookie-based, real-time bidding on anonymous user data. In English, this means that we can start remarketing Facebook ads to anonymous people who visit our websites. (Really what this means is that you don’t need to worry about the government tracking your behavior — corporations already are!) Not only that, we also can remarket to individuals who open or click on an e-mail. In other words, we can now follow up with these groups of people already interested in our nonprofit via targeted Facebook ads. And the cost per acquisition (CPA) seen by commercial firms is typically far lower than through display ad campaigns — e.g., we’ve seen data for an insurance company paying almost 80 percent less per quote (i.e., one-fifth the cost).
Facebook Custom Audiences
Next up, in September 2012, Facebook Custom Audiences launched, finally enabling Facebook to be a part of targeted multichannel campaigns. Specifically, Custom Audiences allows you to:
- Find donors and other supporters in your database on Facebook, regardless of whether the person “likes” your nonprofit fan page or not. You can match via e-mail address, phone number or Facebook user ID. Conducting a major integrated campaign? Target the same supporter base you target via mail, e-mail and other channels with Facebook Custom Audiences ads targeted at the same individuals.
- Acquire new donors via Facebook’s Lookalike models (as of March 2013). Specifically, Facebook can track those that convert via Facebook (to donors, activists or whatever the desired action is) — and then create “Lookalike” models to target people with similar Facebook profiles and behavior. The models are ever-learning and improving based on who converts.
And then there’s …
Another recent innovation on the paid search side, Facebook has made advertising a lot more effective by creating new ad types, “sponsored posts” that appear in users’ news feeds. We’ve heard reports of this new ad type receiving 35 (yes, 35!) times the clickthrough rate and CPAs at less than 50 percent of regular Facebook marketplace ads in the right column among commercial firms. These stellar metrics may change as people become numb to these ads, too — but the potential is certainly there. We suggest that smart marketers focus on keeping these sponsored posts conversational like a regular news feed post so they get equal attention.
And what about all those people using Facebook via mobile devices? These new sponsored post ads appear on mobile devices as well. Yes, your multichannel campaign just went mobile — not only via mobile-optimized e-mail, website and donation form, but now targeted to the right user via the Facebook mobile app, too.
There also have been significant changes on the unpaid data side. About a year and a half ago, Facebook enabled marketers to request permission for users’ data on their profiles, friends and activities via Facebook Open Graph — with the promise of providing deeper and more engaging experiences for users who opt in. To our knowledge, this has been largely untapped by nonprofits. (Prove us wrong! We’d love to hear from you!)
Here are a few ways to use Facebook Open Graph to get your creative juices flowing:
- Use supporters’ likes, interests, friends, activities and profiles on Facebook as inputs to segmentation and messaging. This data enables the creation of much richer profiles of individuals, especially for high-value supporters (major donors, super-activists, event team captains, volunteers, etc.).
- Share with supporters (e.g., in e-mail) which of their Facebook friends already have donated to your charity, or like your cause or action.
- Profile and then target potential event participants and fundraisers based on this data. Engage them via Facebook and other channels. (They must have shared their e-mail, addresses or other contact information through traditional means in order to contact them outside of Facebook.).
- Find “grass tops”/key influencers for lobbying efforts.
- Target frequent sharers explicitly to ensure that viral campaigns go … well, viral.
How do you get people to opt in? Getting users to click on “I believe in …” “I support [your cause],” or “I want to stop [climate change/animal cruelty/cancer]” buttons on your site is one great way. And when people click, not only can you access their Open Graph data, this also generates earned media as it’s shared in their friends’ news feeds and can help with search rankings, too. Try tools from Small Act, ActionSprout, ShortStack or others for Facebook research and generating actions and conversions.
The potential of Facebook for fundraising and nonprofit communications may actually be understated now. Still, it’s unlikely that Facebook will be highly effective as a stand-alone tool. Its real power comes as part of integrated campaigns and constituent-level strategies across channels. Facebook touches can acquire new supporters, help convert more supporters to donors and raise more money from your donor file.
(The authors want to acknowledge the time and insight shared with us by some stellar industry experts including Paul Steketee and Joshua Sinel of Merkle, and John Haydon, author of “Facebook Marketing for Dummies.” Many thanks to you!)