Causes on Facebook is Gathering Steam

While I am very bullish on Facebook as a platform for engagement, I’m a bit more bearish about its ability to solicit donations. The poster-child for donations on Facebook is the Causes application. Last week, the Causes folks posted that the application has passed $10 million in fundraising in two years. For this they should be applauded. Looking closely at the numbers, my advice to ministries still stands: invest in Facebook, but realize that if your primary goal is to raise money, Facebook isn’t the best tool. Two important pieces of data that aren’t reported directly in the numbers they released help to illustrate this point. Twenty-six thousand Causes have received donations. An impressive number to be sure, but there are 252,476 Causes on Facebook. That means that 90 percent of the Causes on Facebook have not received a single donation. So it is obvious you need to do more than hang up your virtual shingle and watch the donations pour in. So let’s look at some causes that Causes itself is proud of. The Cause with the most donations is The Nature Conservancy with just over $300,000 donated. They also have a full-time person dedicated to social media, no small reason why they are performing so well. It is also instructive to look at the ratio of revenue to members. The Nature Conservancy has 123,689 members as of the writing of this post. That means a donation of $2.43 per member. And that number is on the top end. If you look at the Causes that are cited as success stories, you see a bleaker picture:




$ per Member

The Nature Conservancy




Love Without Boundaries




Tibetan Freedom Movement




Save Darfur




Feed Hungry Children in Haiti




Fight AIDS Now




Stop Global Warming




Amnesty International




Alex’s Lemonade Stand








While these groups represent a very small percentage of the Causes on Facebook, they do show a pattern: more members doesn’t necessarily mean more money. In fact, if anything more members means fewer donations These numbers aren’t an indictment of the Causes strategy for any of these groups. Many could be targeting membership as a goal and in that case may be very successful. What this analysis does show, is that fundraising on Facebook today is not as effective as a number of other online channels. The key part of that last sentence is “today.” The biggest thing that stuck out to me in the announcement is that $5 million has come in 2009. That is some acceleration in giving worth taking note of. In other words, Causes has raised as much in 6 months as it did in the previous 18 months. If there was a major natural disaster in this time frame or it was the traditional giving season, you could attribute other factors. But without anything else the only logical explanation is that the pace of giving on Facebook is picking up. Dave Raley’s discussion in his post Facebook is OLD also supports this from a demographics standpoint. If we were stockbrokers, it appears as if Facebook is going from a “hold” to a “buy.”