17th April 2019

How the social web’s crisis of confidence is resulting in a golden age of fundraising

Alan Martin

How’s your fundraising going? If there’s room for improvement, then take heart in the fact that we’re living through a golden age at the moment thanks to a crisis of confidence in social media. Read our analysis of the situation and how you can maximise the opportunity here

By any metrics, faith in social media has taken a tumble over the last few years. Once viewed as an unstoppable force for good at the height of the Arab Spring, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are now intractably associated with fake news, mental health issues and a worrying disregard for privacy.

Almost a year to the day since the Cambridge Analytica scandal began to unfold, we’re treated to yet another worrying stat about Facebook: the site had to remove 1.5 million copies of the Christchurch shooting within the first 24 hours of the tragedy unfolding. Facebook treated this as a triumph in the effectiveness of its algorithms and moderation, but on another, it’s clearly a failing: why do millions of people instantly think of Facebook as a way to spread terrorist content?

On some level, the companies are clearly rattled, perhaps on some level unaware of the huge responsibility they have. Facebook has actually started surveying random users with a simple question: “Please agree or disagree with the following statement: Facebook is good for the world.” We have no idea what the results of this poll are, but in the current climate, you can hazard a guess. Bluntly, it’s unlikely to be the same kind of positive result Zuckerberg’s baby might have achieved in 2012.

But it needn’t worry – or at least not yet, at any rate. Despite the myriad scandals unfolding over the last 18 months, buying Facebook shares remains a shrewd investment for now, with 2018 ending with record profits. But a decline in use, especially amongst younger generations, has got Facebook suitably spooked and that’s excellent news for fundraisers. Ironically, the exposure of murky moral questions facing social media is resulting in something that is objectively good: charities have more opportunities than ever to easily raise funds using the very same tools that have led to the social web’s crisis of confidence.

Good PR and good results

Associating with charitable giving is one of the best bits of PR a business can get, and even if you can’t quite subdue the feeling that the motivations might not be entirely pure, it’s still a net positive for the world. In 2017 – around the same time as the ‘good for the world’ surveys started cropping up – Facebook introduced a prompt offering people the chance to request charity donations as a present on their birthday. Three months after launching the feature, the company dropped the fees, meaning that 100% of the donation goes to charity coffers. A year into the endeavour, Facebook was able to trumpet the fact that it had helped raise over $3 million for charity.   

Never mind that, as a fraction, that comes to around 0.48% of CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth. These kind of headlines are exactly the sort of thing that the company is craving, and it looks like the Zuckerberg wants another hit. Facebook-owned Instagram is set to follow have its own stab at philanthropy, with the photo-sharing site confirming that donation buttons will be coming later this year. You wouldn’t bet against more sites following suit over the coming months, either.  

That’s the good news. The bad news is that competition is beyond fierce: over 750,000 charities are listed in Facebook’s charity selection dropdown menu. It’s not alphabetical either, so even redesignating as an aardvark charity won’t give you a boost.

There’s also the very real risk that the novelty will wear off as donation fatigue sets in. That may sound cynical, but think about it: if the average Facebook user has 338 friends and just 5% of them follow Facebook’s lead and do a charity fundraiser for their birthday, that’s still 17 people asking for money for their causes every year, on top of whatever giving a given Facebook user is already doing. While Facebook’s early fundraising stats are impressive, it would be pretty astonishing if that kind of donation rate were sustainable over the months and years ahead, even if the company does manage to get accounts in the hands of the five billion people currently without.

Long-term strategy

That’s one reason why it’s worth keeping an eye on what other social networks decide to do, and the Instagram donation stickers are certainly a good place to start. If you can be amongst the first to really use the donate stickers effectively, then you can be ahead of the curve.

But resources aren’t finite, so I don’t suggest you necessarily follow this through to its logical conclusion where you try and get a foothold in every network around. After all, getting middling engagement from a Facebook or Instagram campaign should still result in far bigger donations for your charity than incredible results on a small platform, thanks to the sheer size of each. Remember: Twitter has around 126 million daily active users. Facebook and Instagram combined have around 2 billion – or to put it more brutally, Twitter is around 6.3% of their combined heft.

But wherever you try and raise money, the most important thing is to be close to people’s hearts, and be the first organisation they think of when they follow a social network’s lead to turn fundraiser. That’s easier said than done, of course, and while there are certainly things you can do to increase the likelihood of your posts getting a boost from Facebook’s algorithm (the social media management platform Buffer has a constantly updated series of dos and don’ts that are worth paying attention to) the work you do off platform is just as important. It may not be as glamorous as making the next Ice Bucket Challenge, but ensuring your charity’s website is quick to load and mobile friendly is far more likely to pay off than spending the same money on a moonshot viral video.

Not only will making sure your website is in order hopefully lead to more donations in its own right, it should help you stick in the mind the next time a social network decides to push their philanthropic influence.

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