Fundraising on Facebook: The Myths and Realities

 By: Eric Eckl
Facebook. You're probably using it. If not, many of your friends are. It has surpassed MySpace to become the leading social network worldwide. For the environmental groups that I work with, more than 1 in 3 of their members have accounts, and that number will surely grow in the next few years.

So if you're a fundraiser for a charity or not-for-profit organization, Facebook would seem to be a natural place to focus some effort. Where better than the web's hottest site to look for potential donors?

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing (January, 2010), traditional fundraising has pretty much flopped on Facebook. By "traditional," I mean that you ask somebody for a small donation ($30, $75, $100) to your cause, and they reach into their pocket or write you a check for that amount. According to the Washington Post, only a tiny handful of charities have raised real money using the Facebook "Causes" application. Tens of thousands have raised nothing or a only little pittance for their efforts.

What's booming on the Internet generally, and Facebook in particular, is corporate philanthropy. Here's how it works -- a do-gooder company picks some charities to compete for a donation. Basically, the business announces "We'll give this money to one of these good causes - whichever gets the most votes at this website we set up." The website, of course, is basically a commercial for this company. There were dozens of these contests in 2009, and the number will surely grow in 2010 and beyond.

Seeking votes, charities then send pleas to their Facebook friends, email subscribers, and anybody else to visit the corporate website and vote for them. Those charities that have worked hard to build their network of electronic contacts have a big advantage over those don't.

Here are two tips for winning these corporate philanthropy contests:

Tip #1: Build your electronic network NOW! The more Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and email subscribers you have, the more likely you are to win the money for your good cause. Once the contest starts, it will be too late. If you try to get people vote for you by mailing and calling them on the phone, you'll lose.

Tip #2: Tell your supporters what you will do with the money if you win. Tell them that if you win the $10,000 (or $25,000 or whatever), you'll buy some land where a rare butterly lives. Tell them you'll feed 100 families for a month. Tell them you'll pay the salaries of 3 teachers in a poor country.

Don't (just) tell them the butterfly is about to go extinct. Don't (just) tell them there are hungry families near you. Don't (just) tell them the children in this poor country don't know how to read. That's just depressing -- and part of your job as a fundraiser is to be inspiring!

Facebook is the new fundraising frontier for good causes. If you understand what you are getting into, there's an opportunity coming up fast to win $10,000, $25,000, or even more in support of your good work.
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