When Facebook Goes Bad – Social Media Fundraising

Hello, dear readers. I’m pleased to welcome our first Fundraising Wonks guest blogger: Dr. Colleen Robb, who is assistant professor of entrepreneurship at California State University, Chico.

In my research of over 250 nonprofit organizations, it was somewhat startling to learn that just over a third of nonprofits had begun using Facebook only since 2010.  Among the nonprofit leaders I interviewed, approximately 1 out of every 4 leaders admitted to just simply not understanding Facebook.  Here is one of the quotes from the interviews:

Well, I’m one of those people who rarely uses cell phones and can’t really figure it out when I do. Recently, the staff made a big push for Facebook and I said “Ok, I trust you.  You are young and you understand the reason for it.” I figured if Facebook is the way to get people to think and we can spread our message, how can that bring anything bad?”

In working with a number of nonprofits directly with their Facebook efforts, unfortunately I’ve seen first-hand that ‘bad’ can come from Facebook. Facebook users are some of the most finicky users on the Internet (see CNN Tech).  Getting their attention is comparatively easy compared to keeping their attention.  It seems that many smaller nonprofits struggle with the unique dynamics of Facebook when it comes to promoting their organization and engaging their supporters.

Social media fundraising with Facebook

There are a number of great strategies that can help your organization, I’ve posted some of those at the end of this blog.  This particular post focuses on the three primary things I’ve seen and experienced on Facebook that have hurt nonprofit organizations.

Three Ways Facebook Can Hurt Your Nonprofit

1. The wrong post from an external source can offend and cause you to lose some of your most loyal fans.

One particular example that comes to mind here is when an animal-oriented nonprofit organization posted a picture from Craigslist from a volunteer who wanted to give away her dog.  Seems simple enough right? Wrong.

A particular challenge facing the animal welfare industry is the selling of shelter animals to laboratory research firms. Individuals can actually make a profit from ‘adopting’ animals from shelters for free or a small charge by then selling the animals to research facilities for a higher price (check out Dying to Learn for more information).

One Facebook user was horrified by this animal shelter’s post due to this issue and posted immediately about her disgust for the post. She then corralled a number of other followers to agree with her point.  The result for the animal shelter was a loss in Facebook Fans and a tainted image of the organization.

While this may be an extreme example, posting content from sources other than your own publicly links your organization to that link.  Use extreme caution when posting links from other sources. It may be a good idea to ask two or three other people connected to the organization about an external link post prior to posting.

2. Too many posts will annoy your followers.

A great piece of advice comes from another blog site, guerrillafreelancing.com, which states:

“Twitter is a place to update 50-100 times a day. Facebook isn’t. Facebook should be used as a place to hold longer conversations than 140 characters and not just a place to broadcast link after link (after link). Try your best to utilize Facebook for what it should be used for – connecting with friends, discussing things and sharing what is up with you.”

One organization I consulted with was adamant about connecting their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  What this means is that every time the organization was mentioned on Twitter, it would appear on the organization’s Facebook page and in ALL their follower’s news feeds.  No matter how much I pleaded with them, they simply could not see how this would hurt their image on Facebook.

Their argument was, ‘It’s exciting to see the activity on Twitter on our Facebook. People will then be intrigued by our Twitter and follow us there too!”  Oh boy… can you see the ‘epic fail’ in their logic? Why would I follow both if I have both in one source?  Add to that, why would I follow your Facebook if I don’t like Twitter?

Any time your organization posts on Facebook, it is taking away what Facebook users see as valuable real estate in their own news feeds. If a user logs on to Facebook and has to scroll through 25 posts from your organization just to see what their niece and nephew did this weekend, they are going to remove you.  Plain and simple. Keep your social media account strategies separate.

3. Begging for help will only result in guilt…or worse, regret.

Many nonprofits use Facebook to plead their case and ask for donations.  Tactfully offering to Facebook users the opportunity to donate to the organization is one thing, but posting frantic and urgent posts about needs for funding will only hurt your organization’s image.

Social media fundraising: Facebook Example

Let’s take a fictitious example to illustrate this point:

Mary is ‘fan’ of her local food bank, “Feed the Homeless.”  Mary is a middle-class housewife who gives occasionally to Feed the Homeless.  In fact, last month she gave her highest donation yet, $500, to Feed the Homeless.  Mary logs on to Facebook feeling great about her donation and herself.  She sees the following posts over and over again in her newsfeed for the next few weeks:

Help us help the homeless! Any amount will help us feed another person.  Please consider a donation: [donation link]

We have been overrun with the rising costs of food and with winter here, we are in desperate need of funding!  Please donate today: [donation link]

It is the end of the year, please help us by making an end of year donation to us: [donation link]

Can you imagine being hungry over the holidays? We can’t let that happen to our homeless.  Please donate: [donation link]

Look at this picture of Henry, he is only 5 years old and his mother cannot afford to feed them. Please donate: [donation link]

How do you think Mary feels waking up every day to see these updates in her Facebook news feed?  Perhaps she feels guilty for not being able to give more.  Even though she gave generously, the organization is still suffering.  Perhaps she feels regretful for giving to such a struggling organization.  She gave generously, so she may be wondering if her gift was in vain and really didn’t make a difference.  She also may be feeling very alone.  She may be wondering if she was the only donation that came to the organization.  She may be also wondering why others aren’t donating and maybe wondering if she donated to the wrong organization.

Keeping Your Fans – The Three Rules of “I”

Facebook is a place to make your followers feel three simple things (these all begin in “I” so hopefully that makes them easier to remember:

1. Informed

Post news about what is happening inside your nonprofit (new hires, new volunteers, new programs or events) and keep your followers up to date on how you are progressing and growing as an organization.  If certain industry news items are appropriate to your cause, posting news stories (from credible sources!) are also a great way to keep your supporters informed about your shared mission.  For example, if you are a health related organization and new research has been released on cancer treatments (from a credible source!), this would be an appropriate post.

2. Interested

Human interest stories are always a big hit on Facebook and prompt your followers to share your organization’s inspiring stories with their friends.  If your organization is short on ideas, perhaps ask your volunteers to share stories about their volunteer experiences or ask those who benefit from your nonprofit’s goods or services to share how the nonprofit has impacted their lives.  Pictures and videos are always an added value to these types of posts.  By the way, videos do not need to be high quality, they can be simple videos taken from phones.

3. Important

Always respond to comments or posts that are made on your organization’s page (try to check it at least once a day).  When someone on Facebook takes the time to reach out to your organization, it is critical to let them know that their feedback is valuable and being heard.  Also, occasionally post how grateful your organization is to its supporters, followers, and fans.  The more heartfelt and specific the sentiment, the better.

Dr. Colleen Robb is an internationally recognized researcher in the area of strategy and social entrepreneurship, specifically examining how social ventures can maintain advantage in the marketplace. Dr. Robb currently serves as an assistant professor of entrepreneurship for California State University, Chico. If you’d like to follow her blog on nonprofit strategies and entrepreneurship, please click here.


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