Earlier this week Facebook announced that it had begun putting “Donate” buttons on pages run by US nonprofit organizations. The program rolled out on 19 nonprofit pages and other groups are invited to express interest in participating. Facebook is offering to funnel donations to nonprofits free of charge — 100% of donations made will go to the nonprofit.
This program is important for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly is that it begins (we hope) to standardize the Facebook donation experience which has to date been cobbled together through a combination of free and paid third party apps, forms embedded on page tabs (an interface Facebook removed), and any number of attempts to move potential donors off Facebook which has always been difficult.
A Donate Button? Yeah! Oh, wait. Meh.
The response to this news from the broader nonprofit community may be characterized as lukewarm at best. Why? Organizations won’t receive the names and contact information of donors. Nonprofits are tired of Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, interfaces and rules. Organizations are also finding they have to pay to get their content in front of Facebook users that already Like and follow their page. Facebook makes it hard for organizations to reach their audience without paying. Nonprofits are not flush with communications and marketing resources. A pay to play environment shuts many if not most groups out of Facebook.
Perhaps this lackluster community response surprised Facebook — a surprise symptomatic of the weak relationship between Facebook and the nonprofit community. Fact is, though, that both the company and the nonprofit community play significant roles in American (and global) civic, cultural and political life.
We all recognize that Facebook has an enormous user base. But there are nearly 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States alone. In the US, nonprofits account for around 10% of all wages and salaries and 5-6% of GDP. There are around 160,000 charities in both Canada and the United Kingdom. We dare say there are hundreds of thousands more across the globe.
But the size of their supporter base and fan pages are not what makes nonprofits invaluable to Facebook. These organizations bring (or should – we’ll get to that in a moment) community-driven content and strong relationships across networks that can make Facebook content relevant to users – and great Wall content is something Facebook needs in order to succeed.
Nonprofits have powerful relationships (or should) with their community that few businesses can ever hope to create. Liking a retailer on Facebook may help a person access a coupon or hear about new products and sales. But liking a charitable organization on Facebook can… conversations about streets, jobs, healthcare, education, environment – concerns that impact every person every day.
Cracking Open the Nonprofit-Facebook Relationship with Facebook Grants
The nonprofit community has responded to Facebook this week with a truly productive request: create a Facebook Grants program that provides organizations with resources to promote posts and get content in front of its audience. This being 2013, a Change.org petition is acting as the online rallying point for this campaign.
Google Grants offer a clear model for a Facebook Grants program. Approved organizations (which is about any certified nonprofit that goes through the approval process) is given the ability to use up to $10,000 of Google AdWords each month. For free.
I don’t know what dollar amounts make sense for a Facebook Grants but it’s a program that makes sense for both Facebook and nonprofits. Get it going, Facebook.
The big BUT here, I believe, is that a Facebook Grants program run like a Google Grants program won’t accomplish much. It’s necessary but not sufficient. Here’s the thing: Facebook is a content-based community. It’s not an advertising platform. People use Facebook to interact with people, causes and groups they already know. They don’t come to Facebook looking for a directions to the mall, buy a shirt or figure out who won the 1996 Stanley Cup (the Colorado Avalanche, of course).
Money to promote content on Facebook may put content in front of an organization’s audience but for that content to do what Facebook and organizations need – engage users – nonprofits need more from Facebook. Organizations need great data, knowledgable support from Facebook, reliable support from third parties (Facebook PMD is a start but ask a nonprofit what PMD is), and a more predictable environment in which to operate. It should also be clearer how a Grants program would work outside the United States.
Petitioning for a Facebook Grants program is a great and necessary step forward. But the nonprofit community can and should use its collective power to create a broader and more meaningful relationship with Facebook, one more likely to help both Facebook and nonprofits while empowering users to be better engaged in the communities and organizations they value.