Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed

Facebook GrantsEarlier 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.

5 thoughts on “Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed

  1. What I think would be better than this is an option for people who click “like” on a non-profit page to also select “show me all tweets from this group on my wall” – no cost to the non-profits. Yes, it eliminates a source of profit from Facebook. But, it builds on the point you make above – content will ultimately drive Facebook engagement, and non-profits and community organizations provide meaningful content and engagement. Mine, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University had great engagement, and now much less. When we pay we have good engagement, when we don’t it’s more limited in numbers seeing our posts.

    1. Great points, James. A grants program has the potential to help organizations reach more of their fans/followers. But there’s more that Facebook can and should do to help organizations do their best to ensure that content is being read and helping people. That would be good for organizations like yours and Facebook.

  2. You could substitute the term “small businesses” for “nonprofits” in much of what you wrote, and it would remain completely accurate/relevant. But the real antidote to this is NOT to wheedle Facebook into behaving better. It’s to make sure you do not put all your eggs – or even most of them – into Facebook’s basket, ultimately doing nothing but making them richer. We see small businesses, for example, wasting time filling their Facebook walls with content – sometimes (having received bad advice from “social media gurus”) irrelevant content such as “check out these cute cats” – hoping their few hundred followers will see it, while ignoring their websites (which are the pages where they are most likely to be found, NOT FB), not communicating with popular media in their area, not spending that time instead enriching community connections (offline as well as online), etc. Yeah, we use FB too, and have a decent-sized following, but our website comes first, and is NOT hostage to changing algorithms, etc. Don’t entrust your fate and success to *any* third party. – Tracy

    1. Hey Tracy – Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. I agree – so much potential is left on the table with resources put to Facebook instead of building community around website, local media and connecting online/offline relationships. But part of how/why Facebook falls short for orgs is that time/resources put into building a base there goes out window not being able to reach them. A grants program could definitely help and if it happens I’d love to see it built around content and community building skills, not just impressions.

  3. To elaborate – Non-profits do need donor names. Facebook needs to understand that aspect of non-profits before developing and announcing a Program like they did. In addition, nonprofits often use Facebook and other platforms to promote a different campaign – So, giving on FB may detract and distract from those posts. Overall, the whole point is to cultivate a relationship with donors. The grants program idea is much more practical.

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