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Thursday, 12 May 2011

How to raise monthly donors on Facebook – yes, Facebook

By Pamela Grow

When I read Australian fundraiser Jonathon Grapsas’ March post about how one nonprofit had managed to raise over $100,000 in monthly gifts via Facebook I was intrigued and mildly incredulous.

I believe that social media is invaluable to nonprofit organisations, particularly the small nonprofits, but I confess that I always thought of it as an initial first step in an organisation’s marketing strategy. When it comes to actual donations, I’ve reflected back upon the numerous Facebook birthday-wish gifts I’ve made to various causes without receiving a thank you, let alone a follow up, from a single organisation.

So I arranged to phone Jonathon to talk to him about fundraising in general and, in particular, about the exceptional social media fundraising success of the Soi Dog Foundation and their $100,000 monthly gifts from Facebook users. (Jonathon is the brilliant head of fundraising innovation for Pareto Fundraising in Australia and publishes one of my favourite fundraising blogs.) Jonathon was kind enough to connect me with Leonard Coyne, the genius behind Soi Dog Foundation’s fundraising and Leonard quite generously agreed to be interviewed over the phone.

The Soi Dog Foundation works to help the homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats of Thailand by reducing pain and suffering through humane population control. From February to November 2010 (a mere nine months) the Soi Dog Foundation saw a 350 per cent increase in monthly donors, attributed primarily to Facebook traffic. Pretty impressive, no?

What’s more, Leonard’s Facebook experiment for the Soi Dog Foundation resulted in increased audience engagement, a significant increase in one-off donations, supporter driven appeals and even five legacy gifts directly attributable to Facebook. Yes, five legacy gifts.

How did he do it?

As Leonard told me, ‘There’s a lot of noise about social media, but it’s a very ephemeral noise. Too many organisations start up a page or group but there is no discipline in taking it forward.

‘Although many organisations believe that they should establish a group instead of a page (or both) this is not the case. Although groups allow you to ‘mass message’ the group’s members, it is typically fairly ineffectual and regarded as yet another Facebook annoyance if done too frequently. Groups were designed for use by people who have a similar interest. Pages on the other hand were specifically designed to represent an organisation. Pages also offer much more functionality and customisation than groups. Be careful not to confuse your audience with too many pages and groups representing your organisation. One page is the best approach.

‘Nonprofits also need to recognise that an investment of time is required to grow your fan base. One thing that works really well for us is to actively post every other day asking fans to ‘invite’ their Facebook friends to “like” us.’

Leonard’s right, it will definitely take some time to reach that initial mass of active followers who will begin to spread the word organically. The key is consistency. Actively pursue new Facebook followers by way of your regular communications, your organisation’s website, your newsletter, email signatures (don’t forget to create email signatures for your board members as well), and via your blog and Twitter.

Another factor in the Soi Dog Foundation’s Facebook success lies in advertising. Like many internet marketers, Leonard finds Facebook advertising far more effective than Google and he’s spent a fair amount of time in testing. He says, ‘I think anyone advertising on Facebook should be going after a recurring gift. It’s not terribly effective to use Facebook advertising for one-time gifts, recurring giving is key.’

Here are a few other tips for Facebook advertising. Leonard only advertises to women and suggests that in order to find out who you should be targeting, test by age, gender, relationship status, location, education, workplace and any other relevant categories you can think of. This is where your ideal donor profile comes in handy. The best way to get started effectively is to tighten down the criteria to a minimum audience reach of 20,000 people. Figure out what a $20 a month recurring donation is worth to your nonprofit and package it in a way that best appeals to your target audience.

What else can you learn from Soi Dog’s success? I liked the interactive sidebar applications that any organisation can emulate immediately on its own Facebook page. Leonard likens each one to a mini web page.

And, if you’re looking for greater engagement, be willing to relinquish some control. As Leonard notes, ‘It makes perfect sense to utilise Facebook for fundraising. Facebook is a social environment. People use it to interact socially. People are sick of you talking at them. Have dialogues with them, establish relationships and train others to do it. And add heaps of photo galleries.’

For more information on Soi Dog’s strategies, be sure to check out Leonard’s presentation on Slideshare.


  1. Great post. However, I got a 404 on the link to the slideshare presentation...can you fix?

  2. Wow, so facebook advertising is working? I wonder if it's success is due to the fact that it wasn't in UK/North America? I've seen studies that have said facebook adverts are a waste of time.... be interested to know WHY it worked.

  3. I'm guessing another contributing factor could be that leadership is directly involved with the organisation's social media (in this case Facebook) campaign. So often, organizations ask interns to create and implement these strategies. Without the institutional memory and knowledge it can be difficult to create meaningful dialogue. There's certainly benefit to having interns and students involved, but not to the exclusion of the organisation's leadership.

  4. Pamela, you dug deep and came up with a winner! Thank you for taking the time to speak directly with someone who's employing a strategy that works. I too am curious if FB advertising works so well in this case since it's abroad. In any event, Leonard sums it up well at the end - people don't won't you talking AT them - engage them with dialogue. A great take-home point that's proven over and over.

  5. Any attrition figures you could share?

  6. Pam, Thank you thank you thank you for this one. Why I love my colleagues... like having my own little research institute.
    I'm also intrigued to know more about the mechanics of fundraising. But I do think that the combination of pets and monthly sponsorship is pretty powerful and may not be replicable by many organizations. What do you think?

  7. I like Kirsten's comment. Like any aspect of organizational success, the involvement of the leaders is key. Imagine the differences in running a social media platform between a known leader who embodies the organization and a newbie intern trying to figure it all out. How would members and clientele respond differently to each one?