Getting Real About Facebook: What Nonprofits Can Expect
By now, nonprofits are well aware of the robust growth of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other forms of social media. As Lewis Humphries recently reported, Facebook utilization by nonprofits has dramatically increased in the last three years, even though the use of Twitter and LinkedIn leveled off between 2010 and 2011.
While Facebook adoption is very strong among nonprofits, the truth is these organizations are just beginning to measure the quantifiable results of social media. And that’s when things get interesting.
Idealware, a nonprofit organization that provides resources about software solutions to nonprofits, and Balance Interactive, an interactive firm that services nonprofits, collaborated on extensive social media research conducted in 2010 and 2011. Hundreds of nonprofits were surveyed, and telephone focus groups were used to gather additional input. Facebook users were also surveyed. The results of the research have been consolidated into a handy, useful “Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide” that was published in October 2011 and is available at no charge.
Increases in Website Traffic But Not Donations
Not surprisingly, the research indicates that over 70 percent of the nonprofits said using Facebook resulted in a measurable increase in traffic to their websites. In addition, 66 percent of the respondents said Facebook “moved people to take action” in some way, such as signing a petition.
However, only 42 percent reported an increase in their email lists that they could attribute to Facebook. Of greater concern, a dismal 29 percent said increased donations could be tracked back to Facebook. According to the Decision Guide, “Several interviewees mentioned the difficulty of fundraising on Facebook, reporting either that they’ve found it to be not useful at all, or that it takes a long time to develop donors on the site.”
Over 30 percent of nonprofits said they know Facebook works in reaching new supporters, and nearly 80 percent say they “think it works.” When it comes to raising money, though, less than 20 percent say they know Facebook works, and about 40 percent say they think it works.
Influence on Volunteering
As for Facebook users, a nonprofit’s presence on Facebook is perceived as important, although not as important as an organization having a website. While 38 percent of Facebook users said they would “definitely or probably look” for a Facebook page of an organization for which they’d consider volunteering, 85 percent of these users said they’d definitely look for a nonprofit’s website. Still, Facebook is influential: 43 percent of users said a Facebook page “might have an impact” on their decision to volunteer for a nonprofit, and 12 percent said they’d definitely be more likely to volunteer for a nonprofit with a Facebook page. In fact, these users indicated they would “be concerned” if no Facebook page existed.
Interestingly, some Facebook users responded even more specifically to the number of fans a nonprofit had on its Facebook page. Forty-three percent of Facebook users said they would be influenced to volunteer for a nonprofit that had “a lot of friends/fans” on Facebook.
What Does the Data Mean?
While data can be interpreted a myriad of ways, at the very least, these results suggest that nonprofits need to set realistic expectations when it comes to Facebook.
It is obvious that a nonprofit needs a Facebook page, but anticipating an increase in donations, or even an increase in email subscribers from Facebook, is probably optimistic. A nonprofit needs to see Facebook for what it is—a social network that has the potential to increase awareness of an organization’s mission. It seems clear that Facebook can help generate interest and provide a platform for sharing information and corresponding with supporters, but Facebook in and of itself is not a legitimate fundraising venue, at least not yet. An organization also needs to make sure it can attract fans to its Facebook page, since this seems to have a beneficial effect on involvement with the nonprofit’s cause.
The bottom line: You’ll be better served if you set appropriate expectations for your use of Facebook.