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Facebook and Nonprofits: Success Stories? ROI?

January 12, 2010

I like Facebook. Mostly to stay in touch with close friends. It’s great for that. I don’t play Farmville or Mafia Wars. I don’t invite people to Causes. But I am a fan of my favorite nonprofits on Facebook. I do see their status updates. I do occasionally give thumbs up, and sometimes I’ll even comment. I have donated to nonprofits that I have seen on Facebook (on their website). Yes. I do like Facebook and I like nonprofits on Facebook.

But I must confess that I sometimes think that Facebook is overrated as a communications and community-building tool. Nonprofits with national and international name recognition do great on Facebook in terms of growing a large fan base, but many small to medium-sized nonprofits struggle to achieve the elusive Facebook ROI (Return on Investment) – website traffic, new e-mail newsletter subscribers, mobile subscribers, online donors, thumbs up and comments i.e, community engagement, etc.

I created and manage the Nonprofit Organization Facebook Page. Compared to Twitter and MySpace, it’s been a much more difficult community to grow and engage. That would be fine if the ROI was there, but even with over 7,000 fans ROI-as-defined-above is elusive. I get little to no website or blog traffic from Facebook (most comes from Twitter and LinkedIn). Very few new e-mail newsletter subscribers. And when I poll my webinar attendees about where they first heard about the webinar… the results are always the same: 1) Referral from friend 2) My Blog 3) My e-mail newsletter 4) Twitter 5) Other 6) Facebook.

In my webinar about Facebook I am pretty honest with nonprofits about this. Feedback from individuals and nonprofits tell me that 90% of the power of a Facebook Page is in the “Status Updates”. Folks aren’t reading “Updates”. They don’t click on the Tabs often. Thumbs up and comments are difficult to inspire. And I have to promote the page like crazy outside of Facebook to get fans. Most of my fans come from sending out a Tweet on Twitter. Am I doing something  wrong? Is Facebook ROI there, but not possible to track since most fans are silent on Facebook?

I read a stat once that for every new fan that a nonprofit drives to Facebook, Facebook then earns $7 in advertising revenue per new fan. I am not sure if that’s true (can’t find the stat now), but it made sense to me and I do often wonder if Facebook gets more out of nonprofits using and promoting Facebook, than nonprofits get out of Facebook? Will the new Pages and toolset help, or hurt future possibilities of increased ROI-as-defined-above?

When asked recently to speak on a True Spin panel about Facebook success stories, I thought of the same one’s that I’ve heard over and over again for the last few years. Mostly large nonprofits with a full-time social media staff who are very good at community-building, have tons of great content, and e-mail lists of tens of thousands of people that they can tap into to “Become a Fan!” Most small and medium-sized nonprofits can’t relate to those success stories.

So, I need your help. I need some new  success (or-not-so-successful) stories for my panel, and for my webinars. New Year, new Facebook success stories, new strategies. Particularly from small to medium-sized nonprofits. Please. And thank you. And remember, I started off saying that I do like Facebook. 🙂

42 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 1:08 pm


    Great points you’ve made here. I think the concept of a fan page may be part of the issue. For instance, if I’m a fan of John Mayer, I’m a fan. That’s pretty much it. It doesn’t mean I go beyond the call of duty to prove it. If he’s in town, I’ll try to get there. If not, it’s not the end of the world. The concept of fan on Facebook just let’s your friends know you’re a fan. Period.

    I also think that Facebook is it’s own very tightly contained community. This can be very beneficial. Many companies are utilizing software to further engage their Facebook audience. The game Ponzi, Inc., for example, has kept me on Facebook all night at times. Naturally, I’d like to know more about the company. You may need to move beyond just your fan page and add more value.

    In addition, I think Facebook could implement more features that assist pages in reaching their audiences. I must admit, many of the pages I have joined just sit idle at the bottom of the page. Sometimes, I forget I even became a fan.

    Have you created a cause? That’s an excellent way to communicate to the heart of your audience. I’ve seen some pretty compelling causes.

  2. January 13, 2010 1:15 am

    Success for small non-profits on facebook? I don’t know. Your analysis of FB is very much what I have experienced with it as well. Our small non-profit did a virtual fundraiser and used FB to send our “fans” to our blog for information about how to donate etc. That worked well. But I would never set up a “cause” for our non-profit on it as I don’t see anyone really raising a significant amount of money. I also don’t want to “burn” people out with information. I simply see FB as a way to gather a group of people who have committed to being interested to our organization. I am tired of the constant FB changes/etc. I think with what I hear of the coming changes, it sounds like it will be even less of a place for small non-profits. Blogs just really work much better at this point for sharing information.

  3. January 13, 2010 4:12 am

    Our nonprofit just started in January of ’09. We have a cause and a page on Facebook, but we really hadn’t seen growth in that page until we started a Facebook ad campaign, which I only ran for a short time. We are now at 339 fans. I’ve had some good interaction with the fans through our status updates, but our cause has not raised funds. Like Michelle, I worry about overwhelming people with too many options.

    We are also on Twitter, and I think that may be a more effective option for us, but we will continue to put some time and effort into our Facebook page.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 4:19 am

      Thanks Blake. Just curious… was the Facebook Ad campaign reasonably priced? Curious if you ask your online donors how they found out about you? A lot of people are cautious about donating through Apps and Widgets, and thus go to your website donate. It was the same with “Donate Now” buttons. It took about 5 years for people to trust that they were safe. THANKS.

      • January 13, 2010 4:28 am

        I ran the ad campaign from 12/11 to 1/11 and spent $110 on 199 clicks. Obviously, “your mileage may vary” depending on your cause and how people connect with your goals. I was fortunate to have Facebook friends who feel strongly about it, so they shared us on their profiles.

        You bring up a good point. People are really wary about donating online. My payment module on our own site should really mention that it’s through PayPal and secure.

      • nonprofitorgs permalink
        January 13, 2010 4:40 am

        Very useful information. Yes. I was even thinking that nonprofits need a statement on their website or blog that explains that donating via Facebook Causes is secure. Many people probably think that Facebook processes the donations and they don’t have a great reputation when it comes to privacy. Good to explain that Network for Good processes Cause donations and that the donors email address is not shared with nonprofit. Donors can provide snail mail address if they choose. 95% of the time they don’t. Web 2.0 donors generally don’t want print materials. I have never seen a nonprofit explain to their donors how the donation process works via Causes. Sometimes I even wonder if they know themselves. 🙂 One thing… not sure if you have donated to your own Cause, but never leave it at $0. Few people will be the first to donate to a new Cause. THANKS.

  4. January 13, 2010 4:58 am

    Wow, this is a great blog and great ideas! I have used Facebook to my advantage, as I’m just learning about marketing for the non profit, but really it is for an event/fundraiser for the non profit that I use Facebook for. However, that being said, I also use Twitter, Linked In, and other Social Media to get the word out about our event. I finally figured out how to use the fan page on Facebook and found that it really does help when you put a picture and check it regularly to see if any fans made a comment (just like a blog, for instance) and keep the conversation going. I also happen to like Ning too, as it has grown to a small group, but I can also promote my event there as well, and network with other people doing similar events.

  5. January 13, 2010 5:01 am

    Hello. I manage the fan page for the British Association and College of Occupational Therapists, a professional body of occupational therapists in the UK.

    We’ve had great response from our members and have been able to raise the profile of the organisation and the profession. Our members use the page to ask questions to colleagues and the organisation.

    I think part of the reason we are successful with the fan page is because we have a large student membership, who are activity using Facebook to network with other students and education professionals. I encourage other members of staff at BAOT to create professional profiles on Facebook so they can also help build and support the online community.

    We use our updates to highlight the most relevant content on our website, relevant content elsewhere on the web about occuaptional therapy and calls to actions and deadlines. Our Facebook page, in a way, filters the most important messages we want to send to our members. A facebook fan to be is more valuable that an e-newsletter subscriber.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 5:04 am

      Thanks. Yeah… if your target audience is students and E-mail is officially for “old” people, then Facebook is the way to go. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

      • January 13, 2010 5:12 am

        Hi again!

        I think everyone’s target could be students. Every industry needs graduates. 25.2% of people on Facebook are 18-24 as of November 2009.

        If you market from the perspective of CSR, B2B advertisement may not be a bad idea either.

        Has anyone tried running an experimental campaign targeting students?

      • nonprofitorgs permalink
        January 13, 2010 5:18 am Tons of universities are using Facebook.

  6. nonprofitorgs permalink
    January 13, 2010 5:23 am

    Thanks everyone. Anyone have any specifics? If you have 2,000 fans and get 3-4 thumbs up on a post… is that a success? Volunteers recruited, new donors, website traffic, blog traffic, e-mail or mobile subscribers, new members? As mentioned above, 7,000 fans results in no ROI for me personally, so I am looking for some real success stories based on data. The problem is I don’t think many nonprofits know how to gage ROI from social media:


  7. January 13, 2010 5:43 am

    Definitely is an uphill climb for a small non profit to get the most out of social media, and even harder in our rural area for some reason. We did have a success just a few weeks ago that just blew our minds. We have a local “Adopt-a-Family” program for Christmas. Every other social service agency in our county knows this. As happens nearly every year, we received a phone call 2 days before Christmas from a case worker of another agency asking for help for a single mom and teen son. They were looking for assistance with Christmas dinner and a gift for the son. There is really no one we can just call to see if they can help, so I took a chance and posted a plea for help on our facebook page. We had less than 150 fans (big struggle) but a fan reposted and an anonymous donor dropped off $100 gift card to a local chain grocery store where the mom could then buy gift cards to retailers for a gift for her son. The donor said she read it on facebook (and that she just loves using it) and she wanted to help.

    It is difficult trying to keep things engaging when you are working with limited resources and limited staff in terms of how tech savvy they are.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 5:53 am

      Love this. 🙂

  8. January 13, 2010 5:44 am

    I agree with Candra and others ….the key is to engage individuals..just like real world philanthropic work.
    Often individuals will post status updates that tout a cause (I do!) and many get excellent response. FB’s new format really does lock away a lot of information that we want and came to us with ease w/ the old format….Another strategy is making the cause or the fundraising/volunteer process easy, practical, sexy and fun. We have new audiences (jaded Gen X and happy Gen Y). They all have important needs.

  9. January 13, 2010 6:10 am

    I am the social media person (among other things) for a nonprofit targeting seniors interested in volunteering. We got on FB and Twitter in June. Of the two, Twitter has been far easier to acquire “followers” without doing much work. I have tried various strategies for getting fans on FB with little success. We ran an ad campaign in August with FB that resulted in a few clicks and one new fan, but that’s pretty much it. Since we only place people 55 and older, that could be a factor, but I understand that demographic is supposed to be growing on FB?

    • January 13, 2010 7:35 am

      Hi Nicole

      This is a great tool for FB demographics:

      Have you ever tried targeting people who know people 55 and older? I know that sounds cheesy, but sometimes working through people gets results. 🙂

      • January 13, 2010 8:06 am

        What a great tool! Thanks!

        I guess one of my biggest problems has been the limited functionality of the fan pages versus personal accounts. We finally created a personal account administered by a volunteer that gives us some of the privileges, but it didn’t solve everything.

        The advertising campaign we ran targeted people in our area over 55…I’m not sure what other groups would be worth trying to reach out to.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 8:01 am

      If it helps, here are the age “Insights” of my 7,300+ fans:

      Male Female
      36% 59%

      13-17 2%

      18-24 2%

      25-34 29%

      35-44 32%

      45-54 21%

      55+ 9%

  10. January 13, 2010 7:56 am

    Great discussion here. I manage and I would agree with the rest that for a small nonprofit it’s definitely an uphill climb to even get fans for the page, much less get them engaged. I think that there is just too much clutter on facebook for their to be measurable ROI for small organizations.

    I will say that I manage a few company pages that have about 3k people on them and participation on the pages is pretty high. It’s just a matter of getting to that critical-mass point to create real chatter amongst fans.

    From the nonprofit perspective, I don’t think many people are going be comfortable using facebook to donate money, but the idea is to cast a wide net. Like others above, we’ve received active volunteers and donors randomly from people stumbling upon our facebook page. You really never know what might come out of it so I think moving forward it’s necessary to keep up with the pages, but I do agree that blogs and twitter are better means of getting your name in front of people.

  11. January 13, 2010 8:16 am

    Hi there! Thanks for the posting. I started as Development Director at A-SPAN, a homeless program in Arlington, VA ( about five months ago. They did not have a facebook page or twitter account and the main website did not even have a Donate Now button on the front page. I made some suggestions and we started moving on those.

    We’re still building up our online network but I am happy to say that we have raised nearly $30,000 through our presence on Facebook since. About $3,000 of that has come through the Causes site – through that we had made a push for the America’s Giving Challenge in October. We also placed int he top 100 for the Chase Community Giving Challenge in December netting us $25,000. we were able to do that through a combination of partnerships, online activities, and traditional get-out-the-vote events. Because of that we are now in the running for $1million as the grand prize.

    We have used that momentum to build a partnership with 6 other organizations in our community also working to end homelessness. This has gotten a lot of interest from political leaders, media, and citizens about what we do everyday and the real problems in our community. (The story in our local paper is here:

    Facebook by itself has not done much to attract many new supporters. But as one of the tools in our toolbox, we have been using it to raise the profile of homelessness and hopefully will be able to continue using momentum to achieve some of our long-term goals. Hope you all can vote for us to win $1million on Jan 15th!

  12. Hamza permalink
    January 13, 2010 8:30 am

    I also manage my organizations social media efforts and while we haven’t experiences tremendous progress with Facebook our interaction with our fans on this site has been more substantial than with Twitter. Our number of fans is also significantly higher on FB than Twitter, in part due to an Ad run on FB. It seems as if others have experienced more success with Twitter than FB, however. What best practices can be shared regarding getting a ROI on Twitter?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 8:34 am

      The power of Twitter in in ReTweeting. A quick scan of your Twitter profile shows you need some help with that. You’ll learn in the Webinar. 🙂 And claim your profile on

      I am seeing a theme here… purchasing advertising from Facebook. Hmmm…

    • January 13, 2010 9:07 am


      Twitter will definitely take time. But if you follow a solid plan, you’re bound to make progress.

      Use the search on Twitter to search for key terms that directly relate to your niche. For me, I would search photography, writing or designers. After searching, check profiles that interest you. Get in on the conversation and share value. Follow people in your niche. Never go in to Twitter like a mad salesman. Twitter is a value based venue. If you’re smart about it, you’ll notice a trend in discussion. You can then tailor your tweets to solve a problem or provide additional exposure. Don’t forget to use hash tags.

      Don’t follow everyone. While this may seem rude, how can you follow 10,000 people and attain valuable market research? While tools like Tweetdeck and Twitter lists cut back on chatter, it still makes sense to use good old fashioned discretion.

      After you have identified people you are interested in, make sure you manage promotional tweets. Nothing is worse than tooting your own horn — all the time.

  13. January 13, 2010 9:24 am

    Great informative blog post! We here at the PAIRS Foundation ( just broke into the social media world about a month ago with our new blog and a twitter ( + facebook page ( I believe a lot of social media campaigns for non-profits are trial and era. What does NonProfitOrgs believe will return the greatest ROI for your non-profit? Since you believe Twitter and LinkedIn give you the best ROI spend a greater amount of time on those sites, but at the same time run some different facebook ad campaigns/different style posts, see where that gets you and if it makes a difference in engagement. I believe in the end it all comes down to the number of fan/followers, the content you put out, how you put it out, and patience. Keep posting great content and engaging your community, you are making a huge difference even if you have 7,000 fans, but only 18 comments! Much appreciated and please wish us luck…

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 13, 2010 10:30 am

      Twitter, LinkedIn (which has totally caught me by surprise), Blogging (the missing piece in a successful social media strategy) and getting proper social media training. 🙂 Good luck!

  14. January 14, 2010 1:17 pm

    Hi Heather,
    I created and manage our Social Media program at the founding Make-A-Wish Chapter located in Phoenix. We started our program in June 2009 with Facebook. We added Twitter and YouTube in August. We have about 2,460 fans to date on FB. I agree with a lot of your points. However, we do have a variety of fans who comment or “like” posts. We’ve gotten new volunters and attendance at our events from Facebook. So we think that’s a good showing so far. We post about 3 to 5 a day. This may seem like a lot, but it is working for us. Our fan base has consistanly grown over time. We vary our posts – wish stories, healthcare partner updates, inspirational quotes, office staff feature stories and just fun stuff. Our goals for the last 6 months have been to engage and educate. We are now at the point of deciding if/how provide more and to ask more of our fans on FB. We are also reviewing where to put our SM efforts most – FB, Twitter, Blogging, etc.
    Thanks for all your excellent information. It is really helpful. If we can help you, please just ask!

  15. January 16, 2010 8:59 pm

    I loved this analysis of FB. As a person who is in the infancy phase of starting an NPO, I am finding out just how hard it is to get the “fans” I desire. I admit I do enjoy twitter a bit more and I find it a lot easier to interact and find others within my niche. I think the main problem I have with FB is that it is geared for a more personal approach. If you are looking for that old middle school boyfriend, it’s great, but as purely a business tool, it takes a lot more work. Overall, social media for an NPO, regardless of the medium, is work. You get what you put into it. The more I interact on Twitter and LinkedIn the better the response I get. And I love HootSuite, where I can post in one place. Facebook, is almost an afterthought when it comes to organizational outreach. I know in my experience, I am already knowledgeable of a cause or group once I “become a fan” but I generally gain that knowledge from some place else.

  16. January 19, 2010 9:30 am

    Here’s a question I wanted to through out there and I thought this would be a good post to do it – it seems that bribes work best for growing facebook fan pages, i.e. join our page and you could win a gift card etc.

    How does this play out for a nonprofit? Do you think people would join a facebook page for the chance to win a gift certificate for a donation in someone’s name?

    Any thoughts are welcome, I appreciate any suggestions on how to increase fans for


  17. January 28, 2010 8:24 am

    Great post! We’ve been using Facebook for Blood Centers of the Pacific for about a year and a half now. We have close to 2,000 fans who are fairly active compared to when we first began. Most of our posts get at least 4-5 thumbs up and a few comments. Some get more and some get less, of course. Here’s a few examples of why I consider it a success, even though the more obvious ROI is not always there (i.e. being able to say more people donate because of our website).

    1. Most importantly we are able to connect with our donors. We get to thank them, to show them how their blood is being used, and to help out with any questions or customer service issues they want to report. Every time I get to answer a question or give someone that extra “thanks” it reminds me that our page is worth the effort.
    2. Our donors can connect with one another. They get to share their stories. Recently someone posted that they were nervous about donating. Someone else jumped in and said they worked nearby and would be happy to go with the person to the blood center. These two people didn’t know each other offline and were able to give one another encouragement thanks to our page. The same is true of our donors getting to share their stories of why they donate, to inspire one another, and to essentially do some of our work for us.
    3. We’ve been able to use FB advertising to do small campaigns that are very targeted. Since we are a medium nonprofit in a specific geographic location that is asking for a donation (blood) that has to be done in-person … this is very helpful. It’s not like we can spread our message nationwide and get results like those asking for financial donations. Because of targeting ads on FB we are able to spread the word but keep costs down by geographical targeting.
    4. Connecting with other organizations on FB. It’s great to connect with the hospitals we serve and the other nonprofits who are also working in our field or in fields that blood donation supports. It’s important relationship building that I think will also serve to better our partnerships offline.

    Some of the ways we haven’t yet been able to harness the power of Facebook:

    1. Events. We would LOVE to be able to get people excited about some of the special blood drives we have going on. Like you mentioned though people aren’t really clicking on tabs and since FB took away our ability to add FBML directly to the top page it’s harder to communicate our events.
    2. Pictures: we would love to get our fans to upload pics and to upload pics as an organization. We’re having trouble figuring out how to get around some of the privacy and legal issues. Any suggestions or knowledge about that?

    Thankfully we are located in the very tech savvy Bay Area so I won’t brush over the fact that our location may have been super helpful in some of our results 🙂

  18. January 29, 2010 6:32 am

    It’s important to remember that the goals of nonprofits are typically fundraising, advocacy efforts and recruiting vounteers. List building is an objective toward achieving these goals. Facebook is not the best tool for adding email opt-ins. But if you have several hundred fans on your nonprofit Facebook page, there’s your list! Use that list to help raise donations.

    The idea behind social media is to go where your audience is and not to drag them to where you are. Once there, you interact with them through conversations they’re already having. Facebook and Twitter are great.

    Both are essentially micro-blogs. I know many complain about the seemingly constant changes the Facebook team implements. But these changes make it so much easier to achieve what you want to achieve. For instance, a year or so ago Facebook’s little status update — your name followed by the word “is” — became the central thread that holds together all of our interactions on the site. This status update is nothing more than a micro-blog, just like Twitter, that you publish and Facebook distributes.

    Just like Twitter. The rise of Twitter is what inspired Facebook to make that change. Facebook has even adopted some of the Twitter syntax. Try this: when you update Facebook, use the @ symbol and begin typing the name of one of your friends or fans. It auto-fills. That’s straight from Twitter.

    Micro-blogging is all about recency (the real word is “recentness”). Your updates should be frequent in order to remain recent. But monitor the threshold with your fans. Make sure 1) you’re not annoying them with updates that are too frequent, 2) you’re contributing to conversations they’re already engaged in or initiate conversations they want to participate in, 3) the focus is on them and not you, 4) your call to action exists at the intersection of their interests and yours.

  19. February 2, 2010 5:45 am

    Concerning the RIO: we run – an online donation platform, currently primarily used in Germany. Traffic from facebook ranks at the 4th or 5th place, leading significantly to twitter etc. During three days after the Haiti disaster 3500 Euro were donated amongst our 1500 fancebook friends, plus since that we got nearly 500 new fans. Everyday our facebook posts generate donations. All we invest is 1-2 posts a day. I think thats a fair ROI

  20. February 8, 2010 4:24 pm

    The best success with Facebook we had in the past year at KaBOOM! was in getting other people to share our content there. A fan page is a good way to disseminate information to your fans, but having a campaign that engages them, and encourages them to share, is better.

    We had a competition to see who could host the best Play Day. At stake were two $10,000 grants and five $1,000 grants to improve local parks. People submitted their photos and stories, and then we selected finalists and posted short videos of each, made from the photos and stories they submitted. Then it was up to them to drive people to that page to vote for their project. The top vote-getters got the $10,000 grants.

    We saw a HUGE uptick in traffic from Facebook at that point. People were really effective at getting the word out, and it became a great way for people to share and remind their friends to participate.

  21. March 17, 2011 2:05 pm

    I just have to say thank you for the initial post about non-profits and ROI and for your dedication to small-to-medium nonprofits as well! The fact that this post was made over a year ago and it’s still relevant is impressive. I manage the social media for a nonprofit Healthy Kids Challenge, and we are still struggling with this very question about whether nonprofits see much ROI from Facebook. I am curious if you have receive any success stories that you could share with us?


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