News and analysis
November 18, 2015

Facebook Debuts New Fundraising Tools

Facebook is piloting a new iteration of its charity donate button with transactions to be processed directly within the social-media site, executives said Wednesday.

The Silicon Valley-based company also introduced a new tool it has dubbed "fundraisers," a sort of modular extension of a group's Facebook page where it can host discussions about a cause, share photos and videos, solicit donations, and track money raised, all for a specific campaign.

The new donate button will be included within the new "fundraisers" tool. When users make a donation and share it with friends, the donate button will also appear in individual posts. The result: the charity donation option will be visible to Facebook users as they scroll through their newsfeeds.

The new features are being tested with 37 nonprofit groups, said Naomi Gleit, head of the Facebook Social Good team. The company expects to make them available to all registered American 501(c)(3) groups sometime next year and eventually to international charities.

Nonprofits involved in testing — including Mercy Corps, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the U.S. Fund for Unicef, and the World Wildlife Fund — are trying it out free of charge. Next year, when Facebook rolls it out for all charities, it will implement a fee that it said will cover its costs.

The features are the latest twist in Facebook’s exploration into making itself a vehicle for charitable fundraising.

The fact that Facebook will keep donation transactions within its platform during the testing is an important detail: Maintaining access to donor information is a concern for nonprofits. And it is different than the "donate now" button that was made available in August for all groups’ Facebook pages and paid advertisements. With that version, users are directed to groups’ own sites to make donations. That earlier version remains in place.

This go-round, Ms. Gleit said, the goal is to create a donation experience with as few clicks as possible.

With the new donate button, for example, Facebook users will log in, see a post from a friend about a charitable donation, click on the donate button that appears within that post, and — if they have previously logged credit-card information in the Facebook payment system — make their own contribution. Reduced to a few clicks, the new features could help drive what Ms. Gleit described as "retail giving."

"It is the spontaneous, not-planned giving that only happens in the context of putting $1 in a Salvation Army bucket that will now be front and center in people’s news feeds and hopefully will encourage a whole new wave of donors and donations," Ms. Gleit said.

Expanding Options

Facebook, which now has more than 1 billion daily active users, according its most recent quarterly earnings report, formally announced the creation of its Social Good team in September. Much of the work that falls under its purview has been running for a few years, including efforts to make the social-networking site accessible to people with visual impairments.

Facebook has dipped its toe into charitable fundraising in a number of ways. It raised money for emergency relief and response in the wake of disasters, most recently in April when Facebook users donated more than $15 million to International Medical Corps for its response to the Nepal earthquake after the social-media giant placed solicitations in newsfeeds.

The company also helped raise money to respond to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

"The best we can do is not rely on Facebook to run one campaign the next time there is a natural disaster," Ms. Gleit said. "It is to empower nonprofits to fundraise directly for themselves and allow people to donate to these causes and then share with their friends that they are donating so hopefully their friends donate as well."

Data Worries

The company first piloted a donate button in 2013. Dialogue and experimentation with nonprofits is ongoing, Ms. Gleit said.

"Overwhelmingly, it is positive," she said. "But they have given us a lot of feedback that we would have never would have thought of because we are totally new to this and we don’t work in the nonprofit space."

One common concern she hears is about access and control over donor data: If transactions occur within Facebook, groups may not have the information they need to build long-term relationships. Ms. Gleit said that the company is testing versions of the feature that will allow users to opt in or, by default, share their email addresses with charities.

"I expect that we will just get just a ton of feedback," Ms. Gleit said, "both from the nonprofits throughout this process but also people who are seeing these fundraisers and donate buttons — users on Facebook."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to one of the groups testing the Facebook fundraising tools as the World Wildlife Federation. It is the World Wildlife Fund. 

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.