October 21, 2015

Facebook Hints at Powerful New Tools for Fundraising and Crisis Response

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images Reportage

Following the deadly earthquake in Nepal, Facebook raised more than $15 million from its users for the International Medical Corps’ relief work.

Members of Facebook’s newly created Social Good team said Tuesday that they are only at the starting line of a longterm commitment by the $272-billion company to partner with nonprofits on things like fundraising and crisis response via the social network.

"Clearly Mark is very focused on social impact, both personally and professionally," Anna White, spokeswoman for the Social Good Team, said of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The company has "matured in a way that this is becoming a formal focus," she added.

The comments were made at Facebook’s offices in Washington. They came three weeks after the Silicon Valley-based company formally announced the creation of its Social Good team, responsible for identifying ways people are using the platform for good and building products to support those activities. And they came two months after Facebook expanded a donation feature for nonprofits’ Facebook pages and paid advertisements, which was first tested in 2013.

Growth Strategy

The Social Good Team includes "dozens of engineers" working on multiple products, Ms. White said, and is a part of the company’s core growth team. One product is Facebook's safety check, a feature deployed following major natural disasters that allows users to signal to family members and friends that they are OK. Another undertaking by the Social Good team is making Facebook accessible to individuals with disabilities, such as the visually impaired. 

Ms. White and other Facebook officials declined Tuesday to share specifics about products and features being developed specifically for nonprofit groups, saying only that they are in the early stages of the work.

Still, starting this year, Facebook executives have been more forthcoming about the company’s charity-related activities and the engagement levels of its more than 1 billion users. In May, for example, the company announced that 754,000 Facebook users gave more than $15 million for Nepal earthquake relief efforts after Facebook added a solicitation to benefit International Medical Corps to its users’ feeds for one week. The company kicked in $2 million in matching donations.

In October, Mark Zuckerberg followed up on the campaign with a video thanking donors and explaining where the money went.

The release of the dollar amounts and the follow-up video were a first.

Just a year ago the company declined to disclose the results of a fundraising push to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Facebook was similarly tight-lipped about the result of its November 2013 fundraising effort in response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Impact Uncertain

While it’s proven to be a major conduit for donations for emergency response, the verdict is still out on whether Facebook can be a major force in more general charitable fundraising.

For example, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, one the participants in the "donate" button pilot program rolled out in 2013, said it took in $3,500 through Facebook, a tiny slice of the $98.5 million it raised through all online fundraising that year. And a 2013 study conducted by the fundraising-software company Blackbaud found that just 1 percent of all online fundraising is attributed to social media.

In August, Facebook made a "donate now" button available for all nonprofits’ pages and paid advertisements. Unlike during the 2013 pilot version, users who click on the buttons are steered to organizations’ donation pages, where they enter payment information.

Katherine Woo, a product manager on the Social Good Team, said Tuesday that she and her colleagues have received lots of feedback from nonprofits on the "donate now" tool, including requests for product features and complaints about bugs.

"We are really focused on fine-tuning the product at this point," Ms. Woo said.

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.