Should You Drop Social Media From Your Fundraising Strategy?

A new study suggests you should, but others argue that organizations should not be so quick to discount the power of social media to indirectly raise funds.

Social media may be good at raising awareness, but—contrary to the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge—it may not be so great at getting people to donate to an organization.

This was one of the significant findings of a new study published in Sociological Science. The research found that while social media campaigns may attract attention for a cause or organization, they don’t result in a comparable increase in fundraising.

“It is true that once you rely on social media, your message can easily reach people by the millions,” Nicola Lacetera, a management professor at the University of Toronto and one of the study’s authors, told “But then the question becomes ‘What do people do with these messages?’”

For example, researchers used Facebook ads and sponsored stories to encourage users to install an app that would allow them to donate to Heifer International, a charity that works to end poverty and hunger around the world.

The campaign reached close to 6.4 million Facebook users, but it resulted in 30 donations—not exactly a big return on investment.

From this, the researchers posited that social media platforms provide “cheap” ways for users to show support by “liking” posts as opposed to donating money, and that the idea of social contagion—which spurred the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014—is more viable when a campaign asks people to do something that’s free.

“A social media giving campaign doesn’t necessarily lead to a donation as the next step,” Lacetera said. “In addition, the campaigns take a lot of work and cost money to run.”

This idea was echoed in a recent Guardian editorial, in which Matt Collins, the managing director of a U.K.-based digital marketing agency, called for charities “to stop wasting money on social media.”

Collins argued that only a small percentage of an organization’s audience will even be aware of a charitable campaign via social media, noting that Facebook posts are seen by only about 2.6 percent of an organization’s audience and tweets reach only about 10 percent of followers.

“I’m not suggesting charities should immediately shut down their social media accounts, especially if they have checked the data and confirmed it works for them,” Collins wrote. “Instead, they need to think carefully about how resources are allocated.”

He suggested investing more in search engine optimization and maximizing email lists, which include a significant number of invested audience members who took the action to subscribe and therefore maybe more likely to donate.

It’s important to note that Collins’ article was quickly rebuffed in another Guardian editorial by Carlos Miranda, chief executive of a strategy consulting firm that works with social impact organizations. Miranda argued that for organizations to drop social media from their fundraising efforts is short-sighted. While the money may not come raining in via social platforms, they are important tools to use as part of a larger fundraising strategy.

“Social media plays a much larger role in the fundraising process than simply being a conduit for donations—it provides an invaluable set of tools that facilitate the process, from identifying new donors and building relationships to ultimately making the ask and giving thanks,” Miranda wrote. “And the rich data you can gather from engaging with supporters on social can be invaluable for targeting your fundraising, both online and offline.”

What advice do you have for using social media as part of a comprehensive fundraising strategy? Please share in the comments.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may be the exception when it comes to fundraising, a study argues. (iStock/Thinkstock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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