Great news from the folks behind ‘Causes’ last week, with the announcement that they just passed the $10m point in donations since launch back in May 2007.
Causes was without doubt a trend-setter from the outset, being one of the very first apps to be launched after the Facebook Platform toolkit was made available – enabling the development of 3rd party Applications (Apps) that integrate directly with Facebook user data. (Remember those far gone halcyon days of summer 2007 when you first had a whole range of apps to add to your profile – and ended-up playing with Zombies and Foodfight?).
However, I must admit that when I blogged about Causes on its first anniversary I wasn’t all that impressed with its fundraising success. Despite being one of the most popular Apps on Facebook, boasting some 12m registered users, over its first 12 months it had raised just $2.5m – equating to just $126 for each organisation being fundraised for.
Fortunately, things have clearly improved since then to take them through the $10m mark just 14 months later, and what is especially interesting is the fact that $5m of this has apparently been raised in just the six months since the start of 2009.
This set me to thinking what might have changed since the first 12 months to have generated such a boost in donations and what others might be able to learn from this success. It seems to me that there are three key contributing factors to take note of:
1. Provision of quality support and fundraising ideas for Causes users
As Causes has developed, more and more support has been provided to its users – with a key step being the creation of Causes Exchange, where users could read and share ideas about how best to use the app. A great example of providing new ideas for fundraising approaches came with the launch of the ‘Birthday Wish’, where users were encouraged to ask their friends to support a specific Cause rather then get them a birthday present. This seems such a simple and obvious idea, yet ‘Birthday Wishes’ alone have apparently generated over $1m since this was first added to the Causes app just three months ago.
Over time, advice provided by the Causes team has been supplemented by advice shared by others – which in many cases has been spotted and also passed-on through the Causes Exchange blog.
2. Generation of awareness and engagement through a challenge/matching grant initiative
Key to the success of fundraising through social networks like Facebook and Myspace is clearly the peer-to-peer advocacy effect, as individuals share their enthusiasm for a particular cause with others in their network and encourage them to add their support too. However, you can give this type of peer-to-peer fundraising significant extra momentum if you support it through a high profile initiative which raises awareness and gets more people talking about the fundraising activity.
Causes did just this with their ‘Causes Giving Challenge’ held for 50 days to the end of January 2008. With matching grants offered by The Case Foundation for those causes raising the most over this time, the Causes Giving Challenge on Facebook led to over $500,000 being raised by over 25,000 donors for nearly 4,000 different causes. While this was great performance in itself, the challenge also generated a significant amount of online and offline coverage and thereby introduced thousands more Facebook users to the Causes app. You can read a full report of the challenge here.
3. The changing profile of the Facebook audience
The third factor is nothing directly to do with Causes, but I have no doubt it will have contributed to their accelerated fundraising success – this is the changing profile of the Facebook audience.
Clearly, the growth in Facebook user numbers has been incredible since Causes launched back in May 2007. However, what is perhaps more important from the fundraising point of view is how the profile of Facebook users has changed over this time – shifting from the young early adopters to their parents. I’ve mentioned this shift before, when posting updates on demographic profiling tools that can be used to assess which donor groups are using Facebook. However, the latest data on the maturing of the Facebook user base comes from the iStrategyLabs 2009 Facebook Demographics report, and reveals over 500% growth in US Facebook users aged 55+. This is good news for online community fundraisers, as it introduces an older generation of online charity supporter likely to have greater disposable income and a greater inclination towards supporting nonprofits financially.