Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Social Media and Nonprofit Fundraising

Many nonprofits take it as given that reaching out to donors and other constituents through multiple channels will automatically improve fundraising, donor retention, and the like.  The result is that many focus on reaching as many people as possible, especially through social media channels, without an intentional strategy as to how these new channels can be used efficiently to engage donors.  In this post, I want to take the time to examine some data on this viewpoint to shed light on its shortcomings.

Consider the following mini-experiment.  Take the top 50 charities in the US according to Forbes, and collect both their social media following (either number of Facebook 'likes' or Twitter followers) as well as their fundraising efficiency (obtained from Charity Navigator).  Based on data limits, that leaves 42 charities.  With this data, rank the charities on the basis of social media following (1 being the most followers) and fundraising efficiency (1 being the most efficient).  Plotting the connection between social media ranking and fundraising ranking yields the following remarkably similar charts that show the data points and the best fit (regression) line...

Relationship Between Facebook Likes and Fundraising Efficiency

Relationship Between Twitter Following and Fundraising Efficiency

What do these charts convey?  First and foremost, a strong social media following does not guarantee fundraising success...if anything, it portends fundraising difficulty.  That is, the fit line in each chart demonstrates that those entities with greater social media rank tend to have lower fundraising efficiency rank.

For statistics aficionados, a few things to note: (i) the negative correlation is statistically significant; (ii) the negative correlation persists if you examine raw numbers rather than ranks (though there are some notable outliers); and (iii) the negative correlation also persists if organizations that primarily serve as intermediaries between gift-in-kind donors and other charities are excluded.

Does this mean that a establishing a greater social media presence is sure to undermine fundraising efforts?  No.  In fact, the usual disclaimer that one cannot infer causation from correlation applies.  What it suggests, however, is that social media success does not guarantee fundraising success.  What I infer from this is that if an organization wishes to parlay its new found social media presence into more effective fundraising, it must be just as intentional in doing so as it was in establishing a social media presence in the first place.  While this daunting task is certainly not in my area of expertise, there are fortunately others who do focus on it.  Recent work by Kanter and Paine, Kapin and Ward, and Mathos and Norman come to mind; I'm sure this list is far from complete, so I welcome other suggestions.


  1. HI Brian-

    Thanks for sharing this post with me on Twitter; glad to have found your blog! And, well, yes. Social media "success" doesn't automatically mean fundraising success. Some organizations may directly connect fundraising results with social media (organizations like Epic Change where they only operate and communicate online), so the results of evaluation may vary. But, overall, social media isn't naturally a fundraising space as it is a community building space. Build the community and connect people first, then as people sign up directly with you for your emails or come to your events, fundraising asks can be more successful.

  2. It is a little strange the people would support lesser known charities than the bigger ones but then larger organisations are over looked almost because they are well known, the average person would assume someone else is helping and maybe move onto something else? Everyone roots for the underdog so to speak.


  3. Such an interesting article, I've really enjoyed reading this. I have recently discovered Tony Charalambides fundraising blog, you should check it out.