Using Facebook to Promote Nonprofits and Charities

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Using Facebook to Promote Nonprofits and Charities

In this instalment of Words that Bite, I investigate how Facebook can be used to promote non-profit organisations (nonprofits) and charities.

In the past when I’ve looked at Facebook, I’ve focused on how it can be used to promote businesses, because, quite frankly, this is what interests most of my clients. However, this week I thought that it would be interesting to look at Facebook from a slightly different angle; specifically, how it can be used to promote worthy causes.

What are the challenges faced by nonprofits and charities wishing to use Facebook?

I think Facebook presents a number of challenges for nonprofits and charities that don’t necessarily exist when the platform is used to promote a business.

These include:

  1. Nonprofits and charities often represent causes that deal with confronting or disturbing issues, so, while supporters may be happy to ‘like’ a page, it can be difficult to persuade fans to ‘like’ particular posts.
  2. People affected by the cause that the nonprofit or charity supports may be members of a stigmatised group and prefer to interact in private.
  3. Even if you persuade supporters to ‘like’ a page, it can be difficult to persuade people to ‘engage’ on Facebook pages run by charities and nonprofits if the issues the organisation deals with are confronting or controversial.
  4. Even when a nonprofit or charity persuades someone to ‘like’ its Facebook page, it can be a challenge for the organisation to convert the ‘like’ into action (such as providing a donation).

How can Facebook be used to promote a nonprofit or charity?

Although there are obviously challenges for nonprofits and charities attempting to boost support for their causes through Facebook, the platform does contain features that mean it can work well for such organisations.

This is because, when it comes down to it, people share and interact on Facebook because of how it makes them look and feel. I would argue that Facebook’s phenomenal success is due to it meeting three basic human needs:

  1. The need to belong.
  2. The need to control how we are perceived by others.
  3. The need to keep in touch in a world where friends and family are often separated by distance and most of us are pressed for time.

Everyone knows that Facebook is where people post photographs of their latest skiing holiday or tropical vacation. Is this because it enables them to keep everyone quickly updated about what is happening in their lives? Is this because they want to show their friends and family what an exciting life they lead? If someone posts pictures of himself or herself at a party, is this to let their friends and family know that they live a life full of fun? If the shot is amusing, is it intended merely to entertain others? Is it to show that they are part of the in-crowd? I suspect most people’s motivations are actually mixed.

In the same way, people might demonstrate their support for a particular cause on Facebook not only because they are altruistic and want to help the cause, but because taking that step also helps to define them as a person. There is no doubt that publicly supporting a worthy cause makes us not only feel good but look good. To take this further, expressing support for a particular cause can be a way to show not only who we are and what we stand for, but can also be an attempt to shape how others see us.

I hate to be overly analytical about it, but it is these basic needs and desires that nonprofits and charities need to tap into if they are going to get the most out of their Facebook pages. Personally, I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if people used Facebook less to tell everyone what a great holiday they had and more to discuss social causes that are important to them.

What are the Facebook strategies that nonprofits and charities can use to boost support for their cause?

Strategy No. 1: Use Facebook to allow supporters to quickly and conveniently find updates about what is happening within your organisation

One of the most valuable things about Facebook for nonprofits and charities is that it is a very convenient vehicle for letting your supporters know what is happening within your organisation. People are much more likely to visit a Facebook page that they have already ‘liked’, and appears in their ‘likes’, than remember to visit a website regularly to see what is going on with a cause they support. In addition, a particular post may pop up in their timeline reminding them to visit the nonprofit’s or charity’s Facebook page. Obviously, it helps if the nonprofit’s or charity’s page is updated regularly. Ideally, a Facebook page should be updated daily.

Strategy No. 2: Use images to publicise key events/issues

As with business Facebook pages, it helps if you can include images with your posts alerting your fans to key events and current issues.

The Greenpeace International Facebook page must be the envy of all nonprofits and charities around the world. With over 1.5 million likes, it uses powerful images very effectively to publicise the various issues on which it wants to focus attention. For example, it used a spectacular satellite image of the monster Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November 2013 and caused so much devastation and loss of life, to publicise the Warsaw Climate Change Conference currently taking place in Poland.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also runs a very successful Facebook page, which has over 1.3 million ‘likes’. Like Greenpeace, WWF is lucky in this respect. It is very easy to find beautiful images of animals to arouse people’s enthusiasm for the cause. WWF builds its posts addressing key wildlife issues around powerful and/or beautiful images and, in this way, draws in supporters.

As I have mentioned above, it can be tricky finding suitable images when the nonprofit or charity deals with issues of a more confronting nature. While a supporter of a cause might be willing to ‘like’ a Facebook page, he or she might be reluctant to ‘like’ a post attached to a particularly confronting or disturbing photograph.

Anti-Slavery Australia is a good example of an organisation that does its best to publicise issues via its Facebook page. The page has close to 13,000 ‘likes’, but seems to struggle to get people to ‘like’ individual posts when they are devoted to confronting topics such as human trafficking and forced teen marriages.

Despite this, I wonder if people may be overcoming their reluctance to ‘like’ confronting images posted on the Facebook pages of nonprofits and charities. On RSPCA Australia’s Facebook page, a photograph of an Australian bull being mistreated in Mauritius in November 2013 received over 1200 ‘likes’. Naturally, the ‘likes’ referred to the suggested action people could take to challenge the Australian Government’s decision to scrap the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, rather than to the image itself.

Strategy No. 3: Encourage people to comment on posts

It is also important to encourage fans of a Facebook page to comment on particular posts. The US branch of WWF does this particularly effectively. Obviously, WWF has a slight advantage over most nonprofits and charities because it draws attention to the plight of wildlife. I suspect that people might feel more willing to contribute to the discussion than they might normally because, of course, animals don’t have a voice.

However, the much smaller Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) based in Melbourne (which has over 43,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook) has a high level of engagement on its Facebook page. This is in spite of the controversial and divisive cause it promotes. On Facebook, ASRC engages people in several ways. First, it might post a story about refugees (often, these are feel-good stories, explaining the contribution refugees have made and continue to make to Australia). Second, it posts information on the way in which the government is dealing with the issue and encourages comments.

Strategy No. 4: Provide a ‘call to action’

With nonprofits and charities, it is important to tell your supporters what you would like them to do once they visit your Facebook page. Examples include:

  • Donating money.
  • Attending an event.
  • Signing a petition.
  • Clicking on a link to find out more about a particular issue.
  • Joining a campaign.

This is obviously crucial because while ‘likes’ on a page are nice and look great, they don’t mean much for a nonprofit or charity if they don’t encourage supporters to take some sort of action.

Strategy No. 5: Issue invitations

A Facebook page is a great way to issue invitations to events and meetings. The US WWF branch uses its page to invite fans to attend events it has organised or is involved in. This naturally fosters a sense of community among supporters of WWF.

Strategy No. 6: Post links to more detailed explanations of a particular issue

For nonprofits and charities, the way in which Facebook can be used to publicise a particular issue, and then provide a link directing people to where they can find more information, is particularly useful. For example, WWF’s Facebook page recently provided a link to more information on plans on the Northern Gateway Project in Canada, which is a proposal to run an oil pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests.

Strategy No. 7: Publicise fundraising initiatives

Obviously, it is important that a Facebook page for any nonprofit or charity isn’t packed with requests for donations. The trick seems to be to blend these requests with other posts as discreetly as possible, so it doesn’t look like your organisation’s Facebook page consists of nothing than endless requests for cash. ASRC seems to manage this balance well. On its Facebook page, it blends requests for donations with reports on, and discussion of, the asylum seeker issue.

Strategy No. 8: Run competitions

Some nonprofits and charities run competitions via their Facebook pages. This can be a useful tool to ‘engage’ supporters. For example, RSPCA Australia recently ran the Food, Shelter & Love Competition, where supporters were asked to upload a photograph of their pet and explain in twenty-five words or less why their animal is the love of their life. In return, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia would donate $5 to the RSPCA for each photo uploaded. The RSPCA promoted the competition via its Facebook page.

In summary

Obviously, Facebook is potentially a valuable tool for any nonprofit or charity. The

trick is making your page stand out on a platform that is crowded with thousands of worthy causes.

Finally, you can’t just create a Facebook page and hope for the best because your cause is a particularly worthwhile one. Like most things in life, maintaining a Facebook page is a lot of work. Someone within the organisation needs to take responsibility for it. You need to think about the strategies that you are going to use to attract and ‘engage’ fans. Finally, someone needs to spend time maintaining the page and ensuring that it is regularly updated.

In the next instalment of Words that Bite, the Pink Rottweiler will look at whether Facebook can be used effectively by law firms.

Are you a nonprofit or charity that needs advice on how to make your Facebook page work better? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at

Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.

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