Nonprofit Facebook ROI—Yay or Nay? (w/John Haydon)

Nonprofit on Facebook ROIGet ready for a roaring point vs. counterpoint, thanks to Facebook for Nonprofits expert John Haydon, who shares his Yay below.

I’ll be following up with mini case studies and links to research supporting my recommendation. Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

You’ve probably noticed the raging discussion about the value (or not) of Facebook for all organizations (profiteers too)—it even made the most mainstream ever Time magazine.

There are two main reasons Facebook use is in question:

  1. Long-time ugh: Facebook constantly changes its algorithm (a.k.a. formula) for what’s fed to your org page “likers” on their own pages and its page design, without advance notice or how-tos. That means for those of us with limited resources, it’s an enormous expenditure of time (and the related ) to learn how to adapt, and to do it.
  2. Most recent ugh: Pay to play with a huge decline in organic reach of your content. Now the frequency with which your posts are placed on “likers'” own pages relates to the level of Facebook ad buy by your organization.

What’s clear is that Facebook isn’t free— plan to pay to have your messages delivered.

My recommendation: Use Facebook ONLY if

  1. You’ve selected Facebook as your social media channel of choice because your priority people ARE on Facebook, and you have a good way to drive them to your page and keep them there. Few organizations can effectively utilize more than one social media channel, at least to start.
  2. You use Facebook as a complementary channel to direct marketing (online and offline), your website and the other places where you have a track record of motivating the actions you want (giving, registering, etc.). Content and look and feel are consistent, tone varies depending on channel and the segment of folks you’re reaching out to in each channel and/or each campaign.
  3. You set concrete goals for whatever is measurable on your page (much isn’t) and try to link actions taken on other channels back to Facebook (and other influences)
  4. You are willing to invest a lot of time, expertise in your Facebook presence, AND a lot of cash for ad buys (your nonprofit will be competing against Zappos and Proctor & Gamble—what are your chances?).

Most organizations I know DON’T FIT THIS PROFILE. So for most of your organizations, Facebook is NOT worth the investment, even if your CEO or board chair is pushing it hard.

Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

Now over to John…
YAY, IF DONE RIGHT (from John Haydon)

Nancy: What is the value in nurturing a brand page/community for orgs on Facebook?

John: Every marketing plan—whether it’s for a brand or a nonprofit—should include word of mouth elements. You want to create opportunities for your community to tell their friends about you.

The fact is, people talk with their friends on Facebook about what’s important to themmovies, weekend activities, family milestones, and causes.

Nurturing your community on Facebook increases the likelihood that they’ll talk about your nonprofit with their friends. In fact, according to one study, Facebook is the most powerful word-of-mouth social media channel.

Nancy: Are there a few criteria a nonprofit can assess to clarify if and/or they should invest (or continue to invest) in its Facebook brand page?

John: It isn’t reason enough for you to simply have a Facebook Page. If your nonprofit depends on fundraisers and volunteers to exist, Facebook should be an important communications channel. Most of the people in your database probably use Facebook already.

If you want to see how many people in your community use Facebook, you can upload your email list as a custom audience and see how many Facebook users are in your email list. Just follow the instructions in this video.

Nancy: What should orgs change strategy wise, with this new algorithm?

John: The purpose of the News Feed algorithm is to display the most interesting content to each Facebook. This way, they will continue to to use Facebook as an important way to connect with friends.

Because Facebook is a friend network, using your nonprofit’s “brand voice” will not work. For example, if all you talk about is your 50th anniversary fundraiser gala, you will bore people and therefore get zero visibility in the News Feed.

The solution is igniting your nonprofit’s “friend” voice (your community sharing your content with their friends).

Nonprofits can start with these questions:

  • What does out community get passionate about?
  • What’s truly useful and interesting to them?
  • What needs are not being met by competing organizations?
  • What are specific ways you can become indispensable in their lives?

– again, getting your current true fans talking about you with their friends on Facebook.

Nancy: How should nonprofit communicators start advertising on Facebook, if they fit the criteria I shared?

John: There are four things to keep in mind when using Facebook ads:

1. Have a plan. As with any type of ad investment, be really clear about why you are using ads in the first place. Do you want more website traffic? Do you want more engaged fans? Do you want more likes?

2. Target wisely. If a breast Cancer foundation targets all women in north America, they will be wasting money on Facebook ads.

For example, it’s better to target only women who have expressed an interest in breast cancer (liking breast cancer related Facebook pages). Additionally, use your Facebook page Insights to determine what demographic is most likely to like your page, and engage with your posts. Targeting Facebook adds wisely will not only save you money, it will increase conversion rates for those ads.

3. Only promote awesome. If you are using Facebook ads to promote page posts, make sure you’re only selecting posts that have performed well. This way when people do see the post as a result of an ad, they will be more likely to engage with it as others have done before.

4. Avoid smelly fish. Facebook ads are like relatives and fish – they go bad after about 5 days. Always make an effort to push fresh posts with ads, instead of letting an ad run for 30 days.

Nancy: What can we expect next from Facebook?

John: You can expect more competition in the newsfeed from brands, friends, and competing nonprofits. Your only solution is to become likable in the real world, not just on Facebook.

Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

P.S. Get more nonprofit marketing tools, templates, case studies & tips delivered right to your in-box! Register here for the Getting Attention blog & e-news.

Nancy Schwartz on April 17, 2014 in Social Media | 23 comments
Tags:, , , ,

  • clvngodess

    Two videos, backed by science about what’s happening with Farcebook and how you can counter it. Very simple. No gurus needed.

  • Julie Brown

    Wow. Great discussion about the very topics we have been discussing lately. I love the point/counterpoint approach. Thanks.

  • Eager to hear (email me if you prefer) what are your criteria for continuing your active Facebook presence, Julie, and what results are you seeing?
    Need some mini case-studies and yours will be great! Thanks.

  • Dennis Fischman

    John and Nancy, great discussion. I think you’ve demonstrated that the answer to “Should I use Facebook?”, and especially, “Should I spend a lot of time trying to measure results on Facebook?” is a firm IT DEPENDS. Like Nancy, I think that nonprofits need to do a lot of other things right to get the full value out of Facebook. (See But so many people from such different backgrounds and age cohorts are on Facebook that I agree with John: it’s worth getting it right.

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  • Thanks much, Dennis. Have any client case studies (in brief) to share here (or email me)?

  • Julie Brown

    The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation page ( has been able to maintain a high engagement level with a small investment. As I write this, we have 1231 FB friends with 566 currently engaged. We will take 46% engagement rate and ay!
    We initially budgeted $30/month for FB post boosts. Under the new pay to play algorithm, we allocated the budget for one local newspaper ad (~$500) to add to our FB budget. This remains a very productive investment especially since we’ve been successful targeting our FB page at our preferred market (women 45-54) and they are very active on FB in our community.

  • Thanks, Julie, for sharing these stats. They’re a real help in showing that Facebook ROI depends on goals, audiences and approach!

  • John Haydon just posted a great mini-guide to finding out how many of your supporters are on Facebook-great insight to have in projecting ROI for today’s Facebook

  • Josh

    Great stuff. So…Nancy: If Facebook isn’t right for an organization, based on your checklist, what are the alternatives, and how could an NPO measure the effectiveness of those alternatives to Facebook?

  • Thanks for sharing. Can you summarize the core takeaways here -for those who are time pressed?

  • @disqus_FF3zmouP3k:disqus great question. The alternatives are based on 1) what your marketing goals are 2) who you have to engage to get there 3) where those folks are (online and offline) and 3) what their habits and preferences are (e.g. do they prefer email, are they Twitter hounds, or do they have no idea what Twitter is)?

  • NPOs need to do a lot of other things right. I totally agree!

    Website first
    Then email
    Then social media

  • The key takeaway from the video is that if you buy ads to acquire Facebook fans, you need to target wisely. Otherwise, you will build a poor-quality fanbase.

  • With you on those priorities, John.

  • John, can you give us a sense of what are the characteristics of nonprofits that you’ve seen do this well? For example, large orgs with huge budgets, and/or a staffer who’s a Facebook junkie or what? Thanks!

  • We find our Facebook page to be active and
    engaging. When we put out our WishList Wednesday post we see an immediate
    response. People go right to our Amazon Page and the donations begin coming in.
    We do have kittens and puppies, and the Humane Society of Huron Valley has a
    great reputation and life-saving outcomes, so we think that keeps people
    engaged. We do some paid advertising currently. Also, we have people that
    see an animal available on FB for adoption and drive miles to adopt. Our
    immediate plans are to keep Facebook and Twitter as our main social media tools
    but we are exploring other options as well.

  • Kelly Stettner

    I use Facebook for drumming up volunteers and participation rather than monetary donations, so building up the people-base is the biggest way for me to use it. I create a status for the Black River Action Team, then I log back in with my personal profile and ‘share’ that status…I usually reach 100+ friends that way.

  • Claire Houston

    We have promoted posts on Facebook to help drive fans to join our new food co-op, and that’s been quite successful. We’ve worked Facebook promotions into our marketing budget as a result. However, on posts that are not promoted, the reach is about 6% of our 6K fans, which is abysmal and pathetic. For our short 6-month member drive it was worth it, but otherwise, it’s just fluff.

  • Good stuff plain and simple! Facebook is a tool to accomplish certain goals. Groups need to be clear on those goals and if the tool is even setup/evolving to support the accomplishment of those goals.

    If so and you have the resource/skills to get make it happen great and keep it part of the strategy if no on either of those pieces focus elsewhere.

    Thanks for the “straight talk” John. So much noise about how to beat the changes rather then to evaluate if it still makes sense for your goals. Appreciate the honest response keeping all our heads clear and focused on the mission.

  • Ashley

    Facebook is a HUGE benefit to our organization. We have worked years to build our “fan base” made up of our supporters or those who are child advocates nationally. We have made partnerships with national organizations to provide gifts for our kids. Even working in a world where confidentiality of our kids is paramount we have made our posts work. It is a good mix of success stories, thank you’s and asks for support. More often than not we will post a need and within 48 hours it is filled.

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  • world news today

    Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

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