Many companies don’t do this, but we’re going to go ahead and publish a case study of a campaign that wasn’t very successful. We are frequently asked what types of causes are a good match for HelpAttack!, and the answer we’re heading towards is that the cause must be able to drive a meaningful number of unique visitors from an audience of people ready to take action online. Free Arts NYC, with a Twitter audience of 1,700, knocked it out of the park by offering a pair of airline tickets as a prize. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas (RMHC Austin), with a combined Facebook and Twitter audience of 5,500, couldn’t get off the ground, despite our best efforts.
RMHC Austin staff told us that they had not been very successful in getting their Facebook community to respond to direct fundraising requests, other than their promotion of major events, so they were curious to see if we could do any better. After discussing the campaign goals and writing a few messages, we also talked with RMHC Austin about contacting partners or advocates who could help amplify the audience with retweets or reposts.
The first goal was to figure out a combination of messaging that would work: messaging to drive people to make pledges and donate. A secondary goal, of course, was to raise funds so families who would otherwise not be able to afford it can stay close by if their child is hospitalized.
We Tried Everything
We’ve learned about all kinds of best practices for fundraising asks and messaging from the nonprofit community, such as talking specifically about how donations help, creating a specific goal, creating a sense of urgency, thanking supporters individually, indicating social proof, anchoring, and everything else. It’s impossible to get everything into a single Facebook post or Tweet, but you can work many of them into a single sustained campaign.
We started on Facebook, made a post, looked at the analytics and talked about what might work better, and then we tried another post. We tried 5 posts over 7 days and in total generated 41 unique views. We sometimes used the “cause page” on HelpAttack!, which makes a general ask, and also a “pledge page” which shows one specific supporter and their pledge. We also tried different images, longer posts, shorter posts, and different times of day and evening.
We then shifted to Twitter to see if that community would respond more strongly. We scheduled around 10 messages over four days, and some of these messages mentioned Austin individuals who we felt could help spread the campaign to a wider audience. This generated another 35 unique views.
Yes, Even A Baby
During the campaign, we decided to start adding features related to the “mission fields” we’ve recently added to the site. We also altered the way that our pages inform Facebook of the best images to use (using the open graph meta tags). Consequently, we were able to put this adorable baby onto a few of the posts.
Few Clicks, Few Pledges
We were heavily involved in the campaign and assisted with most of the messaging, scheduling, and analysis. Consequently, we threw everything we could at the campaign, and the problem throughout was that very few people clicked on the links posted.
Our conversion rates vary quite a bit by organization, audience, and campaign, but we usually expect between 2 and 5% of unique visitors to make a pledge. With 76 total unique visitors, one pledge was created, which led to 12 additional unique visitors, for a conversion rate of 1.3%.
We could have spent more time cultivating partners and advocates who were ready to re-post the campaign’s messages, and we also could have made use of RMHC’s existing media connections, but that would not have addressed the primary goal of getting the core audience to drive online donations from Facebook and Twitter.
“RMHC Austin has been very successful in using social media as part of our thriving Lights of Love 5K fundraising efforts. I think it’s important to also note that what has not been successful is this type of social media fundraising. It could be, in fact, that because we have some really amazing fundraising events the people on our social media channels are involved with us in the events, and are therefore actually donating more money and time offline.” – Jan Gunter of RMHC Austin
For an audience that doesn’t seem to be responding, it might make sense to heavily encourage that certain donations or payments related to an offline event be given through a Facebook tab app, in order to establish donations as a “normal” Facebook activity. Or, you may need a high interest offline event (a 10k run, volunteer day) in order to generate enough online interest to generate donations through social media. It is also very helpful to be able to track which individuals on Facebook are already volunteers or offline donors.
This is the kind of experience which leads many organizations to conclude “social media fundraising doesn’t work.” Of course, we know it can work, but we do agree that it doesn’t work for every organization on their first try. We look forward to working with RMHC Austin in the future as they continue to grow their online communities and experiment with social media fundraising.