Monday, June 8, 2009

Do we Need to Start a Facebook Cause for Facebook Causes?

(Picture Courtesy of FB Causes)

First off, I want to apologize for not posting in the past two weeks. Evidently typing is difficult to do when your middle finger has been crushed by a huge dumbbell. Who knew?

Now onto the good stuff - Facebook Causes is a total waste (might as well come out swinging). Ok, more accurately, those that sign up and support Facebook Causes are a complete waste - or pretty close to it. Full disclosure, I lump myself into this "complete waste" category, so don't think I'm calling just calling you out.

According to the WSJ, “Only a tiny fraction of the 179,000 non-profits that have turned to Causes as an inexpensive and green way to seek donations have brought in even $1,000.”

While one might argue that Causes at least brings free publicity to the non-profit, the goal of publicity is to drive donations. If the free publicity isn’t equating to donations, then is it really helping?

Free publicity aside, what is truly shocking is that “More than 25 million of Facebook's 200 million worldwide members have signed on as supporters of at least one cause, making it the third-most popular of the more than 52,000 applications on the site. But just 185,000 members have ever contributed through the site. The majority of Causes' participants have received no donations through the site.”

Looking at the numbers, less than 1% of us are truly cause-conscious, and the other 99% of us are just really, really good at signing up for things (again, I'm lumped into that jaw-dropping stat).

This is reminiscent of the 2007 Project Red campaign to raise money for AIDS research. With Bono as the spokesman, and consumer product manufacturers Apple, Gap, and Motorola (along with many others), the cause was hugely publicized, and simultaneously, a hugely publicized failure. In fact, the companies that were taking part in the Project Red campaign spent $100M dollars marketing their involvement, making sure everyone knew that they cared about AIDS research and were associated with the cause, while the cause only raised $18M. That's right, the campaign would have been 5x more successful if the companies involved simply donated the money they spent on marketing their involvement with Project Red rather than spending it on marketing.

It seems that whether its huge corporations like Apple or Motorola, or the lowly Facebook user, we’re all statistically more concerned with other people knowing that we give a damn about a cause than actually doing anything about it.

So what are your ideas about how to make Facebook Causes more effective? How do we get even 1% of Facebook Causes users to actually donate to the cause of their choice? It's not like there's something wrong with the application, just those of us that use it. Do we need to start a Facebook Cause for Facebook Causes?

-- Now Let Me Clear My Throat --
Josh Groth


Anonymous said...

Funny you write this, because I actually just signed up for a fundraising cause for my birthday. I thought to myself at work that I wouldn't want any gifts or a big party, but I would love to get my friends and family involved in a philanthropic effort. I first thought it'd be fun to host a ronald mcdonald dinner (then I realized half of my friends wouldn't be bothered) and then I thought I could add a post on my blog to donate, but realized that only a select few of my friends actually READ my blog. Then I thought of facebook causes. I realized that it's fool-proof as 100% of my friends are on it daily and are super active. The birthday component of facebook cause makes it as my status for the week of my birthday and asks people to donate to the charity of my choice. Now it may seem like it was an arduous task to even get to where I got now and you're right, it may not even be fully effective, but I also recognized the lack of initiative alot of people may have to contribute to charities. I think many people like the idea of being philanthropic and self-less, but only do it until it affects their day-to-day and time. I'll let you know how my facebook birthday cause turns out, because I wish people would contribute and take it personally :)

In regards to non-profits, I think they choose to utilize any and all participating third-party sites that could help publicity. Coming from a PR/comm stand point, it may not be the most effective tool, but to them, its just one of a 100 sites they're involved in, so it's just another trial by error site. I think a successful non-profit would strategize based on consumer habits and what would be a realistic and effective approach (more in person, relays, 5k, etc.).

I know you're frustrated, but I feel the same way when it comes to greek life philanthropies. Do people really participate in Derby Days because they want to help Children's Miracle Network or because they want to be the sorority to win for the year? Why spend $1,000 on costumes and decorations for the houses when the money could have been donated directly to the organization? It's the same concept. I unfortunately don't think people are at the age where they want to focus on the greater good and not just themselves.

Keep sharing your frustrations and hopefully people will start becoming more self-less :)

Josh Groth said...

Jessica, awesome points. I often felt the same way about Greek philanthropies while in school - why sell t-shirts to all your friends at $10, when it costs $7 to have the darn thing made. It makes no sense.

Something that caught my attention is Mashable's Summer of social good ( ), which is attempting to leverage social media on a large scale for charity fund raising. Hopefully it'll work.

And I think you're entirely correct, people - myself included - like the idea of being charitable and self-less, but it most often gets put on the back burner. Makes me wonder what the tipping point is for convincing more Gen Yers to donate their time/money...

Julie Cordua said...

Hi Josh,

I wanted to correct your reference to (RED) in the post above. (RED) launched in 2006 and has since generated more than $130 million for the Global Fund to help finance AIDS programs in Africa. 100% of this money is put to work in Africa and no overhead is taken out. Also, the (RED) partners have spent far less than $100 million on marketing (RED) -- still, the bigger point is that corporations simply do not donate their marketing budgets. Corporations have foundations that make donations and often those are one time donations that are not sustainable. (RED) has successfully become a part of the marketing and sales of companies — making money for AIDS programs from the sales of products (at no extra cost to the customer) and raising awareness through marketing programs (using marketing money that would otherwise have been spent to sell products that don’t give anything back — not donated). This is a sustainable program that, still today, continues to flow millions of dollars a month into the Global Fund as more (RED) products are sold each day.

If you want to check out more — see or


Josh Groth said...


Thank you for you comments, they are dually noted. I find your numbers interesting because they differ so much from what can be found online from reputable publications like Advertising Age (not calling your facts erroneous, just saying that I'm quoting highly reputable publications and that their numbers and your numbers are not the same). Again, these are NOT my numbers or words, but quoted numbers and words.

An article released by Advertising Age in 2007 claims retail participants in Product Red including Gap, Motorola and Apple, Inc. have invested $100 million in advertising and raised only $18 million for The Global Fund. The same article pointed out Gap single-handedly spent $7.8M on advertising (Red) in a single financial quarter (4th quarter 2006).


Then there's this excellent MSNBC article that points out both sides of the criticisms:

Half of the Wikipedia page for (Red) is comprised of all of the criticisms of the campaign. One of the interesting criticisms: "The National Labor Committee for Worker and Human Rights criticized Product Red for its links with Gap,[10] which was historically a target of anti-sweatshop activists."

However, I think one of the most interesting criticisms of the campaign is the website that stresses donating directly to a cause (The Global Fund) rather than consuming. Their website states: "Join us in rejecting the ti(red) notion that shopping is a reasonable response to human suffering. We invite you to donate directly to the (Red) campaign's beneficiary The Global Fund and to these other charitable causes...without consuming."

Mark Rosenman of the Stanford Social Innovation Review makes an great point in regards to cause-related marketing in relation to (Red): "Over the past decades, we have seen the demise of independent corporate foundations as business leaders bring them in-house, merge them with marketing and communications departments, and shut them down. Today’s corporate philanthropic activities are guided less by what is good and necessary for local communities and larger societies and more by the corporation’s own interests."

Yes, you say that (Red) has helped $130M for The Global Fund, but how much did consumers have to spend on products in order to raise that much? $500M, $700M, $1B. And what would have been better, Gap, Motorola, and Apple teaming up to encourage consumers to donate directly to The Global Fund or encourage them to buy more products in which a fraction of the purchase goes to the Fund?

It looks like we're going to have to agree to disagree on our positions in regards to (Red), since both of us are entitled to our opinions.


Josh Lippiner said...

Josh -

Great article but here is the question - how is Causes making money? They themselves are a FOR PROFIT entity that is partnered with Network for Good to handle the donations. Network For Good takes a piece to cover their overhead (they are an NPO) but I'm wondering where Causes fits in here.

Any thoughts?


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