Rachel Hawkes: Mainstream social networks have the potential to help raise funds

Facebook, Groupon and eBay are all online platforms that charities should be using, says our online columnist

Rachel Hawkes
Rachel Hawkes

Last time, we talked about the technologies and platforms that are dedicated to helping charities raise awareness, grow their supporter bases and raise funds. We didn't cover the potential of the more mainstream social networks, applications and platforms such as Facebook, Groupon, Amazon, eBay and others.

At first glance, many of these seem most appropriate to commercially driven businesses. As a charity, however, you are not excluded. If they are to be as effective as they have the potential to be, the support of a corporate partner will be needed in many cases.

Like all corporate partnerships, such link-ups should be mutually beneficial, but it’s an important point to make that the partnership (or the offer) shouldn’t overpower the charity or be in conflict with its aims. With more and more corporates and charities working together, there’s never been a better time to test the water with potential corporate supporters and see how you can work together.

For every opportunity we talk through in this article, there will be many others that don’t get a mention – this is not by any means an exhaustive overview.


On Amazon, anyone (individual, commercial business and charity) can set up an associate account and start linking through to Amazon products in order to earn a commission from everything sold. You need to link to Amazon products from your website (or blog) – when people click on the products and make purchases, you earn commission. 

You can earn up to 10 per cent from everything sold, and not just on products you link to. So, if you link to a book relating to a particular cause, and the customer goes on to buy a DVD or a Kindle, then you receive a commission on that as well. The online shopping giant has 137 million customers globally, so some of your supporters are bound to be buying through the site regularly. There's great potential, then, for your charity to earn a steady trickle of additional income.


There’s a few different ways for you to raise money through eBay. First, though, you need to set your charity account up through MissionFish – which is quick and painless to do. Your supporters who sell things on eBay can choose to donate to you a percentage of the final value (from 10 to 100 per cent) – and with more than 14 million users in the UK, it’s well worth sending out a note to your supporters to see how many of them are eBay sellers.

There are two other ways to earn money. The charity can sell its own items – if you have an e-commerce-enabled site, you might want to avoid the eBay fees and sell directly from your site (although selling directly on eBay opens you up to a much wider net of potential customers). The other way is to hold an auction. If a valuable item is donated to you, you can hold sell it to the highest bidder – providing functionality that you might not be able to replicate on your own site without additional investment. An excellent and recent example of this is Princess Beatrice’s ‘pretzel’ hat, which raised more than £80,000 for charity.

Facebook and Foursquare

Location-based services are becoming increasingly popular with users, ingratiating themselves as normal parts of their social networking activity. A large reason for this is they are primarily used on mobile phones and are always available for the user to engage with. 

Foursquare and now Facebook Places are the two biggest and work in very similar ways, the most common of which is when users ‘check in’ to a location and update their friends and families. On Facebook, this is offered through Facebook Deals, part of its localisation platform Places, which went live in the UK in January.

Normally, getting people to check in is driven by some sort of incentive: offering more information on the place (or products, services and so on), loyalty offers, discounts, free merchandise, loyalty rewards and special deals when more than one person in a group checks in. 

At first, this might seem like a commercial-only offering, or one that's applicable only to those charities that have a physical location for supporters to visit, such as a charity shop, a park or some other location. This isn’t the case for most charities, but there is still huge potential to ‘get in on the action.’

Through corporate partners, Facebook Deals and Foursquare can also come in the form of money or goods donated to charity when users check in. As an example, Argos launched a Facebook Deal in January, where it donated £1 to the Teenage Cancer Trust for the first 10,000 check-ins. More recently, Marks and Spencer launched a campaign on Foursquare to donate £1 to Breakthrough Breast Cancer for the first 25,000 customers to check-in at one of their stores.  To encourage shoppers to check-in, they also received a £5 discount when they spent over £30.

Groupon and LivingSocial

Both Groupon and LivingSocial are just two of many social discount sites, where you can buy a product or service with up to a 90 per cent discount. They offer businesses (particularly smaller, local businesses) the opportunity to tap into a bigger pool of customers with the aim of retaining them long-term.

Groupon has charitable roots – it started its life as a cause-based platform called The Point, but split off to focus solely on delivering the best daily deal to its customers. Putting to one side the company’s firestorm in the US over its charity-gaffe adverts that aired during the Superbowl, the UK arm runs its own mini-charity campaigns from time to time through Groupon Gives.

Through a corporate partner (in a very similar way to Facebook Deals and Foursquare), there is the potential to offer a daily deal that benefits your charity through Groupon, LivingSocial and the many other social buying sites. As an example, Company X launches a 2 for 1 offer on its hampers, and for every one that’s sold it will donate £2 to Charity Y.

If your charity sells products, or has something that supporters buy (such as an entry fee to a location, or membership, books and so on), then you could look to launch your own offer in order to attract a wider audience. It’s not necessarily going to generate a profit (compared with selling the same thing at full price over a long timeframe), but you would need to weigh up whether the interest generated and the cost of acquisition for the new supporter is of equal or greater value to you.

In a struggling economy, when high-street businesses need to do all they can to keep a steady flow of business coming through their doors, anything they can do to increase their appeal to existing and potential customers is a good thing.  Partnering with a charity can be a mutually beneficial relationship when managed in the right way, passing on the feel-good factor to the end customer.

Is your charity already doing any of the above, or have you other similar platforms that you use to generate funds and attract supporters?

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