How Breast Cancer Now raised £5.5m on Facebook in less than a year

What charities can do to make the best use of the social media platform’s fundraising tools

Since the launch of its Giving Tools in 2015, Facebook has raised $5bn (£3.6bn) for good causes. (This includes Instagram, which launched its donation tool in 2019.)

In less than four years, the cancer charity Breast Cancer Now has raised more than £10m through Facebook, with £5.5m raised in the past 10 months alone.

In the year to the end of July 2020, Facebook fundraising accounted for 36 per cent of Breast Cancer Now’s online giving via third-party websites – a figure that’s increased to 70 per cent from August last year to the end of May 2021.

The charity’s success, according to David Hunt, its associate director, digital and strategic insight, is down to under­standing how the platform works and using the tools and functionality available to drive engagement.

“The most important metric for us is our engagement rate,” he says. “We’ve learned that having a good, sustained engagement rate of about six per cent means Breast Cancer Now has a better chance of being one of the charities recommended when someone sets up a birthday fundraiser.”

Great content drives engagement

Having a good engagement rate is driven by great content, tailored to your target audience. The charity focuses on personal, story-led content because this drives high engagement among its followers.

This is complemented with about two Facebook Live broadcasts each month as well as a mix of content formats, such as video and animation, to keep people interested.

Birthday fundraisers had been the biggest source of donations via Facebook for Breast Cancer Now, but Hunt and his team saw the potential in non-birthday fundraisers as a big driver in both income and stewardship, and were looking for an opportunity to test them.

That came in 2020 when face-to-face events were no longer possible. Different departments in the charity collaborated to develop a range of virtual challenge events to help plug the fundraising income gap left by Covid-19, but also to test them as viable digital fundraising products for the future.

“We have a very collaborative spirit,” says Hunt, “and our senior leadership team is very keen for us to test new opportunities and learn from them.”

The first virtual challenge they tested was Walk 300,000, which was an existing annual event where supporters signed up to walk 300,000 steps in a month and raise money for the charity.

“For the first of our virtual challenges, Walk 300,000, we were lucky enough to have the external support of Adrian O’Flynn and his agency, Get Your Stories Straight,” Hunt explains. “It helped shape the marketing campaign and user journey, combining lead generation ads with email, and Facebook Group-based stewardship - to drive fundraiser page creation and a lively, supportive community.”

Using broad lead-generation ads on Facebook, people are then put on a supporter journey where they are directed to a Facebook group for the challenge event and encouraged to set up their fundraising page.

“The philosophy is to keep it all on the platform, rather than direct people away from it,” says Hunt. “This offers a more frictionless experience for the supporter.”

The beauty of having people set up fundraisers on Facebook is that their friends are automatically notified that they’ve set one up, as well as any time a donation is made or there is a new post or comment. Hunt believes that this social proof helps drive donations.

The birthday fundraiser halo effect

Walk 300,000 raised £350,000, but even more impressive is what Hunt calls the birthday fundraiser halo effect.

The charity noticed that when it set up a virtual challenge fundraiser on Facebook, an influx of people not connected to the event or Breast Cancer Now chose the charity as the organisation they wanted to support with their birthday fundraisers.

“We saw a further £300,000 raised from birthday fundraisers over the same period as Walk 300,000 when we were seeing around £60,000 to £70,000 a month in the months prior,” says Hunt. “And this trend has continued.”

While Facebook’s Giving Tools are helping charities raise billions of pounds, behind the scenes it’s not so smooth when it comes to reporting and allocating income raised. When a charity sets up its own fundraiser it is unable to really brand it and write inspiring copy about why people should take part, unless a charity has integrated Facebook’s fundraiser API (application programming interface).

The API enables charities to set up bespoke forms on their website which then integrate with Facebook, allowing people to sign up to the events and opt in to hear from the charity. Hunt had seen that this had been launched in the US, so his team worked with Facebook to get whitelisted in the UK before it was available here.

This integration means that Breast Cancer Now can see who has signed up
to which event, keeping a record of their support and thanking them afterwards.

Investing in virtual events

On average, API-integrated challenge events raise 40-60 per cent more than the normal fundraisers, according to Hunt.

“With the API integration, we can design really eye-catching cover images for the events and clearly say what the challenge is and how their money will help the cause,” he says. “We believe that this has helped people to not only sign up but to raise more money on average too.”

The virtual events have been so successful that the charity is recruiting its first virtual events manager, whose role will be to drive these forward.

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