Facebook recently announced a new pilot program that will allow users to make—and charitable organizations to accept—donations via the Facebook platform. Until this point, solicitations for donations contained links to outside web pages run by the organizations soliciting the donations and those outside webpages processed the payments, tracked fundraising goals and issued receipts to donors. This required a donor to register with the soliciting organization and at a minimum input the donor’s personal and credit card or PayPal information.
Now with the new module on Facebook, much like Apple Pay, the donor’s information will be stored on their Facebook profile, enabling a donor to simply click a donate button without having to enter in the donor’s information. The module will track fundraising, showing donors how close the organization is to reaching its goal, as well as hosting the usual Facebook content such as photos, videos and discussions about the particular campaign for which the organization is soliciting funds. When a donor makes a donation, the donor’s friends will be notified via their newsfeeds, with the “donate” button available to take their donations. Naomi Gelt, head of Facebook’s Social Good team, states that removing barriers to making online donations will encourage a whole new wave of donors and donations, the “spontaneous, not-planned giving that only happens in the context of putting $1 in a Salvation Army bucket.”
This new evolution in giving is not without its pitfalls, however. Charitable organizations may find themselves in the position of being able to reach a much greater number of potential donors, but when the donors do give through their Facebook account, the organization will not have access to the personal information of those donors. This can make it more difficult to foster the kind of long-term donor relationships that are more profitable for charities. Further, smaller charitable organizations will need to be careful not to run afoul of charitable solicitation registration rules in states that they are not used to operating within. Some states consider any online charitable solicitation accessed by its residents to be an in-state solicitation requiring registration and reporting, even if done through a third-party website such as Facebook. Other states, like Colorado, follow the Charleston Principles and require out-of-state charities to register only in more limited circumstances, such as where the organization has an interactive website and targets in-state residents or receives contributions from in-state residents on a repeated and ongoing basis or a substantial basis through the website.
Currently Facebook is testing the new features with 37 nonprofit groups at no charge and expects to make the new features available to all 501(c)(3) organizations next year with possible expansion to international charitable organizations in the future as well. When fully launched, Facebook does plan to implement a fee for charitable organizations that use its service, but it says the fee will only enable it to cover its costs associated with the new features.