Is social media the next big thing in nonprofit fundraising?

Illustration by Roy Scott.
Illustration by Roy Scott.

She was scrolling through her Facebook feed when Dr. Kelley Malcolm ’16, ’10 noticed a friend’s post looking for people to sponsor her in an Alzheimer’s Association fundraising walk in honor of her late father. Malcolm, an MS in Nonprofit Management and PhD in Public Policy and Administration graduate, did sponsor her friend—but she says for her that was the exception and not the rule.

“When I see a fundraising appeal directly from a nonprofit organization on social media, I don’t feel compelled to donate,” she says. “But when it’s a personal connection who’s raising the money and I know why that cause is important to him or her, then I’ll donate.”

Malcolm, who has worked in fundraising for several nonprofits over the course of her 15-year career, believes she’s not alone in needing that personal connection. She got the inspiration for her dissertation, which focused on the effect of social media on nonprofit organizations’ fundraising efforts, when she was recruited by the Parkinson’s Foundation to start a new fundraising walk event. As part of the project, she was responsible for creating and managing social media event pages.

“I understood that a presence on social media was an integral part of fundraising, but I wondered if it really helps raise money,” Malcolm says. She soon discovered that few people had studied the issue and there were very few organizations that claimed they could track donation revenue raised through social media campaigns.

“For the most part, people weren’t clicking through to the donation page from social media posts that came directly from the organization,” Malcolm says. “I studied the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation in 2015 and found that, while their social media posts at that time did bring in registrations and volunteers for their walk event, the posts did not raise a lot of money.”

Kelley Malcolm
Dr. Kelley Malcolm ’16, ’10.

Malcolm believes that’s because people are less likely to donate when they don’t have a personal connection to the cause, the person, or the organization soliciting the donation. On the other hand, Facebook announced in November 2018 that more than 20 million people have helped raise $1 billion for nonprofits and personal causes since the feature launched in 2015. More than 1 million nonprofits in 19 countries can now receive donations directly through Facebook. These donations often come from friends in honor of the birthday of the person who posts the appeal, creating the personal tie Malcolm says is essential.

“Effective fundraising requires a layered approach,” Malcolm says. “Social media posts should go beyond appeals for funds and show how the organization’s mission is being furthered in the community.”

The connection shouldn’t be cut off once the funds have been received, either. “When people donate, you need to thank them personally by e-mail or phone. It all comes down to that personal touch,” Malcolm says. “Social media is a new way to connect with donors, but you still have to earn their trust and investment.”


  1. Be specific about your goals. Are you trying to raise a certain amount of money, sign up new volunteers or members, or build awareness about your cause?
  2. Know where your prospective donors spend their time and what content they’re engaging with. Streamline your social media presence, and start with just one channel, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
  3. Figure out how much time you can dedicate to managing your social media. Just putting up a post three times a week isn’t enough. You need to respond to questions and comments and create that online conversation.
  4. Realize there is no quick fix. It takes time and consistent effort to build your donor base.

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