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Opinion: Fundraising fatigue may hit hard on Facebook

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Fundraising fatigue is an interesting phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly worrisome for those in the nonprofit community.

Also known as donor fatigue, this mental block on giving can come into play when nonprofits use the same cookie-cutter events – how many golf tournaments can one person be expected to attend? But it’s also a byproduct of nonprofit growth, as more organizations enter the market and give donors myriad choices.

The problem was documented recently by Dr. Tricia Derges, founder of nonprofit clinic Lift Up Someone Today, for Springfield Business Journal’s “2019 Nonprofit Outlook.”

“When you give people too many choices, they choose not to make a choice,” she said.

Facebook has, perhaps inadvertently, caused this same problem, namely through its birthday donation platform.

You’ve undoubtedly seen this message pop up in your notifications: “For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to … .”

What follows is a page allowing donations to the selected nonprofit. Similar to crowdfunding, users set a goal and ask their friends for contributions, typically in lieu of birthday gifts.

Don’t get me wrong. The cause is noble on its face.

But as Derges said, the burden of choice comes into play here.

I personally see several birthday donation requests per month from my meager group of friends.

It’s a lot to digest, and it’s certainly too many causes for the common person to support – especially since they’re asked to contribute to nonprofits in so many ways year-round. In the digital world, donor fatigue already has crept into crowdfunding websites, for instance.

For those experiencing Facebook fundraising fatigue, notifications for birthday donation requests can be turned off.

Lest I sound like a curmudgeon, I support charitable giving. It’s the delivery method that creates issues in this case.

Something about it feels insincere.

It’s just so easy to create and pledge to fundraisers that conscious thought is, well, an afterthought. Donations should be thoughtfully considered, and they should be made where they will do the most good.

With Facebook, there are some 1 million nonprofits to choose from, including those operating in the Springfield area.

However, when users set up nonprofit donation pages, they’re presented with suggestions that represent the most popular organizations.

It’s unclear when creating a birthday fundraiser how the chosen nonprofits intend to use the pledges garnered. It would be nice to have a feature that implements nonprofit evaluation data, like that collected by Charity Navigator, to better guide users in this philanthropic process.

Then, there’s the vanity aspect.

As pointed out by Forbes contributor Davide Banis in an October 2018 post dubbed, “The Problem With Facebook Birthday Fundraisers,” nonprofit giving already is a bit self-serving. It makes people feel good to help others, and tax benefits also are a common reason for giving.

Facebook is an addictive platform because it allows users to validate their existence by having people “like” and comment on their photos and thoughts. The same could be said about birthday fundraisers on the platform. Fundraisers can come off a bit like vanity projects. In this example, the gratification does not come from helping a nonprofit. It comes from other users showing their support to you by choosing your birthday as a reason to donate. Donors’ names also are displayed. In that way, it’s a selfish endeavor.

At the least, if you’re planning to host or pledge to a birthday fundraiser on Facebook, do your research about the nonprofit first.

In August 2018, Facebook reported birthday donation campaigns brought in more than $300 million in the first year of the service.

So, there’s a demand for this type of giving. It just comes down to how you personally want to give.

Consider your options to determine if Facebook is the right choice for you.

Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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