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Using Facebook for Name (and Donor) Acquisition, Part One

Published by Jeff Giddens

As it has skyrocketed past a cool billion users, Facebook has become a valuable profit center for marketers who want to advertise to highly targeted sets of potential customers.

Every time a user fills out another aspect of their profile, Facebook uses that data to offer new segmentation to allow companies to laser focus their marketing campaigns.

Many nonprofit organizations we talk to have been intrigued as to how Facebook can be used to acquire new names, donors, and dollars. Almost every effort they have tried to directly fundraise through Facebook has fallen flat. (side note – I’d love to be proven wrong – email me if you’ve done this successfully!)

How to use Facebook to get more names, donors, and dollars for your nonprofit

We’ve found a lot of success acquiring new names for our clients through Facebook advertising, and I want to share the results (and actual data) from a test we recently ran that produced a 74% lift in name conversion.

One of our clients was looking to reach potential donors and bring them onto the email file through a petition, which we followed up with a donation ask. We knew we could target groups who have a stated affiliation with the cause, and we did. But after a while, we started to see results taper off as we were running out of audience. (A tip: keep an eye on the frequency metric in your campaigns — as it gets above 1.5, it means your available audience is starting to weaken)

The test

So we decided to put Facebook’s own technology to the test in two ways. They offer the ability to create “lookalike” audiences for a given set of users. This is how it works: you upload your email file (or donor file), they match the addresses to active users, and then create a list of users who closely resemble your file. For this test, we uploaded a list of donors – we wanted to see if they could find people who were likely to sign the petition and align with our cause (and hopefully give a gift one day).

Second, Facebook offers the ability to optimize your campaigns for conversion. What this means is that rather than trying to get you the most impressions or clicks, they try to get you the most (in our case) petition signers and the best bang for your buck. At least that’s what they say. But is Facebook really working in our best interests? We put it to the test.

We uploaded a list of 1500 donors. From this list, Facebook created a lookalike list of more than a million people!

We created two campaigns to advertise to this list. One campaign was set up to optimize for clicks (get the most clicks for the cheapest cost per click) and one was set up to optimize for conversion.

The results

We ran each campaign for a week, and looked at the results.


First, optimizing for conversion dramatically outperformed optimizing for clicks. For roughly the same spend, the conversion-focused campaign delivered 74% more names! In addition, this small test delivered two immediate donors: one who gave $265 and one who gave $50, which means that net of gifts received, the test only cost $50.44. When we do the math, that rounds out to $0.16 per name! Hard to beat results like that. These names went directly into a conversion-focused email series, and then into the house file, so this is just the beginning of the conversion process.

Learnings and takeaways

A few takeaways from this experiment:

1. Let Facebook do the heavy lifting for you. In this case, optimizing for conversion delivered much better results than optimizing for clicks. I can’t say that optimizing conversion will always outperform clicks. But Facebook made it easy to set up the test, and did the work of

2. Lookalike audiences can be a great source of new names. A secondary goal of this experiment was to see if Facebook could efficiently get names that were likely to convert to petition signers from the lookalike audience. It’s hard to find numbers this good with email list rental — and we get to keep them!

3. Create a logical path for your prospects. Many organizations ask for money in a Facebook post, get no response, and give up. In hindsight (and in context), this seems obvious. Are people on Facebook to give gifts? Are the other posts in their newsfeed asking for money? No. They are there to socialize, consume content, express their opinion, and connect with friends. We gave users an opportunity to express their opinion through a petition. Then, once they had signed their name to it, we let them know that they could make an immediate difference in the cause in which they had just stated their belief.

Have you successfully used Facebook to grow your email and donor files? Drop me a note and let me know what you tested and how it worked for you.

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.