How to Change the Game with Facebook Challenge Events

Would you like to consistently grow digital income and create a new, high volume fundraising channel? Have you already set up Facebook fundraising but not reaching your targets? Are you hearing about other nonprofits who are getting huge successes on Facebook, but you’re not sure how they’re doing it? 

Jill O’Herlihy chats to Amy Bowers, as she discusses what can happen when you activate Facebook challenges. They share how to fundraise with Facebook challenges with a simple, local strategy that works even during lockdowns.

They discuss the core problem with Facebook fundraising and how to solve it, why Facebook groups are the secret sauce to fundraising, how to get a huge return on Facebook ad spend and how not to trip yourself up by implementing technology that your supporters don’t want or need. 

This talk was given at Fundraising Online 2021.

What We’ll Cover:

  • The Old Way vs. The New Way
  • Why Facebook Challenges?
  • The Hook
  • Creating the Community
  • Growing Numbers with Facebook Lead Ads
  • The Supporter’s Facebook Journey
  • Tweaking the Process
  • Recent Results
  • How to Get Started
  • Considerations Before Kick Off

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About the Speakers

Jill O’Herlihy is Head of Customer Happiness at GivePanel. Previous to this, she was at Mental Health Ireland. It was here that she fell madly in love with Facebook fundraising, raising over one million from birthday fundraisers in 2019. Her background is in digital PR. 

Amy Bowers is Chapter Events Fundraising Manager at the Bone Cancer Research Trust. She manages the charity’s programme of challenge events, leading on Facebook challenges. She’s helped deliver six Facebook challenges since August 2020, which have raised over £2.5 million.

The Bone Cancer Trust is a team of 20 based in Leeds, UK. They’re a leading charity dedicated to fighting primary bone cancer, through research, information, awareness and support. They ran their first Facebook challenge in August 2020, which had a huge impact on their income. Over the last few years, they’ve tried to diversify their income streams. Facebook challenges offered a fantastic opportunity.

They hit their first million in 2019. However, at the start of 2020 they were looking at an anticipated loss of over £80-60,000 due to the pandemic. But by the end of the year, they’d raised £2.7 million. They had their most successful year to date, with a year-on-year increase of 64%. This was largely due to Facebook challenges.

The Old Way vs. The New Way

The old digital fundraising way kicked off with coming up with a clever campaign – maybe you’d hire a creative agency. The beginning of the user journey always started with a really long signup form. You’d have to charge an entry fee, because you always charged an entry fee for challenge events. You’d use a standalone fundraising platform, where people needed a username and a password. Then you’d need to get more people to learn about the challenge, and you’d start a brand new Facebook page. You’d have to do a social media campaign on top of this. This could all end up costing a lot.

Now, we have a new way. Come up with a simple concept that can be understood in under two seconds. Get the prospects excited before they decide to get more involved. Keep the user on Facebook for the whole experience. That’s where they’ve started and that’s where they want to be – It’s where they’re comfortable. Make it ridiculously easy and quick to sign up. Save costs on expensive designers building microsites –  just set up a Facebook fundraising page. Make sure the user’s friends and family see their fundraising pages so they can donate to them. Gather a connected community – a Facebook group. And finally, use simple Facebook ads to drive success. No other promotion is needed.

This new way can raise so much money because Facebook has built a great fundraising tool and ecosystem. It’s one that they didn’t even realise they had. They have Facebook groups for community. They have Facebook fundraisers for nonprofits. And they have ads for acquisition. We have pulled all of these together to create a perfect ecosystem for the Facebook challenge. It’s hard work, but you will reap the rewards.

Why Facebook Challenges?

You might be asking yourself, should we be doing these challenges? I think they’re an excellent medium term fundraising solution. The reason I say medium term is because they do run the risk of saturation – more and more charities are adopting this model. But, then again, it does give you the opportunity to be innovative with your challenges. The model has proven to work and we’ve seen great success with it. 

Our final fundraising event during November last year was a 2000 burpees challenge. We’ve never had a challenge event come anywhere near close to the income that was raised during this particular challenge. It was more than we raised through all of our income streams back in 2017. Facebook challenges also offer a great acquisition model. We had 12,000 members in our 2000 burpees group, the majority of those with new supporters. A third of them opted in to further communications.

The Hook

To start a successful Facebook Challenge Event is to develop a simple hook. We want to move from the old way of doing things to this new way of doing things. This time, we are not going to have a complicated hook in any way, shape, or form.

So that hook, that challenge – you’ve got to get supporters doing the same activity over the same timeframe. Not only does it help build that fantastic community in the Facebook groups, but from an admin perspective, having it clear cut means it’s much easier to thank supporters. In terms of the challenge itself, you don’t want to overcomplicate it. You want it to be ‘x challenge in x month’, like ‘2000 burpees in February’. They’re simple and straightforward. They need to be easy to understand when you’re scrolling through your newsfeed. 

And another thing with the hook, first and foremost, is the challenge itself – it’s about the activity and getting fit. As charities we’re used to being cause led, but the cause is very much secondary with these challenges. The way you’re going to get huge numbers of supporters into a group is to focus on the activity itself, rather than the cause. Try to picture yourself in a potential supporter’s position, think about what you’d want to do – ‘Oh, 10,000 steps a day? I need to be doing that!’ It’s about engaging with the person first. The next step is creating the community. This is this is where the hard work starts

Creating the Community

Facebook groups offer the perfect opportunity to create a community. They are essentially the glue that holds the challenge together. It’s where we engage with the supporters. It’s where we support and update on fundraising totals. So it’s essential that people are having a positive and memorable experience in these groups. Not only does it motivate them to fundraise, but it makes them want to come back.

Some tips when it comes to the groups. It seems like an obvious statement, but the more you can engage with your supporters, the more success you’ll see. Tasks shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ve got 1000s of members in these groups. and we ensure that we respond to every single post. This might be a like or a comment, but every post gets engaged with. The engagement and community feel that people get from groups makes them come back for future challenges. 

We want to retain our supporters. We find that supporters are really good at starting conversations between themselves, but we do give that help in hand in this with scheduled posts. The posts are mostly about the activity and how the supporters are getting on. Basically enything that prompts a response, such as ‘how are you getting on with your burpees?’

We also provide social media toolkits to supporters. They contain different graphics for milestones, such as ‘I’m halfway there’, ‘I’ve completed my burpee challenge’ and ‘Thanks for sponsoring me!’ They’re things that supporters can share with their friends and family to drum up support. We also provide a Facebook profile picture frame. These always go down really well, people love to shout about these challenges. It’s a nice way for them to spread awareness of the challenge even further. What I love about these groups is that they become a peer-to-peer thing. You have new people arriving into these groups, and there are people, who are potentially more confident in the groups, who start answering questions that these new supporters are asking. So all of a sudden, your fundraisers are helping your other fundraisers.

The one thing with these groups is that you don’t want to stress your moderators. It takes a lot of time to monitor groups. We monitor them during the day in shifts, 9-to-5, 7-to-9 and 10-to-6 on the weekend. It’s a very demanding task – scrolling through Facebook can get very draining. So we ensure that we have cover and that we alternate, so that someone covers the morning, someone covers the afternoon. This means you’ve got a fresh pair of eyes, along with someone who is motivated and inspired to comment on posts. You can’t have one person to do all of that, they wouldn’t last terribly long.

We were focusing on community participation and were seeing so many inspirational stories. People will organically share their reasons for taking on these challenges. There’s lots of creativity – you’ll see people in fancy dress, people rope in their friends and family. You’ll see in the comments on this how supportive people are, and how much they motivate each other. You can see how much they love being part of these groups. 

Something which can be an added bonus for the monitoring staff, is to take part in the challenge too (if possible). I did the 2000 burpees in November challenge. It gives you an additional thing to bond over in the group. The supporters feel like you’re in it with them, with every burpee of the way. It makes them feel part of the team. You’re not just an admin, you’re one of them. This is really nice. You get to talk to them on exactly the same level.

Growing Numbers with Facebook Lead Ads

I’ve had no training in Facebook whatsoever, it was very much a case of figuring it out as I went along. I’d done ads in the past, but this was a very different approach for me. There was little-to-no targeting, we were selecting a geographical location and an age range. And that was it. There was no behaviour, or interest, targeting. We were also using a variety of creative and copy. We inputted several versions of creative and copy. By creating different combinations of them, we were able to let Facebook algorithms figure out which ones were going to get the best response. 

We did try using the dynamic ads function in Facebook. But we found that, in terms of tracking performance, it was a bit more difficult. We reverted back to inputting the ads manually. With these ads, there’s definitely no need for fancy, professional photos. We use our team members or family members for our photos. We’ve done this countless times. I’ve given my husband a t-shirt and said ‘Come on, we’re doing a photo shoot’.

You’ll notice that all of the photos for our challenges feature our t-shirt. We give away free t-shirts when people register. It’s an incentive and gets people clicking sign up on the ads. Ultimately, they’ll end up in the group and fundraising for us. Your free incentive should be featured in your ads. We tried stock images, but anything with our branding or our t-shirts far outperformed them. I would always opt for images, rather than videos, as they’re easier to consume. When you’re scrolling through your Facebook, images are really eye-catching. But, if we’ve got a boomerang or a video that we want to try, we’ll often test them.

The Supporter’s Facebook Journey

Let’s go through the process of what the journey looks like for supporters. They see the ads on Facebook. They’ve got a promise of a free t-shirt and a fitness challenge that draws them in. They then fill out the lead generation form on Facebook. This is auto filled by Facebook in most cases – it’s literally just two clicks. And then that’s it, it’s complete. They’re then directed to join the Facebook group. Once they’re in there, they see a welcome post that highlights the steps needed to register for the t-shirt. Then they’re encouraged to set up a Facebook fundraiser. 

So these are the steps that we used for our first two challenges. This is the traditional approach.  

For our following challenges, we tweaked this process emphasis slightly – I’ll discuss this in a bit. For our latest campaign challenge in February, we had just under 12,000 leads. We then went on to have just under 8000 group members with a conversion rate of 66%. We were looking at a cost per lead of £2.00. This campaign had a cost per lead of one £1.43, which was fantastic. 

Tweaking the Process

So we have the hook, we have what we want supporters to do, we’ve built the community that we want them to enter into and we’re filling up the group with people eager to take on that activity. Now it’s time to get them raising money for the cause.

As I mentioned, we tweaked our process ever so slightly. We were looking at the number of group members-to-fundraisers conversion percentage, and we wanted to increase it. So, we made changes to the first steps in setting up a Facebook fundraiser. We updated it by using a one click link from GivePanel. This allowed supporters to set up their fundraiser in one click. We then encouraged them to use the invite function, inviting their friends and family to their fundraisers, and also kickstart their own fundraising. We included this in the welcome post onto supporters’ fundraising pages, which also included a registration signup link for their free t-shirt.

By doing it this way, we actually saw a 20% increase in conversion from group members to fundraisers. You’ve got the promise of the free t-shirt, which encourages people to step up their fundraiser. It also reduced the number of duplicate requests we were seeing. This was because the registration link wasn’t openly available in the group for everyone to click on. It reduced the number of t-shirts being sent to people that weren’t going to set up a fundraiser, which improved our ROI. We also had the added bonus that, because we were posting that initial welcome message on the supporters’ fundraising pages within 24 hours, we were engaging with them from the very start.

We would recommend trying the original way a few times before you start tweaking the model. Once you become a bit of an expert and have trialled some challenges, you can start testing these things. We love hearing how people are doing it differently.

Recent Results

In one of our recent challenges, we raised more than our highest income generating traditional challenge, the London Marathon, had ever raised. This was all within three weeks of ads going live. Not to mention, there was a much better ROI. We were blown away. Money started coming in before the challenge month even started. We saw this peak at the start of the challenge. And then, on day one of the challenge, we saw another peak. This is because of different types of fundraisers. You have people who do what they’re told. They’re asked to join the Facebook group register and set up the fundraiser. You’ve also got people who are a little bit like me. They joined the group, registered and then didn’t set up a fundraiser because they either did a challenge back in November, or they didn’t set up a fundraiser until the first day of the challenge. Every challenge spikes on the first day and spikes on the last day – that’s consistent across the board.

For our February challenge, we ended up raising over £500,000, we had 7500 group members and sent out 3000 t-shirts. And then we had over 2000 new people – they’re called spotters. We also had another 2000 people who opted into further marketing from us. Now we can target these 2000 plus people and bring them on another journey. That could be legacy, it could be regular giving, it could be volunteering, it could be anything. 

For Facebook ads, you should be looking at £2-£3 cost per lead. These ads lead users to the sign up form, which then leads users to the Facebook group. You get around 80% of these people into the Facebook group, and around 50% will fill out the form. We use a GivePanel form, but there are Google forms that you can use too. There are a million and one different types of forms that can get people engaged and incentivised. So this is the journey, this is the funnel that people will go along. 

How to Get Started

Obviously, we want nonprofits to be making money when putting in all of this effort. We would advise that you start with a small pilot first. You might say, ‘Oh, I have 10,000 t-shirts in the warehouse, let’s do a challenge for 10,000’. But we’d recommend not to do this for your first one. 

Start with small targets and make sure that you can get it right before you scale it. Test it in four months. In month one, you’re beginning to think about it, you’re doing your budgets, you’re planning your creative, you’re figuring out what the activity is. Month two, you’re going to be doing promotion and acquisition. So this is when your ads are going to go live. This is when you’re going to start seeing all that money coming in. It’s also when your Facebook group is going to be activated. This is when you need all hands on deck for group moderation. The challenge itself lasts for the whole of the third month. Then you have the wrapping up and reporting at the end. Four months is the kind of timeframe you need to be looking at.

Considerations Before Kick Off

So should you be doing a Facebook challenge? If you answer yes to the following questions, then it’s time to have a serious conversation internally with your teams. 

  1. Are your potential participants personally affected by your cause? This is really important. Facebook challenges can work really well for medical, mental health and hospice organisations. 
  1. Do you have a strong brand? Are you called the rainbow organisation and people aren’t quite sure what that is? Is it clear who you are and for people to know what they would be supporting? Brand transparency makes Facebook Challenges much easier.
  1. Do you have a community fundraising team? These are the people who are going to activate your Facebook group for you, be the moderators and run this whole experience for your supporters. If you already have lots of Facebook birthday fundraisers, this is a really good time to consider a Facebook challenge. This is because the Facebook algorithm is already pushing people towards your organisation. 
  1. And finally, are you prepared to do a lot of work in a short period of time to make this happen? 

Challenges are where the communities are. This is the glue, it’s what people are craving at the moment – connection. Go into any nonprofit Facebook and see if they have a challenge group. If they do, pop in and look around – you’ll see that they are lovely places to be. So fill up your group with Facebook lead ads and then get them fundraising. 

Read More About Facebook Challenges

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