Facebook's new donate button: how the social network stands to gain from its charitable effort

Mark Leiser: I am a PhD Candidate in Cyber Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I have written submissions for the Leveson Inquiry into the culture and ethics of the media and for the Scottish Parliament on the use of social media during trials. My PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics and focuses on the effectiveness of cyber-regulation. My research and interests revolve around main areas of Internet law and policy including internet governance & regulation, democracy, social media, privacy, and intellectual property. My PhD research focuses on developing a system of modelling to measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of Internet Regulation. I write in a personal capacity.

Facebook announced this week that it will be adding a ‘donate’ button to allow users to donate directly to non-profitable organisations through Facebook. Facebook will store credit card information and payment details on its servers and will offer the donate button on pages affiliated with non-profit organizations.

Feature: Facebook has introduced a donate button

Non-profits like Unicef and the WWF have been using Pages for a while now and in the aftermath of the Philippines, Facebook allowed users to donate directly to the International Red Cross’s relief fund. Facebook has already partnered with 20 organisations that are already showing the ‘donate’ button on their pages.

Facebook may not be taking this action only out of the goodness of its virtual heart - credit card details are valuable data tools that will benefit them in the sphere of e-commerce and gaming.

With the donate button in place, users won’t have to leave Facebook to make donations to non-profits. Users will be able to choose how much they wish to donate via a pop-up window. They then either enter payment details or use ones already stored with Facebook. The pop-up could boost conversion rates and get more funds to the best-marketed projects.

The new feature will also have sharing integrated into it, so philanthropy can go viral. Facebook is not charging a fee to process credit card donations and is instead paying that fee itself, so 100 per cent of user donations will go to non-profits.

It may be cynical to think that Facebook is going to benefit from this feature, but it will likely have a long-term strategy at play here. Facebook is a supporter of Internet.org, an accessibility project for the developing world that could get more people signed up to the internet and then to Facebook accounts.

Is the new ‘donate’ button related to recent research suggesting that the slacktivist generation are big supporters of the ‘like’ button for charitable causes, but often don’t back it up? By ‘liking’ a charity’s page somewhere down the line, research shows that the slacktivist generation is less likely to pay up, make donations or offer up time and energy for the cause somewhere down the line.

“Charities incorrectly assume that connecting with people through social media always leads to more meaningful support,” says Sauder School of Business PhD student Kirk Kristofferson, who co-authored the forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research article.

"Our research shows that if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly on social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on."

Facebook intends to roll out the ‘donate’ button to more non-profit organizations at a later date.

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