Is Facebook’s Birthday giving revolution just a fad?

Published by Nick Burne on

Is Facebook’s Birthday giving revolution just a fad?

If you want to find out more about how you can leverage Facebook fundraising including birthdays, tune into Nick’s FRO online session here.

It’s 2006. Scott Harrison is an ex-New-York-night-club-promoter and he’s putting on a birthday party in a New York nightclub for his 31st birthday. Except this was no ordinary birthday.

Scott had no idea that on this particular birthday, he would start a revolution.

Instead of receiving gifts on his birthday, Scott turned the occasion into a party for giving. He asked everyone who came that night to donate $20 to the charity he’d just started – Charity:Water.

In the very same club that he was having his birthday party, he used to sell bottles of VOSS Sparkling water for $10. Now he was raising money to help people in Africa who didn’t have any clean water.

That first birthday he raised $15,000. But more than this, something new was born that has resulted in people wanting to donate their birthdays to good causes.

Speaking on the Masters of Scale podcast, Scott said, “And then this idea just exploded where16-year-olds start giving up their birthdays, 89-year-olds start giving up their birthdays. I remember this woman, Nona Win, writes in her mission statement, she says, “I’m turning 89 and I’d like to make that possible for more people.”

Scott and Charity:Water had found a lucrative fundraising stream with a viral loop. One which is based on a resource that we all have, once a year – our birthday.

Growing up, probably like most kids, birthdays were one of the most exciting days of the year.

Why? Because you got stuff you wanted (and sometimes things you didn’t). Presents!

It was about receiving – not giving. How things change!

Inspired by Scott Harrison and Charity: Water, Facebook started to notify people to encourage them to start a Facebook fundraiser for their birthday. It took off – BIG TIME. According to Facebook, in its first year Birthday Fundraisers on Facebook raised $300m.

And if you were a nonprofit who had been quick enough to turn on Facebook Donate – you started to receive income – without even having to do anything.

So one big question is – “how long can this trend last?” Like the California Gold Rush of 1848, is there still gold in the ground? The good news is, that if your nonprofit hasn’t turned on Facebook’s Giving Tools yet, there is still time.

Maybe it’s not a trend. Maybe it’s a seismic shift in a world where many people already have everything they need. Maybe in 100 years time people will have to study the history books to see that birthdays used to be about receiving. Whatever it is, it’s not a fad.

But let’s (for the sake of this blog post) assume it is a trend. How could we measure where we are in the trend cycle?

In Facebook’s latest quarterly earnings report, they reported over 2.3 billion active Facebook users. Assuming just a little growth, this means in the next 5 years, Facebook’s users will have over 12 billion (yup – billion!) Birthdays. 12,000,0000,000 birthdays, which Facebook will encourage them to donate to a nonprofit close to their heart.

Let’s assume that Facebook Birthday income has grown over the past year from $300 million and that – by the time you’re reading this blog post – $1 billion has been raised by Birthdays. Now let’s assume (conservatively) that each Birthday fundraiser (that raised anything) raised $100 on average and that 20% of all Birthday Fundraisers raised nothing. This would mean that so far there have been about 12 million birthday fundraisers started.

In other words – at most – 0.5% of the 2.3 billion people on Facebook have done a Birthday fundraiser. Stop the average person on the street and many won’t even have seen one, let alone donated their own birthday.

(By the way, the above calculation doesn’t include Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and is getting the fundraiser treatment soon.)

We are also seeing people donating their birthdays in combination with other fundraising, such as in memory of a loved one.

In my own experience, I combined my Birthday fundraiser with a half-marathon challenge event. And let’s not forget that they can be leveraged with nonprofit influencers such as singer Sam Smith and footballer Paul Pogba.

Facebook Birthday fundraising has not yet come of age. There is still plenty of time to make the most of this opportunity. An opportunity that was all thanks to Scott.

If you want to find out more about how you can leverage Facebook fundraising including birthdays, tune into Nick’s FRO online session here.

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Nick Burne

Nick is Founder & CEO of GivePanel - a new online platform to help nonprofits manage their Facebook Fundraisers. Nick is also Managing Partner at Nick Burne Consulting where he is Lead Digital Strategist for the International Rescue Committee and UNICEF’s international digital fundraising. In 2017 he founded RAISETHRU – a 12-week Facebook Ads Accelerator Programme for charities that has helped clients like Greenpeace, Care and PCUK build scalable digital acquisition programmes.


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