How Canadian organizations are using Facebook for engagement and advocacy

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For many in the nonprofit sector, social media tools are necessary but often overwhelming and confusing. To help allay some of their challenges – and help expand their reach toward greater mission success – Facebook has taken a number of steps recently to engage with the sector.

“Facebook Canada fosters ongoing dialogue with Canadian nonprofits. One way we do this is by helping nonprofits better leverage Facebook to grow their communities, activate their supporters and raise funds for their organizations,” says Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada.

Nonprofits on Facebook, for example, is a portal that helps organizations learn more about how to use Facebook to help advance their cause. Personal Fundraisers allows people to raise money for themselves, a friend or someone or something not on Facebook, for example a pet, explains Facebook spokesperson Alex Kucharski. “Personal fundraisers allow people to reach friends where they already are, to quickly build momentum for their cause.” Friends can easily donate with secure payments without leaving Facebook. Donors can easily see how they’re connected to fundraiser creator, as well as the intended beneficiary, and other donors.

Connecting through Workplace

Office Hours — most recently put on pause, it seems – was a quarterly event for nonprofit digital leaders led by a Facebook expert who would instruct them on best practices related to a specific Facebook tool. Then there’s Workplace, a collaborative platform typically used for internal communications. It allows users to create a company profile, upload their picture, and post their email and information on what they do and who they report to.

Workplace offers various tools and resources — such as the ability to create private and public groups — to help organizations collaborate and work more efficiently. For Samantha Halyk, digital communications officer at Save the Children Canada, the platform has proven very beneficial. The Canadian office created their own group which remains private and allows everyone in the office to receive updates and stay on top of internal news. You can have as many internal groups as you have areas of focus - reports, social media, news, education etc.

“It’s a great way for everyone to stay in the loop,” explains Halyk, who’s also a fan of how the tool helps her find team members across the global organization. “When working in such a large organization, it can be really siloed. Facebook tackles that with Workplace.”

Anja Kessler has been enjoying her experience with Workplace too. Digital knowledge officer at Oxfam Canada, Kessler was brought onto the organization to work on their knowledge hub platform for staff across the confederation working on the issue of violence against women and girls. Looking to encourage community interaction, her team was initially offered the opportunity to work with Drupal and its built-in features. But, after two years, they were still struggling with engagement.

When the organization turned to Workplace, however, everything changed. “It was instant uptake,” shares Kessler, who says they use the platform for posting, creating various groups and sub-groups. “We now have about an 80% participation rate across confederation and it’s similar for individual affiliates.”

The positive results may have something to do with the familiarity of the platform, as so many people have Facebook profiles today, and the fact that it doesn’t require a training program or a complex guidebook. Still, it should be noted, that out of security concerns, Oxfam doesn’t use the file sharing feature of Workplace. But otherwise, after a year of use, “I have nothing bad to say,” offers Kessler. “It’s good to have one tool that everyone can agree on where there’s no barrier to accessing it. I would recommend it, and I rarely say that.”

What’s more, this summer Facebook enhanced their Workplace feature. “Through Workplace for Good we’re giving Workplace Premium free to nonprofits and staff at educational institutions globally, so they can build meaningful communities and create change around the world,” explains Kucharski.

Connecting to an external audience

Of course, many still use Facebook’s traditional features. Save the Children Canada uses it for organic posts, boosted posts and paid advertisements. “A lot of people think that since everyone has a Facebook page, you can easily reach them with a post. But that’s not true,” explains Halyk. “Your organic post is only seen by two to five percent of your followers so you have to pay to get in front of people.” It’s a particular challenge for Save the Children, which faces low brand awareness in Canada.

“Facebook ads are smart and worth investing in,” adds Halyk unequivocally. “Facebook is a tool that helps us reach new target audiences and increase brand awareness and start to strengthen relationships with people who haven’t heard about us or are interested in our cause.”

She’s also a fan of the donate button they can add to the top of each page. And she’s hoping to soon be using a new feature which would allow them to promote the donate button and to get a better sense of their donors and the amount raised, among other things. Their US colleagues are already using this advanced feature, but the Canadian office still needs to receive approval, which may take several weeks. It’s part of Facebook’s security measures and Halyk appreciates it.

Still, privacy concerns are mitigated when you’re not dealing with a third party like Cambridge Analytica, she says. Since Save the Children Canada is not affiliated with any third parties, she feels confident. Keep in mind, each time a donor clicks on the Facebook donate button, they’re directed to a secure process (which explains the extensive verification process). Besides, everything is coded too, she adds. “We feel very comfortable using Facebook,” she reiterates.

Reaching a live audience

For YWCA Canada, Facebook is a common tool they use to get their message out – including with regular posts, groups and Facebook Live. Raine Liliefeldt, director of member services and development, explains that they like to offer an e-learning component with many of their leadership programs. Some topics work well with webinars. Others find more success with dynamic opportunities, which is where Facebook Live comes in. The content is not only available in real-time on the platform, it’s also available to share via newsletters or social media. “It’s proven helpful because we’re able to reach larger audiences than just the few people who check it out [in real time],” Liliefeldt says.

Kerstin Heuer would probably agree. “Facebook Live has totally taken off,” says the nonprofit marketing expert and owner at Non-Profit Today. She shares how one of her clients, focused on connecting volunteers with nonprofits, has found a lot of traction through the Facebook feature. Another client, a museum and art gallery, has gotten into the habit of using Facebook Live whenever they launch a new exhibit, engaging with their audience on a totally different level.

Of course, you need to know who your audience and their interests are first. But, with that knowledge at hand, you can go a lot farther than before thanks to these and other tools. Heuer is a bit cautious, however, around privacy issues and does have some concerns. For her part, Liliefeldt cautions organizations to do a privacy setting check to ensure they’re comfortable with how it’s set up (for example, if you’re youth-focused, you may want to set profanity settings to high).

An important partner

But privacy issues aside, YWCA Canada has found Facebook helpful in a different way too. It’s proven to be an important partner on Project Shift, a YWCA initiative focused on creating a safer digital world for girls and young women. “We’re tech experts, but we’re not good at solving issues so it’s important to partner with organizations,” explains Kucharski. “These partnerships are really important to make sure we come up with the best solutions possible.”

The goal of Project Shift is to work across sectors to develop strategies and resources to eliminate cyberviolence. Facebook’s partnership included co-hosting a Hard Questions Roundtable on Women's Safety, which examined internal policies and practices on platforms, hiring practices etc. to determine where change was needed.

“We worked really closely with Facebook and had the opportunity to do advocacy with them,” shares Liliefeldt. Project Shift underwent a needs assessment that involved in-depth consultation with young women, from which recommendations were developed. Based on those recommendations, in May 2017 Facebook released tools and resources to support the work, including the need for platforms to be as proactive as possible.

“We’re very proud of the work we do with nonprofits to help them achieve their missions, from contributing to YWCA’s Project Shift which aims to create a safer digital world for girls and young women, to partnering with MediaSmarts on Reality Check, a two-year program that helps Canadians develop digital literacy skills,” shares Chan.

“They’ve been instrumental in supporting our work,” says Liliefeldt, who adds they’re currently working with Facebook on another pilot. To be sure, YWCA is a critical partner, she adds, explaining that they’re “that friend” who freely calls them out on any slipups. But, bottom line, YWCA is happy to have them on board. “They have been walking this path with us, we know they’re not perfect - no one is - but they’re diligent and conscientious about wanting to make change happen.”

Elisa Birnbaum is a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant living in Toronto. She is president of Elle Communications and Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of SEE Change Magazine and can be reached at:

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