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Social media drives response but can fail on donations, says study

Social media drives response but can fail on donations, says study

Campaigns on may grab people’s attention but that doesn’t always result in a donation, particularly for lesser-known charities, a US study has found.

The study, Viral Altruism? Charitable Giving and Social Contagion in Online Networks by the John Hopkins Carey Business School, suggests that there is a tendency for people to share online campaigns, but not donate.

The paper is based on data from nearly 3,500 pledges made via social media fundraising application HelpAttack! to charities including the American Red Cross, Best Friends Animal Society, and Homes for Our Troops. It shows that while broadcasting is positively associated with donations, some individuals appeared to broadcast a pledge and then delete it.

Of the sample, 64 percent of pledges were fulfilled, 13 percent were partially fulfilled, and 16 percent were deleted. The proportion of deleted pledges was seen to be higher among users who had broadcast their pledges on a social media platform.

The researchers also conducted an online experiment and a survey. The experiment used Facebook ads and other methods to encourage users to donate to the charity Heifer International. While the campaign reached 6.4 million Facebook users and generated many “likes” and “shares,” the campaign received just 30 donations.

In the survey, participants were asked if they would give half of a hypothetical $10 to charity. While approximately 35 percent said yes, the pledged figure decreased when the possibilities of a third-party processor and a processing fee were added to the question.

Mario Macis, assistant professor at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins said:

“In spite of the hype, it’s actually quite hard for lesser-known charities to raise funds online. Many people may regard online social networks as free platforms for personal exchange and much less as vehicles for an activity that comes at some cost to them. In more traditional forms of activism, participants make a tangible contribution. Online platforms, in contrast, provide opportunities for activism that may consist of nearly costless actions.”


Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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