A Facebook Parable

October 6, 2021

Picture if you will, you’ve opened a new small retail shop in a big indoor mall…

On the first day, your shop opened the doors you had customers coming in the doors in droves. As they say, “business was good.” There’s something wonderful about throwing open your doors and knowing that you’ll get a certain amount of foot traffic. After all, you can’t sell stuff without a steady flow of customers to buy it.

Life — and business — was good.

Until the lease went up. And not by a bit. Double the monthly rent from what it used to be. If our small shop had great margins, that might still be doable. But as we all know, retail is a tough business.

So, this small shop moved to an affordable strip mall on the Southside of town. It had ample parking day and night so that was a positive. Unlike the big indoor mall, however, the traffic was barely there. Sure, the rent was cheap but even that was hard to cover with so few customers.

Sadly, your beloved shop closed soon after.

It would be easy to take away several lessons here but I’ll tell you the only one that matters: This isn’t a story about prime real estate and expensive rents. This is a story about people.

What people, you ask?


The mall provided not only a location for your shop, it provided a steady flow of people looking to spend money. Once they bought something in your shop, they became customers.

What could your small shop have done to mitigate this risk? No, not sign a longer lease agreement (oh, you! always a smart Alec in the bunch!!) The small shop could have built their traffic/customer list and built a relationship with them.

Then, if something happened — such as losing their lease, or being hit with a pandemic — your small shop could still stay afloat because of your most important resource, your customers.

Think of it as having a friend who moves to another part of town. If you stay in touch you can still see that friend and do stuff like going out for brunch, to see a movie, or hang out.

Sure, it’s easy to think that isn’t necessary because everyone knows your “brand.” But I’d argue your most precious resource is your customer list. Everything can go to hell in a basket but you can still recover if you own your customer list (as opposed to leasing them at the mall)

Well geez, what does this all have to do with Facebook?


With 2.89 billion active users, Facebook is the biggest mall in the world.

And they own the platform. It’s their space and they can start charging rent or creating new rules whenever they want. You may not be paying them (unless you’re advertising), but make no mistake you’re investing time and energy. And we all know that our sector has an unfortunate tendency to abuse that fact in the relentless pursuit of *free*.

Who knows what’s in store for Facebook. They may become even bigger. They may be broken up into smaller parts. It’s happened before, it can happen again (remember when Bell phone got broken up in 1984?).

The point is you are at risk right now.

Risk at what Facebook might do or risk at what might be done to them. The safest hands to secure your future are your own and that's where your donor list belongs. Click To Tweet

And we haven’t even addressed the ethical questions surrounding Facebook. The social media tool is a one-man dictatorship. Mark Zuckerberg controls 60% of voting shares and the policies that harm our children and Democracy.

The nonprofit sector let out a collective gasp earlier this week when Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp experienced widespread outages.

In an interesting coincidence (I’m certain it’s a coincidence, aren’t you?) this outage happened 12 hours after Facebook was exposed by a whistleblower on 60 Minutes. Not just any whistleblower. A brilliant data scientist, Frances Haugen, arrived with receipts. She’s not playing.

And this is not a drill.

How your nonprofit engages on Facebook should benefit your organization. Not Facebook.

Here are some of the best ways for your nonprofit to take advantage of the unlimited audience of Facebook:

Facebook Ads.
One of my favorite resources for small shop digital fundraising is Digital Charity Lab. In the excellent guide, Facebook Ad Strategy for Charities & Non-Profits, founder Jean O’Brien notes:

“The bar to entry for Facebook Ads is low, you can start using them today. There’s no minimum budget, there’s no time commitment and no major media buy the way there is with other channels.

The strength of Facebook Ads is that you can refine and test and greatly increase the success of your campaign yourself. It’s very expensive to run these kinds of tests if you’re reliant on an agency.”

Consider what is the goal of your advertising. Donations? Email list signups for a drip campaign? Will you be doing targeted marketing to the recipients of your direct mail campaign? And test, test, and test again.

Facebook Fundraisers.
No, you won’t receive information from Facebook on the donors to a particular fundraiser. But you can empower your supporters to make a real difference when you give them the tools to fundraise on Facebook. After all, few of us need another useless birthday gift. Show your donors exactly how (step-by-step) to set up a Facebook Fundraiser on your behalf. Every organization needs a guide like this one.

As my friend and colleague copywriter, Julie Cooper noted:

“Facebook’s mass outage was a good kick-in-the-pants to nonprofit organizations and the consultants who help them. Hopefully, the reality sinks in that none of us have any control or ownership of our Facebook followers. Our hard work on Facebook can be restricted or gone in an instant.

Yes, nonprofits should be on the social media platforms that make sense for them. But they also need to have a strategy to move their followers from platforms they don’t control to ones they do, like their email list.”

We’ve all witnessed small organizations spending an inordinate time posting on social media to the point of exhaustion…with very little to show for it. Get strategic about your nonprofit’s Facebook presence by putting your focus where it belongs: building a direct one-to-one relationship with your supporter.

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