Yesterday I suggested that the Georgia senate runoff races have likely siphoned away donations that otherwise might have landed in nonprofit coffers in the last weeks of 2020. But while Ossoff and Warnock may compete with nonprofits for donors’ attention, Facebook’s ongoing political ad ban stifles their speech. If you’re a political advocacy organization, Facebook has probably taken away some of your most effective messaging.
Facebook’s decision to block political ads post-election includes includes issue ads as well as campaign ads, a critical factor for nonprofit advocates. Need to raise money to advocate for the climate-change policies, reproductive rights or free speech itself? You’ll have to dance around the actual issues involved if you want to run ads on Facebook. Oblique fundraising CAN work, particularly for organizations that can feature cute animals or adorable children in their content. But red-meat appeals directly to your donors’ reptile brains? Likely off limits.
Most nonprofits don’t run many fundraising ads at the general public, since Facebook appeals rarely work well unless aimed at people already somewhat likely to donate. Instead, staff frequently target segments of their own email lists via Facebook “custom audiences”, either to solicit money directly or to prime the pump for an incoming email. Many also use “lookalike targeting” to try to expand their reach to people similar to their existing supporters, or they try to mine a purchased or loaned list of likely donors for funds. Nonprofits can of course say what they want in their own emails, but their Facebook promotions won’t fly if they’re too explicit about the issues. All this so that Facebook can shirk its responsibility to fight disinformation spread peer-to-peer — lies rarely need money to race around the world.
Once again, social service and community-focused organizations are least affected, since they usually raise money to help people rather than to promote issues. Georgia-based nonprofits also get a pass, since Facebook relaxed the ban in that state after complaints from the Senate campaigns and orgs trying to support them. Of course, Georgia’s groups will have to compete with Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and a slew of other politicos taking advantage of the Senate runoffs to raise money for their own reelection committees. Like water, political fundraising flows into any crevice it can find.