This month, we sat down with Caitlin Watkins from Best Friends Animal Society to discuss how Facebook Fundraisers have changed the game for the organization.
Caitlin Watkins has been working in the nonprofit sphere for ten years. Currently, Caitlin leads peer-to-peer fundraising for Best Friends Animal Society’s Digital Engagement team. Most recently, she worked with over 20 different nonprofit clients at the digital marketing agency Charity Dynamics.
As a native Austinite and fifth generation Texan, Caitlin is especially passionate about local issues and politics. In her spare time, Caitlin is an avid cyclist and enjoys two-stepping, hosting dinner parties, and spending time with her tripawd pitbull Jolene and bipod husband Max.
How did you come to work at your nonprofit?
Before working at Best Friends, I was a project manager for a digital marketing agency working exclusively with nonprofits called Charity Dynamics. My core projects involved Blackbaud product implementation, primarily optimizing direct response email communications, end-of-year campaigns, and monthly sustainer programs.
I learned about Best Friends through my time at Charity Dynamics. As a rescue dog mom to a tripawd pitbull named Jolene, their mission was close to my heart.
For over a year, I have managed all things peer-to peer fundraising for Best Friends. That includes Facebook Fundraising, DIY fundraising, livestream fundraising, our signature walk event called Strut Your Mutt, and even a dog-walking app called ResQwalk!
What’s the most meaningful thing to you about your nonprofit’s mission?
The love of animals is a universal language, so when adorable cats and dogs are involved, it’s easy to get people fired up about what we do. I love working with and learning from passionate animal advocates, like Becky, who walked nearly 3,000 miles across the country raising money and awareness for Best Friends along the way. Hearing our supporters’ stories about why they are getting involved motivates me every day.
Last year, about 733,000 dogs and cats were killed in our nation’s animal shelters, simply because they didn’t have safe places to call home. Together, we can change that and achieve no-kill for dogs and cats nationwide by 2025.
To have such a reachable near-future goal is rare for a nonprofit organization. It’s wonderful to contribute to creating what I call a “virtual no-kill community.”
What’s the most impactful thing you’ve done while working there?
Strut your Mutt is our largest P2P event, raising over $2.7 million this past year. Unlike other large P2P or nonprofit fundraising events, we provide a platform for over 300 of our Network Partners, rescues and shelters that share our mission, to raise money to cover their own operating expenses.
P2P and fundraising platforms can be expensive, time-consuming, and require a tech-savvy team to operate. That’s why we coach them and give them access to our platform at no cost. Many of them raise the majority of their operating budgets through teaming up in these events, allowing them to implement local programs that will get our country to no-kill by 2025. This coming year, I’m looking forward to combining our Teamraiser-Facebook Fundraiser integration with Facebook Messenger through GoodUnited’s tools.
What’s been your experience with Facebook Fundraisers?
We struggled with them initially, because we lacked the internal resources to track, thank and steward every single fundraiser. We weren’t getting a lot of information and couldn’t email 99% of the fundraisers. It felt like a wormhole of data — we were losing out on major opportunities for long-term relationship building.
Facebook continues to pick up momentum because of the accessibility, large audience, and zero fees.
We knew it was important to meet people where they were spending time, but it was time-intensive to manually handle Fundraisers on our own.
What’s it done for your organization?
It has a huge impact on our mission and what we’re able to accomplish. Since the funds are unrestricted, it’s been amazing for capacity-building, allowing us to use the funds where they are most needed to save the most lives.
The funds are vital in achieving our mission, but the brand awareness that comes with Facebook Fundraisers has also been transformative. It’s wonderful to see how excited people are about what we’re doing as an organization, and to give them an opportunity to spread the word about our mission.
What are the most meaningful insights you’ve gotten from Facebook Fundraisers?
The ability to track trends and be innovative with our revenue has been beneficial. Our native platforms definitely allow us to gather more information, analyze it, and optimize the donor experience better than Facebook. However, we want people to support us where they feel comfortable, and Facebook Fundraisers really have promoted a culture of philanthropy.
Facebook has also opened the door for increased P2P support and participation. Many people are hesitant to give to a fundraiser or attend an event because of the long process to register, so Facebook allows them to get involved in an accessible way.
What do you see as the most challenging part about Facebook Fundraisers?
Predictability of revenue has been a challenge as the program has grown. Facebook Fundraisers have plateaued across the board, which was unexpected, and now it’s slowly leveling off. Hopefully, it gets more predictable over time.
How have you dealt with these challenges?
We’re continuing to optimize, test, and do what we can to keep up the hype. People are remaining interested, so we’re working to turn one-time fundraisers into annual fundraisers and monthly sustainers. We’re taking lessons from our other P2P programs and applying them to Facebook. We’re also engaging with our Facebook donors over Facebook Messenger, and we’re optimistic about cultivating those donors as well.
How has GoodUnited helped you face those challenges?
I see GoodUnited as our partner, not just a vendor.
GU is always open to hearing new ideas and giving them a try to find the best solutions. They were wonderful with testing and finding ways to take advantage of unique events such as Giving Tuesday and our organizational giving day, Best Friends Day.
Working with GoodUnited is like having a crock pot — you can set it and forget it. Our team doesn’t have to think about the day-to-day of Facebook Fundraisers; everything is either automated or handled by the GoodUnited team. I love that we can thank our fundraisers and deliver them important information about what we do without overextending our own staff.
Did you find yourself nodding your head and empathizing with Caitlin's experiences? Are you trying to help your nonprofit make the most out of Facebook fundraisers? Would it help to have clear reporting, the ability to thank all fundraisers & donors, access to email addresses & other relevant info, and increased revenue -- all without adding to your workload?
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