So what’s a good benchmark for local nonprofits’ Facebook fan count?

It's time to "cowboy up" on Facebook!

Yesterday I posted about Sutter Health’s remarkable growth in Facebook fans.  A loyal reader commented (via email) that it was hard for him to judge how many fans is good.

This led me to wonder about benchmarks for Facebook fan pages of local nonprofits, and to think about the broader value of Facebook fan counts.

So, what’s a good number for a local nonprofit’s fan base?

Here’s my takeaway:  between 500 and 1,000 is good, even very good.  1,000 is a great goal for a local nonprofit.  Sutter Health’s fan base may not really qualify as local as they have facilities dispersed throughout the region.  But their number of fans, and their growth, is something to be aspired to.

Everything I’ve ever seen published about Facebook fan numbers has focused on national or global organizations, not a lot of help for nonprofits in a much smaller pond.  I asked Steve Heath, President and CEO of United Way of the California Capital Region, for a list of larger local nonprofits.  Then I went spelunking on Facebook.

Below is a report on what I found.  What was most noticeable was the disparity between the fan bases, and the lack of correlation between frequency of posts and fans.  The two nonprofits with the largest fan bases do have campaigns underway that are well known:  the Crocker is doing a big expansion, and it’s a tourist destination.  (Yes, tourists do come to Sacramento.)  And Loaves and Fishes has a gigantic fundraising run in which 28,000 people participate.  So those visible activities may have something to do with their success on Facebook.

#1 Crocker Art Museum:  4,561 fans, posts ~1-2 times/week

#2 Loaves and Fishes:  1,318 fans, posts 2-3 times/week… also has 463 fans on its Run to Feed the Hungry fan page

Susan G. Komen – Sacramento Valley Affiliate:  977 fans, posts ~3 times/week

WEAVE:  645 fans, posts infrequently

American Red Cross – Sacramento Sierra Chapter:  511 fans, posts ~1 time/day

Volunteers of America – Greater Sacramento:  294 fans, posts ~3 times/day

St. John’s Shelter:  231 fans, posts infrequently

Salvation Army – Del Oro Division:  214 fans, posts ~1-2 times/week

The SPCA, which Steve suggested, does not seem to have a Facebook fan page.

What does the number of fans have to do with exposure and engagement?

The real value of Facebook may be its value as an amplifier.  I’ll use myself as an example. I use Facebook selectively, so I only have 124 people that I’ve “friended.”  (Daughter Maddie has 851.)  At any given time, Facebook tells me that about five of my friends are on line.  (They might be in the bathroom, but Facebook thinks they’re updating away).  So instead of reaching just one person when my favorite cause posts, a nonprofit reaches me and any of my friends who are cruising around on my profile to get more skinny or check out my photos.  An organization with 500 fans reaches some subset of active users, and some of their friends.  Theoretically, my friends may be more interested in the cause because they can see it’s something that I believe in.  So even if a cause reaches a smaller number of people through Facebook, its message may have greater influence than an impersonal media outlet.

M+R Strategic Services recently published its annual social benchmarking report, which focused on Facebook and Twitter.  The Facebook findings were based on only five organizations, but there were some interesting tidbits.  M+R looked at how many people looked at the fan page each time the organization posted on Facebook; an average of just over a half percent (0.56%) of fans clicked on the status update and actually looked at the fan page each time the organization posted.  The study also looked at interaction. How many fans “liked” something, or commented (either to an organizational post or another fan’s post)?  On average, 2.5% of an organization’s fans used the Facebook tools to do something (e.g. “like” or comment).

  • The average monthly fan growth rate was 3.75%, which far outstrips national benchmarks for email list growth.
  • The annual “churn” rate – fans who click a button to “remove me from fans” or who hide status updates – averaged out at 24% per year.  That’s greater than national benchmarks for email list churn, but the in-flow still exceeds the out-go by a considerable proportion.
  • Participating organizations posted an average of 6 times/week.

My take

Facebook is valuable now, but I think it will become an increasingly important channel for nonprofits to build relationships with potential supporters.

What’s your experience?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “So what’s a good benchmark for local nonprofits’ Facebook fan count?

  1. Valerie Peck commented via Facebook: i would think it would be a ratio that had to do with the size of the organization, its reach and its ‘segment’ – so for what you do it has a large reach, a segment of users which you know from your research and of that, what portion of those are on FB. So like direct marketing say 6-7% of those who you have reached/helped might be a good number?

    I responded: You’re right about the better analytical approach – but I haven’t seen anything that collected the details about org audiences, goals, etc., and then put that in the context of category, market size, etc. We can dream!

  2. Hi Betsy – Thanks for sharing this information! I’m new to the nonprofit world, applying my social media experience from the media industry, and learning as I go. It’s nice to see some exploration of benchmarking – to see what other nonprofits have accomplished with their fan pages. In the month and 1/2 that I’ve been here, by posting more regularly and making the page more rich – and offering contests to “fan us” – we’ve jumped from 750 fans to 1,040+. The Race for the Cure is May 8 – our flagship event – and the value of reaching out to our fans and Twitter followers for this event is immeasurable, so we’re always interested in learning new ways to bring on more fans – fans who stay with us of course! Thanks again for the great info!