What Omaha Gives 2015 can teach non-profit organizations about the utilization of social media

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” in 2014 generated $220 million in donations within weeks after it was launched, Lyanne Alfaro reported 2015 in a Business Insider article. It is a brilliant example of a non-profit organization’s efficient management of opportunities offered by social media platforms.

Dr. Seungahn Nah from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Gregory D. Saxton from Claremont Graduate University showcased that non-profit organizations increasingly take advantage of social media platforms to share information and creatively engage with various stakeholders in their study “Modeling the adoption and use of social media by non-profit organizations” published 2012. A few years later, Abhishek Bhati – a professor in Political Science at Bowling Green State University – teamed up with and Diarmuid McDonell – researcher in Social Policy at the University of Birmingham – to investigate the effectiveness of using social media platforms to support fundraising events for non-profit organizations.

In the article “Success in an Online Giving Day: The Role of Social Media in Fundraising” published 2019, Bhati and McDonell investigated 667 non-profit organization´s utilization of Facebook before and during the fundraising event Omaha Gives in 2015 to encourage donations from stakeholders. Omaha Gives supports local non-profit organizations in the Omaha Metro area. The event is organized by Omaha Community Foundation and lasts 24 hours, on the Wednesday of the third week of May and donations are accepted through the website omahagives.org where the respective non-profit organization has created public profiles. Donators can donate an optional sum starting at $10.

“We model a non-profit´s fundraising success during Omaha Gives 2015 as a function of its Facebook network size (number of likes), activity (number of photos), and audience engagement (number of shares) as well as a set of organizational factors including budget size, age, prior participation in Omaha Gives…” Bahti and McDonnell say. Based on these assumptions 12 hypotheses were developed and tested in the study. The study focused on the 667 participating non-profit organizations that had a Facebook page. Content posted by respective non-profit organizations on Facebook from December 31, 2014, to May 20, 2015, (the day of the Omaha Gives 2015) that included the words ‘Omaha Gives’ or ‘May 20′ in various forms were assumed to be related to the Omaha Gives 2015 event and, therefore, taken into consideration.

Facebook network size, activity and audience engagement

Bhati and McDonnell argue that a non-profit organization´s Facebook network size (in terms of likes on the page), Facebook activity (in terms of posts created related to the fundraising event) and audience engagement all have a positive relationship to the monetary value of the respective donation. Similar, a non-profit organization´s Facebook network size and audience engagement are expected to have a positive impact on the number of unique donations received. However, Facebook activity is of less importance to the number of unique donations received.

The budget allotted to marketing activities

The more budget allotted to marketing activities, the more and bigger donations received during a fundraising event, Bhati and McDonnell claim. The budget may seemingly be of crucial importance, however, return on investment should be closely assessed. Bhati and McDonnell found that non-profit organizations which allotted between $250,000 and $1 million received up to 80% more in donations than non-profit organizations who allotted less than $250,000 and non-profit organizations who allotted more than $1 million raised over 250% more in donations than non-profit organizations which allotted less than $250,000. 250% increase in donations may seem out of this world but taken into consideration that these

non-profit organizations spent at least 400% on marketing activities compared to the companies with the smallest budget, the return on investment ratio is still negative.

Established lifetime and previous participation

Bhati and McDonnell say that the longer a non-profit organization has been established on the market the more, and greater donations it can expect to receive during a fundraising event in comparison to non-profit organizations that have been established more recently. Similar, non-profit organizations that participated in Omaha Gives previous years did receive more and greater donations during the Omaha Gives 2015 than first-time participants. Bhati and McDonnell believe non-profit organizations may learn from previous experiences of participating in a fundraising event that continuously improves their performance.

Bhati and McDonnell highlight that the return on investment for non-profit organizations with the varying budget was relatively stable leaving the most crucial factors of success to be Facebook network´s size, Facebook activity, and audience engagement. That said, they do raise a warning finger as maintaining social media presence requires resources and expertise. The importance of social media presence is especially important to small scale non-profit organizations that may tend to allot limited resources to online fundraising events. But by taking advantage of opportunities offered by social media small scale businesses could improve fundraising success drastically, Bhati and McDonnell suggest.

Linnea Nordqvist is an international student at UNCW with previous experience in global e-commerce marketing for profit-driven businesses.


Alfaro, L. (2015, August). Your $220 million to the ALS ice bucket challenge made a difference, study results show. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/your-220-million-to-the-als-bucket-challenge-made-a-difference-2015-8

Bhati, A. & McDonell, D. (2019). Success in an Online Giving Day: The Role of Social Media in Fundraising.

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 00 (0), pp. 1-19.

Nah, S., & Saxton, G. (2013). Modeling the adoption and use of social media by nonprofit organizations.

New Media & Society, 15(2), 294-313.