Monthly Archives: April 2009

Conflicting data on Facebook: good for university attachment, bad for Cause-related fundraising

(Facebook Wheel of Friendship - photo by jurvetson)

(Facebook Wheel of Friendship - photo by jurvetson)

Despite the online fundraising success of the Obama campaign, the Washington Post reports that Facebook Causes, “hugely popular among nonprofit organizations seeking to raise money online, has been largely ineffective in its first two years, trailing direct mail, fundraising events and other more traditional methods of soliciting contributions.” Only the Nature Conservancy and Students for a Free Tibet have raised more than $100,000 on Facebook Causes, and most of the 179,000 non-profits listed on Facebook don’t even make $1,000 from the site.  This is more depressing when you realize that Facebook usage has swelled to over 200 million.  Twenty five million Facebook users show their affinity through Facebook Causes and their belief in the environment or women’s rights or freedom of choice, but fewer than 1% of such users actually donate.

Other experiments have shown that 1-3% of a nonprofit group’s e-mail list donate money when solicited, at an average of about $80 per person. That is more than 44 times the rate at which such users are donating online through Facebook Causes.

Note: one reader, Will Coley, brought to my attention two blog postings contesting the Washington Post report.  See Fine Blog and  Beth’s Blog.  I don’t find these refutations all that persuasive; sure there are lot of Facebook Causes that are not NPOs (so the donation/cause is not the right statistic) and Facebook has a lot of young users (who are not big donors), but the original motivation of Facebook Causes was to help harness social networks to raise a lot for non-profits, and this has largely been a failure, although maybe it helps Facebook users to identify themselves with other users that share their values.

The more hopeful finding about Facebook comes from a recent paper “Social Capital, Self Esteem and the Use of Online Social Networks”.  [This is a longitudinal follow-up paper to an earlier paper by Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe in 2007 called “The Benefits of Facebook Friends: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites.“] Ellison et al. found in panel survey data they gathered at Michigan State University (MSU) stronger evidence that Facebook usage predicted later increased levels of “bridging social capital” than that “bridging social capital” caused increased Facebook use.  [Note: see below on their strange measure of bridging social capital.]

It’s an intriguing finding, although one should note that the size of the panel is quite small (92 students completed the earlier and later survey) and there was attrition both in whom they originally asked to do the survey (where only 277 out of 800 students contacted responded) and then secondary attrition when only a third of those 277 students then filled out the follow-up survey. [Ellison et al. note that the 92 seemed demographically representative of the 277 students, but one can never know about hidden attributes that might have explained why people would stick with the survey and also explained why these same people would have made more friends.]

Moreover, one would suppose that the power of Facebook to build social capital and bridging social capital is probably higher at a university setting where most of the e-friendships are in the same town, and one is thus more likely to encounter budding Facebook friends in real life.  (Almost all research shows that it is easier to build trust and stronger ties face-to-face, so having a strong geographic concentration of Facebook friends and ‘near friends’,  in an environment where new students are establish friends,  should provide Facebook with the strongest dynamic for friend-building.)

The paper, as I noted in a blog post on the earlier study, uses weird measures of bridging social capital.  Bridging social capital is supposed to measure the degree to which one has social friendships to people of a different religion, or social class, or race or ethnicity.  Their “bridging” measures are more about attachment to MSU as a community and include: “I feel I am part of the MSU community”, “I am interested in what goes on at MSU”, “MSU is a good place to be”, “I would be willing to contribute money to MSU after graduation”, “Interacting with people at MSU makes me want to try new things”, etc.    I definitely had loyalty to my college when I was there, but I don’t know that this necessarily says a whit about how diverse my friendships were there.

With this unusual measure of “bridging social capital”, the researchers found that both higher-esteem and lower-esteem students were likely to benefit by increased “bridging social capital” (i.e., have a stronger attachment to MSU) from Facebook use, although this effect was highest for students with low self-esteem at the beginning of the study.  And they found that Facebook produced greater attachment to MSU even after controlling for general Internet use and measures of psychological well-being.

While their survey doesn’t directly get at this question, it seems somewhat different than the common findings with technology that the socially-rich get richer, and, rather than leveling the playing field, it may fuerther tilt it.  Ellison et al. don’t directly measure level of social capital at the outset, but in their finding that those low in self-esteem may benefit the most (at least in attachment to MSU), it suggests that at least in this domain the socially unattached may benefit more.

For more information, see :

Charles Steinfield, Nicole B. Ellison, Cliff Lampe. Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology 29 (2008) 434–445

To Nonprofits Seeking Cash, Facebook App Isn’t So Green: Though Popular, ‘Causes’ Ineffective for Fundraising by Kim Hart and Megan Greenwell (Wash Post, 4/22/09)

Great day for national service

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

Community Service Graffiti (look closely)-by EgoAnt

The number of Americans annually participating in national service programs will triple under legislation approved today by the House of Representatives and approved last week by the Senate, from 75,000 a year to 250,000 by 2017.  Especially heartening, given my experience as a senior policy advisor in the Senate on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 was the level of bipartisan support.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed the House 275-149 with almost all Democrats supporting it.  While a clear majority of Republicans were opposed, it still garnered 26 Republican votes.  The Senate had passed the same legislation last Thursday in a 78-20 vote, including 22 Republicans.  It is expected that  President Obama, who campaigned on this issue will sign it into law shortly.

The legislation creates  four new corps to address needs in low-income communities: a Clean Energy Corps (CEC) that deals with energy efficiency and conservation; an Education Corps to increase student engagement and achievement; a Healthy Futures Corps to improve access to health-care; and a Veterans Service Corps to help veterans get needed social services.  The CEC will build energy-efficient low-income housing, provide clean energy-related services designed to meet the needs of rural communities, and work with schools and youth programs to educate students and youth about ways to reduce home energy use and improve the environment.

The bill creates new programs for a wide range of age groups. A new Summer of Service program for middle- and high-school students encourages them to volunteer in their communities by allowing them to earn $500 to be used toward college costs. Students will be eligible to participate in two terms, earning up to $1,000. The Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships are two programs that offer Americans age 55 or older post-career service opportunities, as well as a way into new careers in the nonprofit or public sector. The federal education reward that volunteers receive for their service, rises to $5,350 starting next year, from the current $4,725 and is then indexed to increases in Pell grants.

The bill also dramatically strengthens service learning – using community service projects as a vehicle to strengthen and enforce academic learning in schools.  [Studies have found that service learning can be an especially effective way to teach since the service projects often require underlying academic skills which students are more motivated to learn or practice if they understand their relevance, and which students remember better afterwards.  An example might be teaching students about scientific measurement by measuring pollution in a river and sharing these results with local environmental groups or officials.]

National service has huge ripple effects on volunteering.  The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps program, estimates that the 75,000 AmeriCorps members who served last year  supervised 2.2 million community volunteers.

Interest in volunteering is rising amid the worsening economy, the sheen that President Obama has given to this issue, and the coming of age of a more altruistic generation, many who got exposure to volunteering in school.   But the economic downturn has also hit the younger generation harder.  Of the 1.2 million jobs lost last year, 60% were held by workers under the age of 25, according to the office of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.).

There were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online system last month, over triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008.  In 2007, more than 61 million Americans spent over 8 billion hours volunteering. More than a quarter of young Americans 16-25 have volunteered. And nearly 65,000 college students prepared to do volunteer work for spring break this year, up 11% over last year.

“The silver lining of economic downturns is that more Americans, especially Millennials, are flocking to public-service positions,” said Sandy Scott, CNCS spokesman.

Investing in service also leverages impressive economic returns. In 2007, volunteers generated $158 billion worth of economic benefits. A cost-benefit analysis of AmeriCorps, for example, showed that every $1 invested produced returns of $1.50 to $3.90 in direct measurable benefits.

As Patrick Kennedy said on the floor of the House before passage: ” There’s an old saying that reads, ‘The most sacred thing one person can give another, outside of their love, is their labor.’  That goes to the core of why supporting programs that promote volunteerism and community service is so important..”

Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee noted on the floor of the House:

History has shown that in times of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit and generosity of the American people is one of our nation’s greatest assets….We see this every single day. In the past week, North and South Dakota have been in a state of emergency, with communities facing severe flooding as the snow melts. As they have in so many other times of disaster, Americans showed up to help. Officials estimate that there are tens of thousands of volunteers who have already been on the ground for days, lining the shores of the river with over 1.5 million sandbags to help stop the flooding. In Fargo, a city with a population of 90,000, 80,000 volunteers showed up to help.They’ve driven through treacherous conditions from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and beyond, ready to serve and ready to help….This legislation is just what we need, at this pivotal moment, to get our nation back on track.

President Obama commented: “”I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”

A summary of the legislation is available here.

A summary of the service learning provisions is available here.

In the run-up to the bill being passed there were also strong editorials or op-eds:

Bruce Reed and John Bridgeland , Volunteer to Save the Economy, NYT op-ed (1/23/09), noting that since those doing national service cost far less, they could provide an outsize economic stimulus per dollar invested.

The Moment for National Service, NYT Editorial (1/26/09)

Colin Powell, Let’s Renew America Together, WSJ Op-Ed (1/17/09), discussing the importance of USAservice.org

[I]n times of need…, [t]his is not a time to retreat to our homes and wait until it’s safe to emerge. It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good….You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.

Read previous Social Capital blog posts on the importance of national service.