Do you run a non-profit animal rescue? Do you find it difficult to raise donations on social media? Well, I’m about to show you the top lessons I’ve learned while managing a non-profit horse rescue Facebook page.
Don’t let anyone fool you, gaining traction on Facebook is not at all easy. The longer time has gone on, the tougher it has become to obtain followers and raise money for animal non-profits. Add to that the fact that most rescues are run by wonderful, caring individuals who are volunteering all hours of the day and night, sometimes to exhaustion, and have little time or advanced social media skills to devote to a horse rescue Facebook page.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been in the animal welfare world for 20 years and I know many of their stories. They tell me how they feel and are frustrated because it takes a lot of financial resources to rescue horses.
My journey to Hanaeleh Horse Rescue
After years of witnessing the atrocities perpetrated on horses over many years, in 2012 I decided I wanted to volunteer where I could make a difference. There was a YouTube video I saw from a rancher who was very angry that horse slaughter wasn’t legal in the U.S. anymore and he wanted to show everyone how unfair it was, so he shot his horse right there on camera and said, “And that’s what I think of all you anti-slaughter people.”
That was the turning point for me. I found Hanaeleh through a mutual friend, showed up and I’ve been cleaning stalls and grooming horses ever since.
Hanaeleh is a 501(c)(3) (Tax ID 20-3255341) non-profit horse rescue operating in Southern California since 2004. We’re a Verified Rescue with Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and Platinum-Star rated on Guidestar.
We rescue all breeds and ages of horses, and after we rehabilitate them, we work to find them new loving homes. When horses are not adoptable due to severe neglect or abuse, we provide sanctuary for them to live out their days knowing they’ll always be loved and cared for.
I’ve been with Hanaeleh Horse Rescue for 8 years and because I do digital/social media strategy for a living, it is my honor to use my skills to help us save more horses.
Today, I want to share those skills with you.
When I first arrived at Hanaeleh, we had 638 Facebook fans and nothing much was happening on the page. I asked if I could manage the page, and due to the issue I sighted above about 24/7 rescue, the founder said, “Yes!”
Growing the Hanaeleh Horse Rescue Facebook Page
Back in the olden days of Facebook eight years ago, the core strategy (because Facebook told us so) was to grow your page likes (“fans”). I quickly set up a Facebook ad to grow our likes, with a budget of $200-300/month, targeting local So Cal horse lovers, eventually increasing the geographical audience to the United States.
As the audience grew, it allowed us to spread our message. Today, we have over 75,000 fans and we no longer run those “page like” ads because we rely on what’s called Organic Reach, which simply means not paying to grow our page. Facebook has throttled back on Organic Reach over the years (reducing it in some cases to less than 1%) but we still get pretty high engagement due to the content we post.
Facebook metrics have changed and while it’s still important to grow your page, it’s not as important now to have thousands of fans. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to have them, but if you don’t, there are other ways to reach people. A small engaged audience will always be more valuable than a large disengaged one.
Facebook Fundraising: With Challenge Comes Opportunity
A few months after I’d been managing the page, we began to see our donations drop for no apparent reason. Up until this point, we didn’t have a clear donor outreach/fundraising strategy or process. I made a plan to change that by trying a Facebook fundraiser.
My career comes from the “for profit” world so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but I thought, “If this works, we are golden!”
We set the goal of raising $5,000 within 30 days and tried to keep my expectations in check.
The fundraiser began on August 5th and we hit our $5,000 goal by August 22nd. No one was more surprised than me!
Not too long after the first fundraiser, I was asked to become a (volunteer) board member.
I’ve been doing these same Facebook fundraisers three times a year for 7 years and while things have changed on Facebook many times over, we always meet or exceed our goal. I do have to admit though that I get antsy every time we start another one. It’s only natural to think, “Is this the one that won’t work?” But every single time, we meet and often exceed our goal and it’s a tribute to our village of engaged fans and our awesome volunteer team.
The last Facebook fundraiser I conducted in April 2020 was a scary one due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19. We were all a little terrified that we wouldn’t reach our goal but nevertheless, we persisted. I’m proud to say that we started the fundraiser on April 1st, 2020 and hit our goal on April 9th, 2020.
Never underestimate the power of the village that supports your organization.
14 Lessons from Managing a 75,000+ Non-Profit Horse Rescue Facebook Page
I’ve compiled the list of tips for you in case you’d like to raise more money for your non-profit rescue using Facebook. I admit it does take some marketing skills to pull off but these tips will get you started. The secret is to devote yourself to a process that works for you everyday. Once you get the process down, it’s easier to devote a small amount of resources in order to get good results.
Here’s a link to our Facebook page so you can see what we’re doing in real time.
1. Like every comment.
Each comment on your posts is from someone real. React to each one so they feel heard by simply liking their comment (or choose another reaction). Responding to your fans makes them feel good and increases your engagement metric.
When you like every comment, it’s a great way to track the comments you’ve seen. That way, when you return the next day, you’ll already know the comments you’ve seen because they are liked.
2. Reply to some comments.
There will be some comments where you’ll either want to reply or will need to (ex: if the person asks a question).
If someone posts a picture of their horse, be sure to recognize them by commenting back. During fundraisers, some people will reply “donated!” in the comments of your fundraiser post. I always reply back, “Thank you, [name]!”
3. Pay attention to Top Fans.
Facebook users now have the option of adding a “Top Fan” to their profile. On your page, you’ll see the “Top Fan” label above their name when they comment. These are your most engaged fans and it’s always good to reply and recognize their participation. You can even ask them a question back like, “How are things with you?”
4. Ask for pictures.
People will comment about their own horse. Reply asking them to share a picture of their horse and ask its name. When they post the picture, reply with a comment like, “Oh, she’s beautiful!” or “What a sweetie!” We all like to be acknowledged and it keeps fans coming back.
5. Take every chance to inform.
Hanaeleh publishes blog posts and pages on our website about the numerous topics and issues surrounding horse welfare. We like to keep our village informed of what’s happening with specific local, State and Federal policy. We also like to share our knowledge of horse care. Our founder, Elizabeth, has been a trainer for 30 years and teaches horse care academies during the Summer.
Providing helpful information is something that gets you noticed. With all the noise on Facebook, that’s a very good thing. Your fans will perceive your organization as a trusted resource and ask more questions as they become involved in horse welfare themselves. It’s a win-win for horses!
6. Correct when necessary…gently.
As a horse rescue that attracts horse people, we’re aware and are grateful that everyone has their own way of doing things. We are all different and we all care about our horses. You will get an opinion or two about something someone has seen in a photograph or a video you’ve posted. Should their comment be misleading or simply wrong, it’s ok to gently correct where they might have misunderstood.
It’s always good to have solid, trustworthy information be as clear as possible. You’re not correcting them to make them wrong, you’re correcting the comment so it’s clear to all users what your intended message is.
In some cases, correcting them will inflame the situation so be careful. When this arises (and it will), make sure you have a policy for reacting to negative comments (see #11 below).
7. Allow messages to the page.
Many people prefer to connect with you via Facebook (rather than email or phone). Check your settings and make sure you allow messages to the page.
It’s a good practice to set up an automatic response because you’re typically not immediately available (as is common in rescue). People will be assured that you’ll get back to them. An automatic response can be set up on the Inbox tab at the top of your page, then click on “Automated Responses.”
Example Automated Response: “Thank you for messaging us. We respond regularly but if your message is urgent, please contact us at [phone number] or [email].
There are a myriad of reasons why someone would want to send you a private message and it’s a good form of communication between you organization and your fans/donors.
8. Respond to messages as quickly as you can.
Facebook actually monitors and measures how quickly you respond to messages. Check your messages as part of your daily process and it will become less burdensome. It takes me less than 5 minutes each day and I do it at the same time I review our posts and comments.
9. Publish content that your fans enjoy.
What you publish on your page is very important. The quality of your content is directly related to your success. Overall, your content should be informative and/or entertaining.
Engagement is key (likes, comments and shares). The greatest achievement is when someone shares your post because each time someone shares, your content is visible in the sharer’s network, increasing your reach exponentially.
Because shares are so important, I publish memes regularly that help people express themselves. If they see a meme with a quote they love, their common reaction is to share it.
Memes (pronounced “meem” or plural “meems”) are simply images with a text overlay, like a quote, and look similar to the image at the top of this post. I schedule our memes to post in the future using a tool called Post Planner. It allows me to set the memes to repeat at certain intervals (say every 12 weeks). Over time, you build up a nice “content library” that runs in the background without you having to remember to do it everyday.
I use Canva to make the memes. It’s super easy to use and delivers great looking graphics.
The balance of your content can be the following (images or video):
- Real time images of your horses, volunteers, and general goings-on around the ranch.
- Asking for donations or to sponsor a horse.
- Stories about your horses’ rescues.
- New adoptions and rescues.
10. Tell the horses’ stories.
When you post images or video of your horses, take the opportunity to tell their rescue story. Why?
- People connect with stories.
- People new to the page or are rarely on Facebook don’t often know how your horses were rescued.
- Stories forge a path to an emotional connection, improving monthly sponsorship and donations.
11. Implement a policy for responding to negative comments.
Having managed Hanaeleh’s large horse rescue Facebook page for the last eight years, it’s safe to say we have gotten our fair share of people who bring negativity to our community. We watch this very closely and have a specific policy and procedure for addressing them.
Your options for dealing with negative comments are the following:
- Hide a comment (the user will still see their comment but no one else will). We typically use this option when someone uses off-color NSFW language.
- Delete the comment (the user will no longer see their comment on your page).
- Ban the user. We use this option when it’s clear the user is not providing value to our community and may be there to start trouble or call out other members.
- In extreme circumstances, we will often delete the comment and ban the user.
Be prepared with a plan. It’s not a question of if but when negative comments will happen. No need to fret – it’s your page and you are simply exercising your power to manage your page.
12. Do a fundraiser, but do it right.
Raising money is the #1 goal for non-profits and I see a lot of missed opportunities on the many horse and animal rescue pages I follow.
Hot tip: Refrain from using the “Facebook Donate Button.” It allows Facebook to collect donations on your behalf but you don’t ever get to know who those people are, which ruins your chance of asking them to donate again. FACT: people who donate are likely to donate again. When you ask for donations, refrain from involving Facebook and instead, provide a link to your PayPal and mailing address (for checks).
Find a way to enter donors information into a database software solution (we use Little Green Light). It integrates with PayPal so when someone donates, their information is automatically entered. We enter checks manually.
I follow a standard set of tactics when I run our Facebook fundraisers.
- Begin with a “Main Graphic” to announce the fundraiser.
- Provide compelling copy to attract potential donors. Set a deadline to meet your goal.
- I keep track of donations on a Google Sheet (similar to Excel) just so I know who to thank quickly.
- As donations come in, publish posts with pics of your horses thanking donors by name.
- Provide periodic updates to keep everyone engaged and cheering you on to meet your goal.
Part of my fundraising strategy includes an email to our subscriber list. I could talk about email strategy all day but that’s for another post. I just wanted to make you aware that it’s a powerful tool.
Pro Tip: I created a Case Study (which is basically a “how to”) for our fundraisers. If you’d like a free copy, simply contact me here. I’m happy to give it to you but I want to talk with you first to make sure you’ve got the best chance at implementing the strategies successfully.
13. Leverage Facebook ads to promote your fundraisers.
To promote our fundraisers, I use a small budget of approx $200 in order to raise approx $5,000. I use the mindset of “Spend a little to get a lot.” However, Facebook ads can be tricky when you’ve not familiar with the platform.
I promote the main graphic post (pictured above) as a “Boost”, which is accessed by the Boost button on the post. The first time you use Facebook ads, you’ll need to set up an ads account by providing a credit card. Facebook will bill you depending on the frequency of your ads but typically it will be once per month.
I typically target (send ads to) “Fans of Your Page and their Friends” and limit the geographic area to our state (California). That’s because most of our donations come from this area. Yours may be different but it’s a best practice to know where your donations come from so you can target the same area.
It’s natural to think that it’s better to reach a large audience but trying to reach a large audience when you are “local” will cost much more and won’t typically achieve the results you desire. A smaller, engaged audience always outruns a large, disengaged one.
14. Don’t have an ad budget? Make relationship building your currency until you do.
Facebook is a social network. When you’re just beginning or are having financial challenges, you don’t have extra funds to promote your page. You’re simply keeping things afloat, perhaps on a wing and prayer.
My hope by providing this info is that it will help you determine a path that works for you with the resources you currently have. Then, with some time, your resources and options grow, and you’ll be able to achieve your fundraising goals.
Networking is key to building your Facebook page.
- Keep posting awesome, shareable content.
- Spend 15 minutes per day engaging with your fans (responding to comments and messages).
- Keep the faith, your page will grow.
Networking requires a “time” resource (which is likely also in short supply). My goal is to help you determine how to best work with the resources you have and create a path where volunteers and other resources can be found.
My intention is to save more animals. If I can provide the information you need so that your organization can begin to have more stable footing (higher engagement and more donations), then you’ll have more time to rescue and care for animals!
If you have any questions or would like to build on these tips by working with me, contact me here.