The keys to successful campaigns on Facebook

Nathan Mackenzie Brown, founder of Really American, shows how running petitions with donation upsells can have a huge impact on Facebook, for organizations large and small. Learn how to see success in your own campaigns on Facebook.

Meet Really American

Really American helps concerned citizens defend truth, democracy, social justice and the environment against the corruption, fraud and lies that Bernie Sanders exposed to the American public during the 2016 presidential election.

Campaign goals:

The goals of this campaign were three part:

  1. Grow Really American’s email list of supporters
  2. Use a donation upsell immediately after the petition to raise money to cover the ad costs required to push out the campaigns.
  3. Try to make more in donations than was needed to put back into ads.


From April 1st to July 25th, Brown worked hard to meet the goals above. The results blew us away. In the end he:

  • Built an email list of over 49,000 supporters
  • Acquired over 500 donors
  • Made $2,722.57 in donations after what he spent on ads

According to Brown:

“Typically non-profit organizations and political campaigns will pay $1-$2 to acquire email leads. I actually made about $.06 on average per email address I acquired during this time period. Someone who works in the digital consulting world on political campaigns heard about my results and thought they were impossible until he saw the analytics screenshots from my Facebook ad account. I’d say accomplishing results that are so good as to be considered impossible is reason to be happy!”

Results like that are something to be happy about!


During the project, Brown launched over 80 different petitions, coupled with donation up sells. What do we mean by “donation up sells”? Any supporter who clicked on his petition would first be asked to sign and support the cause. Then, on the following thank you page, they had the opportunity to pitch in a few dollars as well.

“I ran upsells right after people signed the petition where I asked people to donate money to help get more people to sign the petitions. I chose this method because I saw doing this on their petitions and I have seen doing it as well. I figured it probably would work well given that these large organizations use a similar approach. It tooks some testing on wording, but once I got it right it worked effectively to cover more than the ad spend on petitions that were really hot.”

Brown found up sells engaged his supporters better than a straight donation action. Up sells follow the same principles of Micro-Commitments, laid out here. In other words, if someone takes a small action for you, like signing a petition or pledging their support, they are much more likely to take action again. Brown agreed:

“One of the most interesting things I saw pretty consistently was the lower the acquisition cost on email signatures, the higher the percentage of people who gave donations, and the more money I made per donation. I think this indicates that when a petition resonated for people at a high level, it was because people thought it might really help the situation, and so it was worth donating to as well as signing.”

Through this process Brown used his page to prove what worked and what didn’t, giving him the ability to fine tune his work and focus his energy where it mattered most. But how does one come up with that many petitions and ideas to test? According to Brown:

“What I found worked best for me was to find articles on topics that I thought could make good petitions. I posted those to my page to see how my audience responded. When something got a lot more engagement, I focused on making a petition about it. Obviously this required having enough followers that I could get some reasonable engagement on my posts. If one doesn’t have a big enough following, then you might want to test the articles with a small ad spend to your desired target audience to see if they respond before making the petitions.”

Through this method, he was able to find the formula for successful petitions:

“Find something people are really upset about, which is trending and ties into your cause. Identify a bad actor that is involved in the situation. Identify a third party that people believe would actually do something about the situation if enough people sign a petition about the issue.”

Campaign creative:

During this time, Brown launched over 80 different petitions and upsells! We’ll just dig into his top three:

Action number one: Sign If You Want Every Vote Counted In California!

What the post did well:

  • Makes use of hashtags, exposing the cause to a wider audience
  • Made use of clear, concise language that demonstrated why supporters should click, and what’s at stake.

What the petition did well:

  • The petition made use of urgent language and a clear, concise call to action for maximum completions
  • It takes advantage of a “strength in numbers” mentality. Brown asked folks to add their names to the growing list of supporters just like them, not solve the problem by themselves.

The results:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.15.28 PM

Action number two: Sign Petition: Investigate CA & NY Voter Suppression!

What the post did well:

  • Clear call to action that sets the stage
  • Large, engaging image of Bernie Sanders that grabs attention and makes you want to stop scrolling and check it out

What the petition did well:

  • The petition itself made use of clear, urgent language
  • Uses a concise call to action for maximum completions

The results:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.17.10 PM

Action number three: Add Your Name To Punish Voter Suppression!

What the post did well:

  • Uses a clear call to action that sets the stage up front
  • Includes a large, engaging image of Bernie Sanders that grabs attention and makes you want to stop scrolling and check it out.

What the petition did well:

  • Made use of clear, urgent language
  • Uses a clear, concise call to action for maximum completions

The results:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.18.24 PM

Overall, these top three petitions enjoyed an average conversion rate of 53% and 84,142 Facebook shares!

Campaign lessons and takeaways

So how can your nonprofit enjoy this same level of success?

  • Post and test as much as you can! Brown created and promoted over 80 different petitions to learn what resonated the best with his supporters.
  • Use the trending stories and topics folks are currently talking about as inspiration for new petition ideas. This will help create enough petitions to run a test of this size.
  • If you can, spend a little money on Facebook ads to get the ball rolling.
  • Double down on what works and leave the rest behind. Your supporters are the experts on what engages them, not you 🙂
  • Be as clear and concise as possible when framing your issue and call to action.

About Nathan Mackenzie Brown and Really American: Brown is currently running similar campaigns now for a Mayor’s race in California and for a bike advocacy organization in California in partnership with AHG. They are interested in finding 1-2 more clients to work with on this sort of basis. In addition, they are in the early stages of seeking seed money from large donors to scale the activities of Really American’s email list building and fundraising activities. You can reach Brown by direct messaging the Really American Facebook page.

How your nonprofit can leverage viral reach for good on Facebook

These days, we hear a lot about “going viral” online. Our friends send us “viral” cat videos that everyone is watching. It feels like we see the same “viral” memes and videos every time we open our phones. Invariably, we feel pressure to make something viral to promote our own nonprofit.

What is virility anyway? How does one “go viral” or become a viral hit? Is it even possible to control?

This article will define what viral reach means on Facebook and how you might leverage it to introduce more people to your organization and cause.

Defining Viral Reach

The definition of viral reach on Facebook is actually pretty straightforward. Viral reach is anytime someone who isn’t a fan of your Facebook page sees one of your posts. This means they have not liked your Facebook page yet, may not have heard of your organization before and may not even know about your cause.

That’s it. Pretty simply right?

How do people outside my page fans see my posts?

A common misconception is that only your Facebook page fans can see your posts. This is simply not true. When you post to Facebook, anyone has the chance to see that post. Your page fans will be the first people to see your post, but once it’s out in the wild on Facebook it has the potential to go far beyond just your page fans.

The proof of this is shown by one of our fun, demo pages “Cats oh my”. This page had 3,738 fans at the time of this writing:

viral reach

To date, 18,036 people have engaged with the content we publish to this page.

viral reach

This means almost 20,000 people have reacted to, commented on, or shared one of our “Cats of my” posts even though we have less than 4,000 page fans! So how are they finding our content in their personal news feeds if they don’t like our page?

According to Facebook:

“It’s possible to see posts from people and Pages you aren’t connected with if a friend or Page that you are connected with engages with that post. For example, if you’re friends with Joan Smith you could see a story in your News Feed that says “Joan Smith liked this post from Mercy Corps”, even if you have not liked the Mercy Corps Page. When you create posts that people engage with, your content will reach more people who have liked your Page and their friends.”

That means if your core group of Facebook page fans are highly engaged with your content, it’s likely to spread to their friends and family as well. Now if their friends and family also engage with the content it could spread to their friends and family as well. And so on and so on. Are you beginning to see how your content has the potential to ripple out across Facebook in a powerful way?

Can I influence this in my favor?

Viral reach clearly has some serious power behind it to further our cause and organization on Facebook! The question is, can we control it and leverage it to our advantage? The answer is yes and no.

First of all, anyone who tells you they know the secret to viral reach or can promise you viral reach is, one: trying to take advantage of you, or two: very misguided themselves. In short, there is no magic bullet for viral reach. You cannot “make” something or viral or set out to create a “viral video”. It simply isn’t that easy or straightforward. There is a lot of luck, randomness and chance that goes into something taking off and “becoming viral”.

But with that being said, you do have some influence over the reach of your content. Again, according to Facebook:

“A key tactic to reach a desired audience is to create content that they want to see and be seen sharing. You should think strategically about how to post content that is relevant to that audience, that they might like, share, comment on, or generally enjoy reading. To do this, it helps to understand the characteristics of your desired audience and the type of content they typically engage with.”

If you can figure out what types of posts your Facebook page fans are most likely to go bananas over and share themselves, you can increase the likelihood of viral reach.

Don’t worry, if you’re not sure what types of content will inspire your page fans to engage with and share your content, there are ways to figure it out:

“If you don’t know what people in your community want, find out by testing a variety of posts. You don’t need to have a perfect posting strategy from the beginning. Try posting regularly while intentionally changing the post length, type, tone and topic. After a couple weeks, go back and look at the Post Insights to see which posts are being engaged with. The goal is to hone in on the type of content and calls to action that are resonating with your supporters.”

There are also tools to help you along the way! You can learn what your audience likes through your Facebook Page Insights or your ActionSprout Timeline.

Key takeaways

It is possible to reach a large number of people outside your core Facebook fanbase. When you reach a number of these “non-page fans” it’s called viral reach or “going viral”. You do have some influence over this and can increase your likelihood of viral reach by sharing content you think your page fans will love and want to share with their own networks of friends and family.

ActionSprout Demo: Learning about Social Actions

Live recorded demo on social actions:

Notes and links

  1. Social action best practices that will increase your conversion rate.
  2. How to set an ActionSprout action as your Facebook page CTA button.
  3. How to export your action data out of ActionSprout.
  4. Case study: How 1,000 Days received 230,000 signatures and 82,000 new Facebook fans in four months.
  5. Case Study: How AlterNet received 7,000 signatures in one week.

Why you should post 2 to 3 times a day on Facebook

In the broadest sense, your nonprofit maintains a Facebook page in order to engage people in your cause. The execution and nitty gritty will be different, but how you get there will be the same: by posting engaging content on your Facebook page.

Posting engaging content is your number one job on Facebook and your primary means for reaching and engaging your current supporters, along with new, potential supporters. So how do you “post well” on Facebook and reach your goals?

There are two laws to follow when posting on Facebook:

  1. Post when your supporters are most likely to be on Facebook
  2. Post at least two to three times a day

This article will walk you through law #2. We’ll discuss:

  1. Why two to three posts a day is the optimal number to reach and engage as many supporters as possible
  2. Why you don’t have to worry about overwhelming or spamming your supporters with too many posts
  3. How you can create and find all this content

Why your goal should be 2 to 3 posts a day

To understand why we should be posting so often, we need some context on the Facebook environment. According to Facebook there are:

“More than 1.6 billion people [who] use Facebook to connect to the things they care about…On average, there are more than a billion stories posted to Facebook every day.”

That is a lot of people and posts!

What the folks at Facebook quickly learned was that showing every user every possible post, from the friends, family and the pages they followed, was out of the question. If they did so, every user would have to scroll through roughly 1,500 posts per day to find the posts and stories they really cared about. Thus, Facebook developed a powerful algorithm to decide which of these 1,500 possible posts each user receives in their news feed, and which are the most important to put at the top.

That means each time you post to Facebook, roughly 5% of your page fans, on average, will receive the post in their news feed. Based on their past behavior and browsing patterns, Facebook has decided these particular 5% are the folks most likely to enjoy and engage with the content you just published. In short, Facebook matches the right people with the right posts.

Now this brings us back to posting two to three times a day! Because such a small percentage of people receive each of your posts, it’s extremely unlikely that one single person will see all of the content you publish in a day, because the algorithm is matching up the right people with the right posts.

Thus, each time you post, that post is reaching and potentially engaging a new 5% of your supporter base that will be more likely to enjoy your post. This means that by simply posting two to three times a day you can increase your reach and engagement without paying for it through Facebook advertising.

Who doesn’t want that!

It’s really hard to spam your supporters on Facebook

Think about it, Facebook is more afraid of spamming their users than you are. Without its users, Facebook has nothing! Because of this, your goals and Facebook’s goals are aligned: engage people with awesome content and make them want to come back for more!

We already touched on this fact before: it’s extremely unlikely that one unique person will see all the content you publish in the course of a day. If they do see several of your posts, it means they have engaged with your content so often that Facebook has decided to show them more of it. This is a good thing, and definitely not spammy behavior on your part! They’re asking Facebook for more of your content through their actions!

But how does Facebook know who to deliver your posts to, and how often?

“The three main types of signals used to estimate a post’s relevance to each person are:

  1. WHO POSTED IT – The friends, family, news sources, businesses and public figures a person interacts with most are prioritized in their News Feed.
  2. POST TYPE – Whether it’s photos, videos, or links, News Feed prioritizes the types of posts that a person interacts with most frequently.
  3. POST ACTIVITY – Posts that have a lot of likes, comments and shares (especially from the people a person interacts with most) could appear higher in a person’s feed.”

By following these rules, Facebook does a really good job figuring out which users to show which posts. And, to reverse that, Facebook is really good at not delivering content to users who won’t enjoy it. Therefore your supporters rarely receive a post from you that they won’t like or might feel is spammy:

“The goal of News Feed is to show people the stories that matter to them most — by showing people the most relevant stories to them higher up in their feeds, we hope to create the best, personalized experience for everyone using Facebook. We do this by taking into account thousands of signals and ranking stories from most to least relevant for each person. Every time someone refreshes their feed, News Feed ranks all the stories they are eligible to see and delivers them in this order to their feed.”

That opens you up to post more often, take more risks with posting, and try new things. If a post doesn’t “work”, very few people will receive it, and you can fail gracefully.

Remember, no one visits your Facebook page but you and your team!

How you can create and find this much content

Let’s quickly recap before we go any further. First, we now know that posting the optimal two to three times a day means we can increase the number of supporters we reach and engage on Facebook without spending any money on Facebook ads.

Second, posting frequently does not mean spamming your supporters. Facebook is really good at figuring out which posts to show to which users in order to make them happy and willing to spend more time on Facebook. And more time on Facebook means more time consuming your content!

So how do we come up with two to three posts everyday to publish on Facebook? Two words: Content Curation. 80% of the time, you will share images, videos and news created by others that relates to your cause. The last 20% of the time, you’ll create your own original content in house.

If this is setting off plagiarism warning bells inside your head, you’re not alone. Here’s why sharing other’s content on Facebook is not only encouraged, but built into the core design of the platform.

There are many ways to find and choose the content you’ll share from others. You can use Facebook’s Interest Lists feature, ActionSprout’s Inspiration feature, Google Alerts and many more!

When in doubt, repost your own high performing content a second or third time to your page! According to Facebook:

“It is not bad to periodically re-post your top performing content. If you find that a topic or image gets a lot of engagement, try re-posting it. Because News Feed curates what each person sees in order to serve them the most relevant and interesting content, it is very hard to “spam” the people who have liked your Page.”

How you find this content doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re posting two to three times a day, when your supporters are most likely to on Facebook. That’s it. If you follow these two laws of posting you’ll be much more likely to reach your organizational goals on Facebook.

Happy posting!

August: Giving Tuesday Strategy

This guide is part of a series of guides designed to get your nonprofit ready for #GivingTuesday. If you haven’t read the first two guides in the series, we strongly suggest that you start there, as the following guide will then make more sense. Here is June and July.

Last time, we discussed how to measure the success of your Facebook posts and thus the success of your new content strategy. Hopefully, you’ve used the tips given last time to gain some new learnings and insights into your supporters and what kinds of posts they enjoy the most. Even better if you’ve started applying these learnings to your ongoing content curation!

This month, we want to show you how to put a little ad money behind your posts to give your Page a little boost.

Before you click the back button because you have no budget for ads, keep reading!

If your nonprofit has absolutely no budget for Facebook advertising, please review our guide on comment management this month instead. Properly managing and responding to comments is one of the most important things that you can do on Facebook. It will also influence the success of your #GivingTuesday campaign as you’re building up relationships with folks who may be your new donors come November.

Boosting Your (Best) Posts

Today, we’re only going to talk about putting ad money behind your most successful posts. This may feel counterintuitive, but hang in there with us!

In a nutshell, Facebook has an algorithm that governs a user’s unique News Feed, and an algorithm that decides where ads will be placed in their News Feed. While these two algorithms are different, there is enough overlap to use success in the News Feed as an indicator that something will also perform well as an ad.

Performing well as an ad means a lower cost per result and reaching more of your intended audience. Following this rule of thumb means that you can pay as little as $5 to $10 a day and still receive great results. Or if you don’t have the budget for daily ads, many organizations spend as little as $20 a month for very similar results. It all depends on what works best for you and your budget.

To tease out which posts are high-performing and should be boosted with ad money, use the same methods that we covered last month when evaluating your posts and finding the high-performing ones to learn from. (We said that this could be done through ActionSprout’s Timeline feature or Facebook Insights.)

Once you have your high-performing posts, you have two options to boost.


If you have an ActionSprout account, you can turn on the SmartAds tool inside your account and have the process above happen automatically on Facebook for you! SmartAds is designed to find your top-performing posts and automatically put money behind them. Simply connect the ad account that you wish to use and your monthly budget. If you’re aiming for $5 a day, like discussed above, that would be a monthly budget of $150. Otherwise, find the budget that works for you.

Facebook Ads Manager

You can also manually perform the above through your Facebook Ads Manager.

When asked which type of ad you wish to create, simply select “Boost your posts”:


You’ll be asked to fill in your budget and your target audience (whom you’d like your post to reach). Again, a budget as little as $5 a day can lead to great results when boosting high-performing posts:

giving tuesday

You also have the option to set a lifetime budget.

Next, simply find the post that you’d like to boost. First, you’ll select the Facebook Page that the post appears on and then a list of that Page’s posts:

giving tuesdaypa

Note: If you need further help with Facebook advertising, please see Facebook’s full documentation and their help on post ads in particular.


While running advertisements, it’s more important than ever to be practicing content curation (posting high-performing content two to three times a day). Running any kind of advertising means that you’re reaching more people on Facebook, and naturally, more of these people will like your Page. (Even if you’re not running Page-like ads.) With all these new folks coming in, you’ll want to make sure that you hook them right away with awesome content so that they stick around and become engaged supporters.

As you can already see, each month is building on previous months. As such, it’s important to keep up with the activities that we address each time so that the coming months can be as productive as possible.