Is It Safe to Donate Money on Facebook for Birthday Causes?

Facebook birthday charity fundraisers have raised millions, if not billions. Here's what happens behind the scenes.

Woman considering donating to a Facebook charity for a friend's birthday cause.
Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

A simple "Happy Birthday!" post with some festive emojis used to be all that was called for when Facebook notified you of a friend's special day. Now they expect a gift—not to the celebrant, but to the charity they chose for their birthday fundraiser. A personalized note tugs at your heartstrings and, of course, you want to help your friend hit their fundraising goal. But just before you click "Donate," you wonder, "Is it safe to donate money through Facebook?" and "Does the charity actually get the money?"

For the most part, Facebook charity fundraisers are a safe and effective way to give to causes you care about. Here's what happens when you make a donation through the social media platform, and ways to ensure your money gets to the right place.

Understand the types of Facebook fundraisers.

Money raised through Facebook fundraisers goes to one of two places—birthday fundraisers, which benefit bona fide charities (there are more than 750,000 nonprofits on the platform); or personal causes, from vet care for a sick pet to college tuition—so you might want to be cautious about where your donations end up.

For birthday fundraisers, Facebook carefully vets each nonprofit by checking its 501(c)(3) status, IRS registration, and tax ID number before allowing it to accept charity donations. There's also a link to nonprofit watchdog GuideStar on each charity page to verify it before donating. "GuideStar is a great resource to find out what the charities are doing and where the benefit is," says charity fundraising expert Duncan Schieb. "If the nonprofit is spending more than 20 percent of donations on its administration, it's not for me because I don't feel that enough money is going directly to the mission."

For personal causes, Facebook is largely hands-off, so it's up to you to determine the legitimacy of the cause and whether recipients will spend the donation as you intended. "While I like the birthday fundraisers for nonprofits, I won't donate to a personal fundraiser unless it's for someone I know," says Schieb. "There needs to be an element of trust, since Facebook isn't verifying them."

Is it safe to donate money through Facebook?

As for safety, Facebook implemented encryption to its payment processing systems for both types of fundraisers, so recipients cannot see details of the credit or debit card used for the donation. While there's always a risk your data could be stolen on any site, Facebook is as safe as other popular online payment systems for making donations.

Does the charity actually get the money when you donate on Facebook?

A friend's birthday plea to support a major children's hospital won you over, and you made a $50 donation to her birthday fundraiser. This is where things get a little complicated. There are two main ways nonprofits can fundraise through Facebook, neither of which charges any fees to donors or the charities.

  • If the nonprofit is registered through Facebook Payments, it receives lump-sum donations every two weeks directly to its bank account. The nonprofit should receive your gift about a month after you make the donation.
  • If the nonprofit collects donations via Facebook's Network for Good's Donor Advised Fund. It can take up to 75 days before the charity gets the donation. If you're hoping to support relief efforts after a disaster (such as an earthquake or flood), you might consider donating directly to the organization via its website instead.

Overall, Facebook is reliable when it comes to distributing users' donations to charities, but it won't pay out until total donations reach $100. Your contribution could be stuck in limbo if the fundraiser is lagging. "If the cause matters to you and the amount of donations is not at the $100 minimum, it's on you to help drive it forward," says Schieb. "You've got to get an audience and get your friends involved so the charity can get the money."

Some nonprofits link their own campaign and payment processor to their Facebook donation page. In these cases, donations may be subject to fees and different distribution timelines.

Unlike nonprofits, people who create personal-cause fundraisers on Facebook are charged fees based on their country of residence: In the U.S., it's 2.6% plus 30 cents for every donation. So if you want to help a friend out, consider using Venmo or another peer-to-peer payment method to avoid fees. And don't expect a tax deduction for a contribution to a personal cause—unless it goes to a nonprofit, it probably won't count.

So, should you donate money through Facebook?

Facebook birthday fundraisers have done a world of good for charities. They don't charge fees to donors or nonprofits and have robust security measures to keep account details safe. They also zap a receipt to your inbox after each donation to use for a tax deduction (talk to your accountant).

But in the end, the answer comes down to your preferences. Consider:

  • Are you inspired by friends who dedicate their birthdays to worthwhile causes?
  • How easy it is to support an organization in just a couple clicks from your News Feed?
  • Do you prefer to give directly and build a personal relationship with the charity?

Perhaps you want to contribute in a different way. "It doesn't have to be monetary," adds Duncan. "Call up the organizations to see how you can help as a volunteer to try and make the world a better place."

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