Facebook birthday fundraisers have raised more than $300 million for charities since last year. Here's what happens behind the scenes.

Woman considering donating to a Facebook charity for a friend's birthday cause.
Credit: 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 your friends’ special days. Now you’re expected to give a gift—not to the celebrants, but to the charity they’ve chosen for their birthday fundraiser. The personalized notes they include with the campaign tug at your heartstrings, and of course you want to help your friends hit their fundraising goals. But right as you’re about to tap “donate,” you stop, wondering: 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 (with a few exceptions). Here’s what happens when you make a donation through the social media platform and the details you need to make sure your money gets to the right place.

Understanding the Types of Facebook Fundraisers

The money raised through Facebook fundraisers can go to one of two places, and you might want to be cautious about where your donations end up. Birthday fundraisers benefit bonafide charities (there are more than 750,000 nonprofits on the platform). 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 through birthday fundraisers. It also includes a link to nonprofit watchdog GuideStar on each charity page that people can check when deciding to donate.

“GuideStar is a great resource to find out what the charities are doing and where the benefit is,” said Duncan Schieb, a charity fundraising expert. “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.”

People can also raise funds for just about any personal cause, from vet care for a sick pet to college tuition. Facebook is largely hands-off when it comes to this kind of fundraiser, so it’s up to you to determine the legitimacy of the causes and whether the 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,” said 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 has implemented encryption to its payment processing systems for both types of fundraisers. The recipients will not see the details of the credit or debit card you used to make the donation. While there’s always a slight risk that your data could be stolen on any site, Facebook seems to be just as safe as any other popular online payment system 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’ve made a $50 donation to her birthday fundraiser. Now what?

This is where things get a little complicated. There are two main ways nonprofits can fundraise through Facebook, neither of which charge any fees to donors or the charities. If the nonprofit is registered through Facebook Payments, it will receive donations in lump sums every two weeks directly to its bank account. The nonprofit should receive your gift about a month after you make the donation.

Another way for nonprofits to collect donations through Facebook is via the Network for Good's Donor Advised Fund. It can take up to 75 days after making your donation before the charity actually gets the check, so if you’re hoping to support relief efforts after a disaster, such as an earthquake or flood, you might be better off donating directly to the organization via its website.

Overall, Facebook is reliable when it comes to distributing users’ donations to charities. However, it won’t pay out until the total donations hit at least $100, which means 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,” said 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. Donations to these fundraisers 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. Americans will give up 2.6 percent plus 30 cents for every donation they receive. So if you want to help a friend out, it might be worth 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’s to a nonprofit, it probably won’t count.

So, Should You Donate Money Through Facebook?

Having helped collect more than $300 million for nonprofits since launching in 2017, Facebook birthday fundraisers have done a world of good for charities. They don’t charge fees to donors or nonprofits, and they have robust security measures to keep your account details safe. They also zap a receipt right to your inbox after you make a donation that you can potentially use for a tax deduction (talk to your accountant).

Overall though, whether you should donate through Facebook comes down to your preferences. Are you inspired by friends who dedicate their birthdays to worthwhile causes, and how easy it is to support an organization in just a couple clicks from your News Feed? Or do you prefer to give directly and build a personal relationship with the charity? Consider these questions and then decide how you want to do good for others.

“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.”