What non-profits can take away from Facebook’s organ donation initiative and past activism efforts

Many non-profit organizations already use Facebook pages and apps to raise awareness and money for their causes, but yesterday’s organ donation initiative is another example of the social network’s willingness to work more directly with non-profits on broad social issues and the sort of impact that can result.

To promote organ donation, Facebook added a simple “life event” feature in the Timeline publisher. Users can indicate when they became an organ donor and publish that story for their friends to see. If users have not registered as an organ donor, they can click a link from that window and be taken to the Donate Life America page if they are in the U.S. or the NHS Organ Donation Campaign page if they are in the U.K. Donate Life California reported a 5,105 percent increase in online organ donor registrations a day after Facebook built in links for users to register and publicize their organ donor status on Timeline.

With the company’s mission being “to make the world more open and connected,” organizations with related goals should consider ways they might collaborate. World peace, voting, tolerance and environmental responsibility are some of the issues the social network has actively promoted in the past. Facebook seems to be most interested in the power of many lightweight interactions. Any initiative it gets involved with will likely be very simple and require little effort on the user’s behalf. Think a few clicks to make a statement or subtly alter someone’s behavior. The company is also likely to avoid any partnerships that would be too controversial. With more than 900 million users around the world, Facebook has to maintain its global appeal.

Take, for example, Facebook 2009 partnership with Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab. As part of the lab’s Peace Dot project, the social network created a page to provide “metrics of peace,” including how many friend connections are being made between Israelis and Palestinians or how many people in Serbia believe world peace is possible. This shows how Facebook can present existing data in interesting ways to tell a story. The company is also able to poll its users, which could be useful for many non-profits.

More recently, Facebook has taken several actions to discourage bullying and promote child safety, including creating a safety advisory board with Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, Childnet International, The Family Online Safety Institute and WiredSafety. The company also worked with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center in the U.K. to institute an opt-in “panic button” for users to report inappropriate behavior. These issues are are particularly important for Facebook to present itself as a safe place for children. There was also the January 2011 partnership with the Department of Justice to issue AMBER Alerts about missing children through Facebook pages, which showed how the site could be used to broadcast important messages. Organizations might want to consider other emergency notification or relief features that it could work with Facebook to develop.

The company has also been active in promoting participation in U.S. national elections since 2008. On election day, Facebook lets users search for their polling place and publish an “I voted” status. Again, this allowed users to take action and spread a message among their friends very easily. It offered a similar status-posting feature for users in Iran in 2009. These efforts were independent of any third-party organization, but Facebook has worked with news outlets for political polling and an ad agency to highlight the issues that matter to voters this year. The company would likely be interested to partner with a non-partisan organizations to find ways to increase awareness about political issues and encourage users to get involved in elections or local government, for example.

In addition to highlighting its own sustainable practices on its Green on Facebook page, the company created a social energy app in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council so users can compare their energy use to that of friends and other Americans. This is a good example of using data from a person’s friends and the wider Facebook community to help people understand an issue. There’s a draw for users to see how they rank in terms of energy use, and then once a user’s attention has been captured, the app can give them more information and resources to take action.