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Facebook's birthday fundraisers catching on with LIers

Facebook users can ask friends to donate to

Facebook users can ask friends to donate to a specific charity to mark their birthdays. Credit: Facebook

Everyone knows it’s impolite to ask for birthday presents — but asking for gifts to your favorite charity, well, with Facebook’s birthday donation feature, that’s becoming trendy for Long Islanders.

Gail Janicola, 55, a child-birth educator from Dix Hills, for instance, used the Facebook option on her birthday last month to ask for donations to a charity called Saving Teens in Crisis Collaborative, a nationwide nonprofit that assists families who can’t afford help for children suffering from anxiety, depression, substance abuse and more. Friends and family donated $455.

Jean Smyth-Crocetto, a Baldwin lawyer, raised $563 for the San Antonio, Texas-based RAICES, which provides legal aid to immigrants, during her Facebook birthday fundraiser when she turned 53 in June. “I was heartbroken over what was happening at the border, with children being separated from their parents,” she says. “I was surprised by how many people gave.”  

Facebook launched birthday fundraisers in 2017, and on the program’s anniversary in August, Facebook announced that the grass-roots effort had raised more than $300 million for nonprofits worldwide. Among the biggest winners were St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Alzheimer’s Association, based in Chicago.

“I’m on Facebook a lot. I always write ‘Happy Birthday’ to everyone, every day, as a little hello,” says Maria Adcock of Huntington, who writes the biculturalmama.com blog. When fundraisers show up on her newsfeed, she says, she’ll think, “Well, why not? It’s a positive thing. We could use a little bit of positivity in this world. I just press a button, which is already connected to PayPal.”  

Here’s how the fundraisers work, says Roya Winner, communications manager for Facebook Fundraisers in Menlo Park, California: Two weeks before your birthday, a message from Facebook should appear in your newsfeed asking if you want to participate. If you opt in, you select a beneficiary from Facebook’s list of more than 750,000 501(c) (3) charities. The money goes to charity even if the effort falls short of your chosen monetary goal. Facebook initially took 5 percent of donations, but since November 100 percent goes to the charities. In mid-July Facebook also started to donate $5 to each birthday fundraiser, which will continue for a limited time.

The appeal launches as a post on your Facebook page and stays live for two weeks unless you make it go longer. The post is public, even if privacy controls are set to friends only. Donors can click through to PayPal or Facebook payment or use a credit card, and they can write a personal message. They can also share the post. Only the celebrant sees the individual donation amount, and the donor gets a receipt for a tax-deductible donation. While Facebook doesn’t release donors’ information to charities, some charities are jumping in on the public appeals to thank donors and can see their identities.

For charities, the fundraiser is more than just a windfall. “It’s really the outreach and the awareness of our organization,” says Kelly Brown, executive director of the Saving Teens in Crisis Collaborative. “More people will “like” our page, visit our website. Something like this really spreads the word.”

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