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A Facebook fundraiser raised nearly $5 million to reunite immigrant children with their parents

Reuters/Loren Elliott
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  • Hanna Kozlowska
By Hanna Kozlowska

Investigative reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Facebook’s built-in fundraising platform can be a powerful tool for nonprofits, especially when combined with a hot-button issue.

Over four days, a fundraiser set up by one couple on Facebook raised nearly $5 million for an organization that provides legal services for immigrants—including parents separated from their children on the US border as a result of a recent Trump administration policy.

The fundraiser is one of the largest in the platform’s history, a Facebook spokesperson told Quartz. It started on Saturday, June 16, when David and Charlotte Willner set up a fundraiser for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, a nonprofit based in Texas. The initial goal was modest, just $1,500—the minimum bond for an immigrant held in custody. As of Tuesday morning, the amount reached $4.7 million with more than 110,000 donations.  

Last year, Facebook dropped fundraising fees for nonprofits, so 100% of the donated money should be going to the organization. “We’ve been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals,” RAICES said in a Facebook post.

David and Charlotte Willner were early Facebook employees who now work at Airbnb and Pinterest, respectively. “We can’t all be on the frontlines to help these families, but by supporting RAICES, we’re able to do something that just takes less than a minute, and collectively have an impact,” the Willners said in a statement shared with Quartz.

The power of fundraising on Facebook lies in just how easy it is for an individual user to donate, and, perhaps more importantly, how simple it is to spread the word about the cause across the network. Facebook, for example, encourages users to set up for their birthdays fundraisers for causes that they care about. As the RAICES fundraiser shows, it works particularly well when citizens hear about heartbreaking scenes on the US border involving small children in the news, and potentially on Facebook itself. The Willners’ fundraiser post spread organically, without any paid promotion, Facebook said.

That the couple who started it works in Silicon Valley surely helped as well. Both Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg donated to the fundraiser.

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