When creating a Facebook presence for your nonprofit, you need to decide which kind of presence to use.
In addition to creating a Facebook Cause—which you should consider as a supporting service rather than a primary presence—you really have three options: a Profile, a Group, or a Page.
Profiles are intended for individuals; Pages are intended for brands and organizations; and Groups are generally more informal, may give you less control, and (not coincidentally) seem more prone to going viral.
There’s been much discussion of the trade-offs between these options for a nonprofit, so I won’t do my own detailed analysis here.
Unfortunately, much of the information you’ll find is from before March when Facebook made some important enhancements to fan pages. The following resources reflect the new changes, though, and can help you think through your decision:
My feeling is that in general a Facebook Page is the best approach, so I wrote instructions on creating one. But Groups have their place too. Sometimes it makes sense to have both a Page and a Group if their purposes are distinct.
Profiles, though… not so much.
For quite some time Facebook has been unhappy about people using Profiles to represent organizations, fictional people, or doppelganger copies of themselves (for example, having one business presence and one personal presence), at times threatening to shut down offenders’ Facebook access. In fact, the enhancements they made to Facebook Pages in March were apparently to pull people toward Pages with a Carrot, rather than just relying on the Stick of their terms-of-service (TOS).
Which raises an interesting fact: Facebook appears to have removed their profile-prohibiting language from their terms of service.
Previously the TOS included this language, as it still appears on the nonprofit IT blog Wild Apricot: you “agree not to use the Service or the Site to … register for more than one User account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity” (emphasis added by Wild Apricot).
This restriction is conspicuously missing from the Facebook terms of service as of Fall 2009.
Why did they drop it? I haven’t seen an explanation, but I’m confident it’s not because they want organizations to use Profiles. The TOS still strongly implies that Profiles are for individuals.
Maybe they got tired of taking crap for their far-reaching TOS and decided to friendly it up somehow. Maybe fewer organizations were bothering with Profiles because the Facebook Page has become much more attractive. Maybe they just decided they didn’t care anymore.
Regardless, if you do have an existing Profile for your nonprofit, it appears you’re no longer living under the threat of Facebook shutting down your account. As discussed by the blog posts above, there are still lots of other good reasons to avoid Profiles for organizations. But at least fear is no longer one of them.