Indian Micro-Finance’s $125M Pick-Up And A New Use Case For Facebook

Slacktivism: The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.

Everyone with a Facebook page or a Twitter feed knows at least one “slacktivist” – that probably well intentioned soul who seems to have decided the best use of the internet is to make those around them aware of the world’s myriad injustices.  And in an increasingly social media centric world activists and advocacy groups increasingly rely on social media as a means of building support by asking users to “like” Facebook posts, or “Instagram/Pin” themselves wearing a color in support of a cause or urging retweets.

The pull is obvious – promoting a cause via social media channels is a flexible, inexpensive  and relatively easy path toward marketing to a lot of eyeballs. In the non-profit sector, where marketing budgets are not known for being large, easy and inexpensive are both great virtues…

On the other hand “slacktivist” – the pejorative portmanteau that had evolved to described social advocacy via social media – illustrates the problem with the practice – it has become associated with a connection to causes that is shallow. While causes can reach people to “like” something – some research indicates that such support doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the kind of commitment that organizations are looking for – time, talent and donations.

“Importantly, the socially observable nature (public vs. private) of initial token support is identified as a key moderator that influences when and why token support does or does not lead to meaningful support for the cause,” the study noted. Consumers exhibit greater helping on a subsequent, more meaningful task after providing an initial private (vs. public) display of token support for a cause.”

In simpler terms – people who undertake public displays – like those on social media – are actually less likely than those who engaged in other, more private, ways like letter writing or making donations.

ActionSprout is a start-up that thinks it can take the “slack” out of slacktivism by helping not for profits make their social media engagement, specifically on Facebook, more fully engaging.

“Non-profit organizations were spending a huge amount of time on Facebook and not really getting a lot of value out of it,” CEO Drew Bernard noted in a blog post. “And Facebook has been steadily reducing the number of fans they deliver updates to in their news feeds, so if nonprofits don’t or can’t pay, they won’t get an update onto a meaningful number fans’ walls.  At the same time we’ve seen organizations struggle to engage with Facebook supporters in meaningful ways using the few actions Facebook has provided: “like,” “share” or “comment.”

And, Bernard noted, the users on the other side of the screen who are trying to interact with various causes through Facebook also find the experience limiting.

“People are interested in doing things beyond clicking ‘like,” Bernard noted.

ActionSprout was founded in 2012 to help Facebook users do more than “click like.” Using the firm’s Facebook app, organizations can ask potential contributors to Recommend, Thank, Sign, Vote For, Stop, Contact among a dozen or more action types – all within an organizations Facebook Page. A newly added functionality – donate – has been particularly helpful.”

Bernard did not put a specific number as to how dramatically, noting that it depended on the partner.

“The new users we are delivering – through the variety of actions we let quality users take – are people who didn’t just click like because they wanted to give a wink to a friend who was up to something. They joined a campaign that directly connected them to an organization’s work… Isn’t this the kind of stuff we wanted to be able to do on  Facebook from the start?”

ActionSprout’s current client customer roster includes the Sierra Club, UNICEF and Greenpeace – as well as “thousands” of smaller non-profits in need of social marketing guidance. Clients find the firm through its content marketing, training sessions and word of mouth among the nonprofit community. ActionSprout is a Software as Service platform, and so prices vary from $15 per month to $73 per month, depending on how many people typically engage with an organization’s Facebook page.

The company has picked up $1.7M in seed funding in a round led by Oregon Angel Fund.  With the investment, ActionSprout has also announced that SurveyMonkey co-founder Chris Finley has joined its board of directors.

“As fellow travelers in the drive to further the success of nonprofit organizations, I look forward to working with the ActionSprout team to continue to get their tools into their hands of more organizations and continue to build tools that demystify Facebook for nonprofit social media managers,” Finley said in a written statement.

As for what’s next for the start-up with it’s new funding in hand?

Bernard has been quoted as saying that his ten person firm has no plans to “go on a hiring spree at the moment,” and that he instead hopes to focus on better developing their technological product.

“When you think the volume of things we can help companies do, especially when it comes to donations when those $5 and $10 dollar sums really matter, we think the possibilities are endless, but that we have to take a measured approach.”

He further noted that with the new funding, they hope to be able to deploy their product more rapidly.

February’s second week saw the biggest plays in the space worth a little over $600 million. The biggest deal of the week, and the biggest transaction of the year to date was a growth financing for Bandhan Financial Services, in a round led by GIC – Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. Bandhan provides micro-credits to entrepreneurs in India; it is unknown what stake in the enterprise GIC has gotten.

“The company will get a total equity investment of 16 billion rupees, including 5.8 billion rupees from our existing investor IFC,” Bandhan Chairman Chandra Shekhar Ghosh noted in a statement. “I’m very happy because with this money we’ll be able to upgrade our operations.”

Other big plays in the second week of the month were Fidelity Management & Research’s investment of  $90 million in Progreso Financiero Holdings, which going forward will be known Oportun. The company caters to the Hispanic entrepeneurs in the United States by offering alternative lending products directed to that demographic. PYMNTS recently spoke with Progreso’s founder, James Gutierrez, about the changing face of lending in the United States.

“We debunked that traditional view that there’s just a group of people here who are not creditworthy. That happened to be Hispanics, immigrants, who were hard working but without a credit score. And because they lacked a credit score, banks didn’t have enough data and declined them out of hand. With big data we found a way to approve them and have low losses.”

Pinnacle Financial Partners was another big investor this week, shelling out $75 million for Bankers Healthcare Group – which provides financing to the health care professional.

All in, during the second week of the month, the median invested amount in the sector was $18.5 million and 61 percent of that funding came from VCs. Geographically, 70 percent of the funds went to the U.S. while 25 percent went to Asia – mostly China.

PYMNTS also took a closer look at the data regarding investments – VC funding, private placements, IPOs, M&As, etc. – in the banking sector.

YTD, there have been 23 deals (of which 19 amounts were disclosed) totaling $662.3 million. On the one hand that amount seems rather unimpressive, especially when compared with the $1.9 billion invested in January 2014 alone. However, further consideration reveals that $1.8 billion of that came from only one deal  – the Santander Consumer USA IPO.


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