Twitter As Charitable Giving Spreader: A Meta Analysis

BlogHer Original Post

Last August, I saw the impact of Twitter's velocity first-hand with a fundraising experiment.  I was able to raise $2,500 in 90 minutes at Gnomedex.   I wondered whether or not those results would be replicable?   Right before Thanksgiving, the TweetsGiving effort helped Epic Change raise over $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom in Tanzania.    As Lucy Bernholz notes, this might be one more example of fundraising on Twitter is less marginal and moving to the middle.

Lucy points to some implications for organizations to consider:

  • Video, blogging, twitter, online payments, viral marketing,
    instant thank yous, etc as the minimal expected organization
    infrastructure;
  • Community building (you can identify other
    donors, everyone blogs about it), instant infrastructure (giving
    managed by chip-in, Paypal enables the back office);
  • Quick commitment - set a goal, reach it, move on;
  • Little gifts - and lots of them - are the holy grail;
  • Creativity matters - next year you'll need a new twist;
  • Anyone at an organization might be the leader of your next campaign;

One thing I might add is the importance of community building or rather network building.   You don't go into using a Twitter strategy without having built up a little social capital or as Tara Hunt calls "Whuffie."     I also wonder about the effectiveness of fundraising on Twitter and more and more organizations or individuals start doing it?

Let's take a brief look of the history of fundraising and lessons learned using Twitter drawing from my experience and those of others.  If you know of campaigns and lessons learned that haven't been included, please leave a comment:

August 2007

I launched a campaign to raise money and get t-shirts donated for the Cambodian Bloggers Summit.   I send updates on my progress on Twitter and noticed that everytime I twittered an update (not even a direct ask), I would receive donations.  What seem to work was:

  • Some influential people responding publically that they had donated
  • My friends responding with public questions about what else was needed or suggesting fundraising strategies
  • Private, personalized messages, not mass emails

The last few donations that put this campaign over the top came from Justin Kownack who paid it forward from his own group donation experiment using Twitter as a test of good deeds.

October 2007

This campaign was for $1,000 to send a young Cambodian woman, Leng Sopharath, to college.   Chris Brogan and 81 other Twitter users helped reached this goal with small gifts in 24 hours.  In fact, the campaign went over goal and we able to raise enough money to send another young person to college.   What I learned from this campaign that it is important to get help from influencers on Twitter and that inbetween campaigns if you cultivate your network, the donations will not be a one-time only thing. 

December 2007

On December 2, 2007, the first Frozen Pea Friday Campaign on Twitter Launched.  It raised $3,500 in 15 hours.    This campaign was a community-generated effort - spearheaded by Connie Reece and came from people who knew of Susan Reynolds fight with breast cancer and rallied behind her.   As an outside observer, the lessons that I took away from this effort were:

  • Having people change their avatar to a pea photo gave a visual clue to the campaign and helped it spread.
  • This was the first time I observed the use of "retweeting" a fundraising message
  • The short time period helped build momentum and a forward moving campaign that people wanted to be a part of.
  • There were a number of social media influentials who reached out to their networks helping to contributing to a community culture of giving on Twitter

Connie Reece shared some insights in this interview and you find more links to case studies and post campaign reflections here.

January 2008

As the first place winner in the America's Giving Challenge for Global Causes, I use several twitter strategies.  I held a one-day retweet rally during the midpoint of the long campaign to spread the word.  In reflecting on this now, it is important to make sure that your supporters are doing the retweeting and that you're not overdoing it on your Twitter account or you risk annoying people. 

I also learned that one-on-one donor solicitation techniques can also work and some of the challenges of being able to track the velocity or flow of networked donations.   What is missing is some software or features that track the flow of your donations, almost like doing a social network analysis similar to Twitinfluence.

August, 2008

Using Twitter and other channels, I raised $2,500 in 90 minutes at Gnomedex.   The experiment was to test Twitter's speed.  What could happen if you a lot of hyper-connected geeks who are comfortable using Twitter in room to retweet in a concentrated amount of amount?  In the analysis, one thing I learned was the importance of instant thank yous - not only via Twitter, but other way channels.  It generated some valuable insights from donors.   One metric for me in measuring success, was I able to inspire other people to take action? (at least three that I know of  Pam Mandel, Duncan Riley and Dave Delaney)

Tyson Foods and the Austin Social Media Club organized a HAM TweetUp to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.  They used twitter to drive comments to the blog - each comment would generated 100 pound donation.  They got enough comments in two hours to fill a truck.  Lessons learned is to know your twitter followers and who are the the ones passionate about your cause and have responsive networks.

September, 2008

Dr. Mani, a heart surgeon in India - and Web 2.0 expert, launches The Heart Kids Tweet-A-Thon  On September 12, he spent 24 hours tweeting about his cause to help raise awareness and donations.  His Tweet-a-thon raised over $5,000 for his charity on Twitter.

Social Media Roadblock Campaign launched by Red Cross in September marks an experiment from a large nonprofit institution in using Twitter connected to a fundraising campaign.  More here.

The Well That Twitter Built:  On September 18th, Mashable's Twitter followers donated $3,536 to Charity:Water, an initative to build wells in Ethiopia.  Paul Young raised an addition $637 through Twitter and shared some of his reflections.

October, 2008

We see one of our first examples of using Twitter to fundraise in connection with a holiday.  This one was very creative, dubbed "Trick or Tweet" focused on retweeting, incorporated a contested, and was cooked up by the good folks at FutureNow.   The takeaway here is the retweet message shouldn't necessarily be the ask, but something fun or related to the theme of the campaign.  It also has to be a universally human theme that many people can related too.  Who can't relate to Trick or Treat?

Laura Fitton (aka @pistachio) has launched the Twitter for Dummies
site where folks are contributing ideas and tips to help write the
book.   I'm sure there will be a lively chapter about nonprofits and twitter.

How will Twitter be using for fundraising for good causes and by nonprofits in 2009?  What are some your takeaways from these experiments?  Is your nonprofit organization considering using Twitter for fundraising sometime in 2009?   If you are a free agent fundraiser, how might you incorporate using Twitter to raise money for a cause that you are passionate about?  Are there other examples previous campaigns missing from the list?

Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits and Social Change, writes Beth's Blog.

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