Is it time for fundraisers to take Twitter more seriously?


I must admit that when I first trialled the microblogging service Twitter a couple of years back, it was at a time when new Web 2.0 things were appearing so fast that unless an initial bit of play revealed an application for them beyond technical interest or geeky chic then I let them pass – and so it was for me with Twitter (and Jaiku, and the recently closed-down Pownce).

However, over the last year I’ve seen more and more examples of Twitter being used by nonprofits – and I even got twittered myself (not sure that’s the correct term) when speaking at the IFC over in Holland earlier this year. So I was wondering, perhaps it is time for those fundraisers who have to-date left the tweets to the early adopters with time on their hands to take twitter seriously as a potential addition to their digital toolkit?

Looking around the web, there is no doubt that a lot of organisations are making use of the service to share information with supporters. In the US, nonprofits like The American Red Cross (2,923 followers, 482 updates), Greenpeace USA (679 followers, 106 updates), The Humane Society (451 followers, 229 updates), and many more now use it to some degree.

And here in the UK several charities have also been testing it over the last year or so. Animal Welfare charity The Dogs Trust (438 followers and 688 updates) uses it to share information with supporters and other dog lovers on such things as its response to the Dangerous Dogs Act, and also to promote dogs requiring rehoming. Oxfam is using it too (462 followers and 102 updates), and Bullying UK launched a twitter-based campaign back in October (347 followers and 795 updates).

Beyond just digital updates, US charities registered with Network for Good can now also raise money through Tweet for Good, which allows Twitter users to make donations to an organisation or cause via a Tweet, and there are also a growing number of examples of organisations and individuals using Twitter to fundraise from their Twitter networks – with one of the latest being mentioned by Beth Kanter in her post ‘If Your Organisation Tweets it, will they donate?’.

It seems pretty clear that if you have a digitally-savvy audience then you can potentially enhance your supporter engagement programme with Twitter. Indeed, if you have the right type of content then the real-time, short-text nature of Twitter can make for a uniquely engaging and ‘authentic’ form of communication. As I write this, I’ve been following the activity of some Oxfam activists over at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan through their Twitter feed, and it really does work as a way to ‘connect’ me with their minute-by-minute activity.

However, the big question remains. When even an organisation the scale of the American Red Cross currently only has 2,923 Twitter ‘followers’, just how high should Twitter rank on the to-do list of fundraisers?

Well, quite possibly higher than you think.

Because the key thing to remember is what we don’t see when we check the number of followers the Red Cross has on Twitter is just how many people each of those has in their own wider personal networks, and just what that means in terms of amplifying the messages being sent to them.

Those 2,923 individuals are engaged enough to allow The Red Cross to broadcast information into their Twitter feeds whenever the organisation has something to say. This isn’t a case of worrying whether you can send one or two emails a week to a supporter. If you have something really important happening – like Oxfam’s activity at the Climate Change Conference – then you can broadcast updates every few minutes if necessary! And your ‘followers’ will read them because they are especially interested in the work that you do – and if you truly enthuse them then they will pass key messages on through their own networks when asked to – including requests for support.

Now, I’m not saying that this makes Twitter an easy way for charities to build new online communities of supporters and make money from them. It’s just as easy to block a Twitter feed as it is to become a follower – so if you abuse the trust that an individual has placed in you when they give you free reign to communicate with them through Twitter then they’ll be gone pretty fast.

However, if when you use it you abide by my oft-repeated mantra “The future of fundraising is to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in” then I believe Twitter could well have a growing role to play in your online fundraising programme.

For some initial guidance on best practice if you want to think more about the possible application of Twitter, then take a look at Sarah Marchetti’s post on the Ogilvy PR Blog (and thanks to Rick for pointing me there, via a Tweet).


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