Saturday, August 08, 2009

Nonprofits, A New Way to Raise Money ViaTwitter

Social networking website gurus, Experience Project, on this past Thursday August 6th launched a brand new Twitter campaign called TwitCause designed to raise money for nonprofits through the Twitter website and its users (TwitCause is not really a Twitter application such as TweetDeck or Twitter On Facebook are - it's more of a proposition for Twitter users to join in on their effort to raise donations for nonprofits).

If you are not a Twitter user - Twitter is a networking site that offers free accounts to anyone who wishes to join (like My Space or Facebook) except that interaction between those who find (or "Follow") someone, or each other on Twitter are single written posts limited to 140 typed characters, at a time. Tweets written by everyone you follow then show up, as they are posted, on your Twitter account page. Similarly, everyone who is following you on Twitter receives all of the Tweets that you post, as you post them. Anyone can post (or Tweet) as often as they'd like. Also different, there isn't as much emphasis on knowing those you follow, such as exists with Facebook or My Space. You may follow people, companies, organizations, famous people, products, etc. on Twitter.

Twit Cause by Experience Project works by asking Twitter account holders to follow Twit Cause which is Twitter account name "@TwitCause". Then, each week, those who are following Twit Cause can log onto Twit Cause's own website (the link is in the first paragraph, above) and vote on one of the four (new) nonprofits they have listed there. Once you select the nonprofit that you are voting for it creates a post in your Twitter account stating that you are nominating the nonprofit you selected to be featured that week. Whichever nonprofit receives the most nominations is the next Twit Cause! This is revealed each Thursday to their followers. They then ask that their followers re-Tweet (or share the message with their followers' followers) the Tweet (message) revealing that week's selected cause. The idea is this will raise how many people know about the 'winning' nonprofit (people can then choose to follow that nonprofit on Twitter) and hopefully help them to raise more. Each week's most popular (voted) nonprofit gets a fundraising widget that anyone who wishes to donate to that week's nonprofit can click to give through (and most nonprofits, today, have websites of their own where anyone wishing to give can donate through, too). Also, businesses and brands that have Twitter accounts can choose to become sponsors of winning nonprofits (which is another way this campaign is going to raise money for these nonprofits).

If you are a nonprofit wishing to get to be voted on to become one of TwitCause's featured nonprofits, it must have a Twitter account (which is free) and then to quote their own site, "Simply send us a suggestion by tweeting. Just make sure to include the Twitter user name (preceded by the @ symbol) for the nonprofit you are nominating.

"If you follow this pattern you can be sure we'll notice the tweet: "I'm nominating @CharityName to be featured on @TwitCause. Please re-tweet to support me!""

I do have a few questions that I could not find answers for on TwitCause's site. I am wondering if 100% of the money that they raise through the widget on their home page goes to the nonprofit? If not - what is the breakdown and where does 100% of the raised money go? Also, I wonder if the only entities that can nominate themselves to be a TwitCause are legal nonprofits (those who have received their official 501(c)(3), (4), (5), etc. designations, already, from the IRS). It isn't clear which nonprofits are eligible and which are not. Too, how are nonprofits selected to be considered by TwitCause's followers? How long does TwitCause actively raise funds for that week's selected nonprofit? Can TwitCause followers find out how much each nonprofit raised through TwitCause? I do not question TwitCause's intentions or honesty, but as with any professional fundraising, up front and easily visible full disclosure is a really good sign of ethical, professional, honest fundraising. If they share this information clearly on their site and on their Twitter account page, eventually, it will clarify their intentions, integrity, and increase how much they raise, week to week.

As anyone who works in Internet marketing, social networking, or social networking commerce is fond of saying nowadays, 'social networking is great; it's just not clear how to make money from it'. TwitCause may have initiated a new model for all of us (nonprofits and for-profits) to observe and note their success rate and viability as they grow. As a professional fundraiser, I caution that it is tough to just put an organization's name before someone who is not familiar with the organization, and then ask for a donation and actually raise one. Donors really donate to a nonprofit because they personally care about the cause the organization works towards; know that the nonprofit they're giving to is honest, successful at its work for the community, its programs are real solutions that have not been done already, and because the nonprofit's potential is great. Can a Twitter follower garner enough information from the TwitCause campaign to donate comfortably to a 'selected' nonprofit? Also, it is easier for a nonprofit to then raise another donation from a donor that connects with it because the donor can be confident that their dollar has done something in the community for the better. Why wouldn't the confident donor give to the organization again, that they can confirm spent their dollar as they claimed they would and did real (successful) good in the community in the fashion the nonprofit said it would? So, I guess my final question, in the best interests of nonprofits, to TwitCause is: will the donors who give to nonprofits through their campaign become repeat donors for those nonprofits they give to, again and again? If not - a one time donation is still a donation and any nonprofit is glad to receive a donation - but professional best practices, today, encourage nonprofits to maximize their resources and raise more money, year to year, through methods that are proven, and that encourage and formulate a relationship between the donor and nonprofit (not just raise a quick buck and then move onto the next person). Still, and all, any entity new to any endeavor is really learning as it goes, so goes it with them, and as they get up and running I hope that they provide more disclosure and consider all current professional fundraising best practices and how they can improve their campaign model. In the end, I give TwitCause credit for doing something to raise money for nonprofits

If you are a Twitter account holder, yourself, and have tried but can not find the Twit Cause account by searching for the account name using Twitter's search tool, then go to Google and in the search bar enter " @TwitCause" and then click "Enter" and the first result listed will be their account back in Twitter. Having checked "Stay Logged In" the last time you signed into Twitter, you can click on this first Google result, and then click "Follow" on their Twitter account page to follow them.

If your nonprofit is selected to be a featured TwitCause beneficiary would you log back onto this blog, after, and let us know what your organization's experience was with this fundraising method?


Julio Vasconcellos said...

Hey Arlene,

Thanks for writing about TwitCause on your blog. I'm responsible for TwitCause at Experience Project, and am happy to answer any of your questions. We'll also update the information on the site to make this more easily accessible.

First, 100% of money donated goes to the nonprofit featured (except for Paypal/credit card usual transaction fees). During the first week we featured The V Foundation and placed a fundraising widget on the site as well as a link to their site. For the widget (money goes straight to them via Paypal) $321 was raised which is visible on the widget in real-time. Also, The V Foundation reported to us that their social media fundraising campaign raised $24,000 that week, in large part thanks to the momentum and awareness from TwitCause.

Generally speaking, we are going to make public all the funds raised for a nonprofit through TwitCause. I say "generally speaking" because that'll depend on the nonprofit reporting that to us as well as them being able to discern how much was raised from TwitCause rather than from regular donations.

Secondly, you asked which kinds of organizations can be featured. For now, we're picking 501(c)(3)s. However, we're open to considering other organizations in the future and will make that clear if things change.

Third, in regards to the process of being selected as a featured organization. Right now, we are hand-picking the organizations based on what feedback we see in the Twitter community - specifically, how many people nominate the organization and how many people vote for that nomination. We are also trying to show some 'variety' in the types of organizations -- so in the first week we went with health and now we're on environment. Also, we'd like to mix up the size of the organizations we feature so as not to only feature large national organizations and leave the little guys out.

I realize this is an imperfect method, but we are currently working on a new feature that will make all this data more visible -- specifically showing all the organizations that have been nominated and how many 'votes' each has.

Hope this helps. Feel free to send me a message on Twitter or Experience Project if you have any follow-ups.

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to post answers to my post about TwitCause. We, here, wish TwitCasue all of the very best in assisting the community! Best, Arlene