Twitter, Nonprofits, and Philanthropy

Usage, news, and discussion surrounding Twitter seem to be everywhere at the moment. I wanted to share several links I think are worth reading to learn more about the Twitter phenomenon and how it might be of actual use in the nonprofit world without becoming a meaningless timewaster. It seems that Twitter has moved beyond being a technological fad, but only time will tell how it will change in the future.

First, I, like others, believe that nonprofits can benefit from having a presence on Twitter. To start, read Taking Twitter seriously: a primer for business which looks at five key practices for utilizing Twitter and Finding the Right “Brand Voice” on Twitter which also has some great tips. Then, create an account and follow some folks. As a starting point I’ll recommend @FCCleveland as a good local philanthropy person to follow, @CIFF for a great look at how the film festival is working Twitter and @OperaChicken to get a feel for how a little personality and fun can go a long way. If you’d like, follow me at @paultofu for some philanthropy and Cleveland musings.

 Second, once you’ve listened a bit and start to get a feel for Twitter, plan and consider how you want to use it. I will note that in addition to gathering and sharing information, Twitter has been used as a fundraising tool. Recent articles, including this piece from the Christian Science Monitor, all discuss what some have termed “Twitter Philanthropy.” New Media Guru Beth Kanter did a must-read post “Twitter as Charitable Giving Spreader: A Brief History and Meta Analysis of Fundraising With Twitter.” She has posted repeatedly on her personal success raising funds through Twitter.

I had the opportunity to help organize Cleveland’s first fundraising Twestival this spring. Twestival used Twitter as a platform to organize Twestival events in 202 cities around the world on February 12, 2009. Globally, $250,000 was raised for charity:water which will fund 55 water projects in Ethiopia, Uganda, and India. This equals clean water for just over 17,000 people. Locally, a group of dedicated folks lead by @Benji08 was able to raise $1,400 at an event planned in just a few weeks. I learned that Twitter can be used to share information, bring people together “in the real world,” and even raise money for a good cause. I also learned that I prefer face-to-face meetings for planning, and that I am still a newbie with Twitter and Web 2.0 with much still to learn.

 So, how do you get Twitter working for your organization? As one person put it (and my apologies for not being able to locate that source!); you don’t need an IT team – you need a nerd. Twitter and a lot of Web 2.0 can be leveraged with minimal time and an interested staff member or volunteer.

 It should be noted that there are folks who are already experiencing Twitter Fatigue. There’s a great post from Tactical Philanthropy on dealing with information overload. It is worth remembering that people should still come first, and that while Twitter and other tools can enhance what we do, they shouldn’t be considered replacements for human interaction.