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Twitter: It Isn't Just for Breakfast Anymore

Resource Center - Foundation

By Jared Hughes

(March 9, 2009) I’ve heard the confused refrain over and over, from friends, colleagues and certainly my wife, “This Twitter thing everyone is talking about … I just don’t GET IT. Who CARES what you had for breakfast this morning!?” They are referring to the 140-character “micro-blog” messages that users publish to a web page for a list of “followers” interested in what they have to say.

There is a growing number of savvy, early-adopters in nonprofit development and communication departments across the country who are taking advantage of Twitter as a “friend-raising” tool. Once they have built up their social capital, they are turning it into a fundraising machine.

(If you’ve never heard of Twitter, a web 2.0 tool, a good start would be to check out the video posted at the site’s sign-up page, http://twitter.com/.) 

To get examples of fundraising success for this article, I turned to my own Twitter page, which has 521+ followers (followers are people who have opted to receive to my posts and want to communicate with me via Twitter). I simply “tweeted” to all my followers asking for their experience with the web tool and also targeting ten nonprofits by direct messaging that I especially wanted to interview. I got a great response. To read the full article, visit my blog.

More Feedback, Better Care

Jennifer Parris (@LeBonheurChild), communications specialist at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn. writes, “Social media gives us a special opportunity to hear what people are saying about our hospital. Before this technology, we heard about these conversations by word of mouth. Now, we can listen to specific comments parents are making about the care their child is receiving at our hospital. It gives us the unique opportunity act on their thoughts and comments.”

Jennifer sees social media as being on the front lines of patient relations and heading off disgruntled customers and making them whole again before their word of mouth is broadcast far and wide.

“When we find a blog in which a parent talks about a bad experience, we alert our clinical leaders who can look into the matter and help remedy it,” Parris explains. “Twitter allows us to do the same thing. It has a great search function that allows us to monitor what's being said.”

“We're still new to the Twitter conversation, but believe our uses for it will expand as our followers grow.”

Twitter Litters—Animal Groups and Twitter

Gary Nice, founder of National Canine Cancer Foundation began telling me the story of his golden retriever, Bailey, who he was forced to put down last January due to cancer that had ravaged him within a month and without warning. His determination to succeed is so strong that he got choked up telling me why he is putting so much energy into his social networking and specifically into Twitter. “I will not rest until this never has to happen to anyone ever again,” he said.

Since Jan. 28 of last year, Gary does his Twittering for 30 minutes at 7 p.m. when he gets home. He has dinner, decompresses and logs back on at 10 p.m. to check it again and will sometimes be tweeting well into the early morning. “It can get exhausting,” he says but, repeating his mantra and tag line, “If we all work together, We Are The Cure." He admits that he can’t keep up this pace for ever and is hopeful that his personal, high-touch social networking will soon pay off. “There will come a day when we will hire someone just to tweet for us,” he says. In fact, some organizations I interviewed have done just that.

Gary has garnered 2,298 cultivated and devoted followers within little more than a month’s time. He expects to more than double that number by the end of April. “When I hit 5,000 [followers], that’s when I’m going to pull the trigger on a fundraising campaign and it’s really going to take off because I’ve invested time at the front end.” Gary says that donations have increased since the October 2008 financial meltdown. While he can’t directly attribute it all to Twitter he says he believes it is a big part of it. “This is how people are connecting with causes they care about today and you can’t ignore that fact.”

Tips for Successful Twitter Campaigns

Gary was reluctant to share his best Twitter secrets and kept his best ones close to his chest. He welcomed readers to follow him @wearethecure and check in from time to time (see his strategy at work here?), and see for themselves. The tips he did share were with the intensity of the radio broadcasting executive that he once was.

1.) Communicate personally with every single follower … especially if he or she “follows” you first. Go to their bio, read about their dog, direct message them back with some bit of information that shows you took the time and effort to read about them.

2.) Copy their entire Twitter conversation and add it to their donor file.

3.) Seek out the “influencers” among your followers and develop strong relationships with them so that they will respond when you need them to, pushing out your message to their followers and onto their own social media networks.

4.) Everyone in the nonprofit world is a sales person whether they like it or not. Every time you open your mouth you are selling yourself and your organization. The same goes for your tweets and direct messages! Be very purposeful in all that you tweet.

5.) Use http://www.twellow.com/ to list your own organization and to find prospective followers and invite them (personally!) to follow you because there is something in it for them and not you. Followers are easy to get, quality followers are not—you have to work at it. There are Twitter pyramid schemes that promise thousands of followers in a short time, but why would you want random followers? This is not a time to use the buck shot ammo.

6.) Ask your core volunteers (especially ones with many followers to “retweet” for you, meaning that they re-post your original tweet to all of their followers.)

7.) Seek out companies on Twitter that align with your mission and propose a win-win partnership via the web tool. They will “get it” quickly when they see your organization’s reach to their potential market. I have a major corporate partnership that was born from Twitter set to roll out soon if all goes well.

Check out the really helpful blog that is dedicated to all things Twitter at http://www.twitip.com/. Also, the FAQ section on Twitter’s home page can answer many questions you may still have.

Jared Hughes is the principal and founder of Bellwether Fundraising in Takoma Park, Md. Bellwether specializes in assisting nonprofit clients start and increase legacy planning advancement efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @LegacyPlanning and link with his network on LinkedIn.

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