Sunday, 15 March 2009

How Twitter is changing the way charities fundraise

If press reports are to be believed, one major casulty of the recession is charitable giving. Indeed a poll released last Friday by claimed 22% of Britons have reduced the amount they give to charity as a result of the economic downturn.

There's no doubt that when times are tough, many people are put off from dipping into their pockets for a good cause. Charities and other organisations with social aims certainly face hard challenges over the coming months but those who think innovatively about they way they get their word out could emerge from the recession in a better state than when they entered it. How? By embracing the power of social media.

The research mentioned above was released on Red Nose Day, a UK fundraising initiative which raised a staggering £59,187,065, the highest total in organiser Comic Relief's 21-year history. That doesn't suggest compassion fatigue now does it!

In my view, the key to Comic Relief's success was the way it embraced social media. From YouTube to Facebook to Flickr to MySpace, Red Nose Day was there but it's Twitter on which I'm going to focus.

I didn't buy pop down to my local supermarkt to buy a plastic red nose this year but I did buy a digital version for my Twitter profile image. I didn't call the fundraising hotline during the Friday night telethon but I did spend £9 on a book of jokes created to raise money for Comic Relief. Why? Because of Twitter.

Through clever use of the web, thousands paid a £1 for a digital red nose and to encourage greater take-up, a Twitter page informed tweeters that their profile pic sporting the red nose would be displayed on the official website for the world to see.

Equally innovative was the TwitterTitters initiative which in just four weeks gathered jokes and printed a book to raise money for the cause via Twitter. It even managed to gain the backing of Dave Spikey, co-creator of award winning British TV show Phoenix Nights and comedy legend and Twitter-addict Stephen Fry.

I think you get my point.

Using Twitter, charities can spread their word instantly to thousands if not millions of people. By our very nature, us humans like being part of something big and that is certainly the case among the Twitter community. But we're also quite lazy creatures so being able to participate in something massive by a simple click of a mouse is perfect.

Red Nose Day isn't the only time when Twitter has been harnessed for social change. More and more charities and social businesses are realising its power every day.

One of the biggest success stories to date is the Twestival, which raised in excess of $250,000 for charity: water. I was part of it and organised the Twestival in Bristol, south west England. Like the 184 other parties around the world, we put our event together in just five weeks and pretty much entirely through Twitter.

Through the network I was able to connect with interested parties instantly and gather donations, funding and other support much quicker and in greater numbers than I would have been able to without Twitter. Here's a short film showing what we achieved:

Another key driver behind Twestival's success was charity: water's willingness to step back and let the volunteers get on with it. Too often, many socially driven organisations fall short by imposing excessive rules and bureaucracy on its supporters. By their very nature, social media communities are put off by such an attitude so it's important charities give them the space to innovate.

Another current initiative is doing just that. Launched at the South by South West festival currently taking place in Austin, Texas, organisation Epic Change, is encouraging people to tweet messages of good luck to friends and followers and at the same time raise money for schoolchildren in Tanzania. Here's the official TweetLuck video:

Twitter is increasing in popularity every day which opens up more opportunities for social organisations to be innovative. Yes, the recession means it's not going to be easy but rather than sit back and wait for the worst, charities and others need to get out there and embrace social media in all its forms and prove the doom mongers wrong.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Excellent post, Dan - I particularly take your point about organisations needing to take a step back and let their supporters innovate. In my experience many charities are averse to losing control over their messages and will often hold their more creative supporters back when it comes to social media.
I think this attitude is changing with the realisation that social media users cannot be 'contolled' in the traditional sense, and that there is much to be learned from allowing them to innovate and 'own' charity messages and causes.