FUND RAISING AND GIVING
Charities Look for Ways to Unlock the Benefits of Social-Media Tools
By Caroline Preston
SLOANE BERRENT wanted her 30th birthday to involve more than sharing cake and drinks with
friends. So she and a friend started using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
to spread the word that their birthday
celebrations would benefit Netting Nations, a charity that fights malaria.
The pair asked people in their online
networks to hold parties in seven cities
in as many days. Supporters could give
small donations: $15 to buy bed nets to
protect a family from malaria, or $75
to protect a village. Ms. Berrent, a former fund raiser and marketer who left
her job last year to volunteer, flew with
her friend from city to city on their own
dime for the parties. In a month, they
raised more than $19,000.
That haul has made her one of a
handful of charity supporters and employees who have succeeded in unlocking donations with the help of social
“I don’t think that campaigns like
this could have happened before Facebook and Twitter,” says Ms. Berrent.
“So many people were able to learn
what we were about and help us spread
the word virally.”
PHO TOS COURTES Y OF EPIC CHANGE
Volunteers use the microblogging site Twitter to raise money for this school in Tanzania. To demonstrate
their appreciation, school officials put all the names of the donors on a classroom wall.
Tiny Charity’s Twitter Campaign Raises Big Sums for School
As more groups experiment with how
to win donations through online social
networks, some are finding, like Ms.
Berrent, that they are a useful way to
publicize and encourage participation
in fund-raising campaigns.
Nevertheless, a growing number of
charities are now asking whether it is
worth spending time on that approach,
especially in a period when groups are
facing so many staff cutbacks that everybody is trying to focus only on what
works. In just the past month, three
new reports have come out raising questions about how much charities benefit
from using social media. Among them:
n Philanthropy Action, an online journal for donors, found that 74 percent of
midsize charities raised less than $100
using social-networking sites or did
not know how much they’d raised that
n Seventy-nine percent of nonprofit
groups in a study by Weber Shandwick,
the public-relations firm, reported that
they could not determine how valuable
the Web sites were for their organizations.
n Fewer than one in five Americans
have made a donation using social-networking tools, according to a study by
Cone, a marketing firm.
TWO DAYS before last year’s Thanksgiving, Stacey Monk sent out a series of messages
on Twitter that would turn her tiny
charity, Epic Change, into a case
study on how to raise money using social-networking Web sites. “What are
you grateful for? Happy #Tweetsgiving!” she wrote. Her “tweets” included a link to a Web page, http://tweets
giving.org, that encouraged people to
give in honor of whatever they were
grateful for. The money would help
build a classroom at a school in Tanzania.
At the end of the 48-hour campaign, Epic Change had raised
$11,000 from 372 people, 98 percent
of whom were new donors. More than
3,000 “tweets” of gratitude were sent
with the #Tweetsgiving tag.
Twitter and Beyond
This Thanksgiving, Ms. Monk
found ways to expand the campaign
beyond Twitter. People in 40 cities
around the world organized “Tweets-
giving” parties to benefit her charity.
Supporters uploaded photographs to
Flickr, the photo-sharing Web site,
and submitted songs to the Web site
blip.fm, all in the name of expressing
gratitude and raising money for Epic
Several companies participated too.
1-800-Flowers donated a dollar for every new Twitter follower the company received during the two-day campaign. Convio made a gift of cash and
software, and Pizzeria Uno agreed to
give a portion of its sales on Thanksgiving to the charity.
And fifth-grade students joined
in from Tanzania, tweeting from the
classroom built with money from last
year’s Tweetsgiving. Some sneaked
into an Internet cafe to continue
sending Twitter messages after their
school had closed for the day.
Altogether the second Tweetsgiving campaign raised about $31,000.
More than 670 people made online
donations, and 21,226 messages were
sent with the tag #Tweetsgiving.
Ms. Monk, who worked as a consultant to businesses and charities
before co-founding Epic Change in
2007, credits the enthusiasm of the
volunteers who helped solicit donations for Epic Change, the simple idea
of giving thanks, and the short campaign period for the success of T weets-giving.
Next year she plans to expand the
number of fund-raising events and
reach out to more businesses that can
offer money and other types of help.
While her campaigns have been a
success, she says they show how fund
raisers who use social media need to
be willing to experiment and accept
risk. Ms. Monk was pleased with the
sum she raised this year, but it didn’t
come close to her goal of $100,000, an
amount she says “left room for miracles.”
“I wish there was a recipe, but it’s
just a little bit of luck and a little bit
of art,” she says. “That’s what makes
it fun, but also gives you that pain in
your stomach.” —CAROLINE PRESTON
ship at the Nature Conservancy. “It’s
where our donors will be.”
Learn More Online
Find out in a slide show how
charities are using Twitter and
other social-media tools. Go to:
Timothy Ogden, editor in chief of
Philanthropy Action, says charities
have little to gain if they become “early
adopters” of social-networking tools. For
now, organizations should focus on what
works and start using social media once
effective strategies develop, he says.
But others say that charities risk losing out on the chance to create awareness among the hundreds of millions of
people using Facebook and other tools.
Those sites aren’t spigots that charities
can turn on to unleash gifts, they say,
but places to build groups of supporters,
some of whom may turn into donors. In
the future, they say, lots of people will
be giving through the Web sites.
“It’s important for organizations to be
investing in social media now even if we
don’t have everything figured out,” says
Susan Citro, director of digital member-
Lessons About Online Efforts
Nonprofit officials who are raising money on the sites have already
learned some lessons about what works
and what does not. They say the Web
sites are useful for soliciting small donations over short time periods, motivating supporters to ask others to give,
and spreading the word about matching gifts.
The Nature Conservancy, for example, has attracted 17,500 supporters on
Twitter and 35,000 on Facebook. The
group used those sites to help promote
Plant a Billion Trees, a campaign that
raised more than $4-million by asking
people to give $1 apiece to save a tree.
People participating in the American
Cancer Society’s Relay for Life walk-athons and other events have raised
more than $850,000 through an initial
trial of a Facebook application by asking their friends for money.
Sometimes donors put up matching
gifts: Drew Carey, the comedian, has
offered to give $1-million to the Lance
Armstrong Foundation if he gets one
million Twitter followers by year’s end.
Often, volunteers and leaders of
small groups are behind the fund-raising drives. Stacey Monk, co-founder of
a charity that raised $11,000 in two
days on Twitter, says the enthusiasm
of volunteers translates well on social
“I don’t think you can be a paid
spokesperson and be able to articulate
that same level of authenticity,” she