Last week, I wrote about Twestival, the most recent example of fundraising on Twitter and a networked fundraiser of a scale we haven't seen before. I titled the post "Look Out Here Comes Everybody To Raise Money for charity:water on Twitter" with a wink to Clay Shirky's work. In the comments, there was quite a lively discussion from nonprofit professionals raising some cautions and concerns.
This made me curious:
- How did Twestival get started? What is its relationship with charity:water?
- What was the role of the nonprofit, charity:water, in working with Twestival?
- How did the relationship originate?
- How is the event being organized?
- What does this say for nonprofits in an age of connectedness?
First, let me recap what Twestival is.
On February 12, 2009, Twitter users will meet up in over 100 plus cities to socialize offline, meet other Twitter users, enjoy some fun, have a few drinks, and raise money for charity: water. This event combines the lessons learned from previous fundraising activities on Twitter:
- A local, face-to-face component based on the popular "Tweet Ups" or "Net2Tuesday" meetups
- Decentralized event organizing, it's grassroots and anyone can organize a local event
- The charity isn't the central organizer of the event - it appears that they are letting their stakeholders run with it and not imposing "branding and messaging" standards. Each localized event is putting its own unique flair to the event.
- Micro donations using TipJoy
- Focus 24 hour event with broadcasts and all local partners participating to raise awareness (a sort of Blog Action Day on steroids)
- They have announced a goal of raising $500,000, based on each city establishing its own goal.
I'm attending the TwestivalSf in San Francisco - anyone else?
In the comments, there was quite a lively discussion from nonprofit professionals raising some cautions and concerns. I've summarized some of themes below:
Is this a swarm of independent mavericks or a carefully crafted and managed groundswell?
David Kinard, nonprofit marketing consultant, mentioned a big concern about peer-to-peer fundraising: the big picture is lost, and the impact to the greater good is diminished. He also had concerns about the apparent disjointed effort underway.
Allison Fine observed that the big picture goal of efforts like Twestival is to begin to develop larger ecosystems of activists that are connected and coordinated with one another. She notes, "The focus of leaders in the sector needs to be how to better work within these ecosystems to meet their own missions as well as meet the larger needs of communities."
This lead me to ask what exactly were those new nonprofit leadership skills?
Marcia suggested that the skills are similar to those of a symphony orchestra conductor. Shirky adds to this point:
As someone who trained as a classical flutist and has played in a symphony orchestra or two, the conductor's role is pivotal for that synchronicity but if the musicians know their parts, the score, and someone gives the downbeat, they could play without the conductor. Especially if the players in the orchestra have been playing together for years!
David felt this was less of an issue of learning new leadership skills, but simply a distraction.
Twestival: The origins of the 'Tweet, meet, and give"
I was curious about how the Twestival founders connected with charity:water. I interviewed Ben Matthews who was part of the organizational group that dreamed up the Twestival concept in London in September 2008. The group consisted of @amanda, @tommalcolm, @renate and @timhoang. They all work in PR, but Ben is the founder of Brightone, a company that works with charities. So this is a group of social media power users and pr professionals who have some experience with nonprofits. And they were not total strangers to one another. Says Ben, "We knew each other on Twitter."
Says Ben, "The idea was to run a festival that got people who followed each other on Twitter to meet up in real life, but also come together to raise money for a good cause at the same time." This small group organized the first Twestival to raise money for The Connection, an organization that helps homeless people by providing specialist services. "What's amazing is that the whole thing came together in about 3 weeks and generated lots of interest and around 300 attendees (with a waiting list) in such a short space of time."
Buoyed by the success of their first event, the Twestival organizers wanted to do a second event, selecting a charity that had a global outreach and an active presence on Twitter. They were looking for a charity that was transparent and could easily demonstrate the impact of their fundraising efforts. Kiva, charity:water and a few others were mentioned.
The Relationship with charity:water
This group of Twitter do gooders in London did not a formal relationship with the charity:water management staff, but charity:water's founder, Scott Harrison, was active on Twitter (@scottharrison). As Ben observes, "Well that ticked the boxes on the accountability and global presence fronts. Whatever amount that Twestival raises, every pound, dollar, pesos, krone and whatever else will go straight to charity:water and that money will be used to directly fund charity:water projects."
When the Twestival founders approached charity:water, they listened to the organization's concerns. The nonprofit wanted to make sure that the money raised got to charity:water. The Twestival partnered with amiando and tipjoy to ensure that the money goes into a central source and can be easily tracked. (See Rachel Weidinger's thoughts about the importance of a donation system respecting donor privacy, though.)
Ben also mentions that the charity:water's other concern is that the event must be a success for charity:water's own reputation. "Their 2008 Christmas ball raised a very large amount of money, so we have a lot to live up to, but are confident that the Twestival events happening in over 160 cities worldwide on February 12th 2009, it will be a great success!"
Also bear in mind that charity:water had been aware of the event plans long before any formal announcements were made. They have had control in whether to let, Twestival, raise money for their work. As Ben notes, "If they did feel that we were going to disrupt them from focusing on their core mission, then they could simply say have said no. We would have identified a different charity."
It is also important to point out as Scott Harrison mentions in the video above, that Twitter power users and indeed the founders of Twitter have been supportive of the charity:water over the past year. This large scale event is the not the first. There were other smaller events to support charity:water on Twitter prior to the September event organized by Twestival.
The Swarm Is Organized, Not Random
The Twestival has been a grassroots effort lead by Amanda, a professional events organizer. According to Ben, she had the vision to take Twestival worldwide and has taken on responsibility of organizing the global aspect. With over 160 cities participating, Ben observes, "It's a momentous task with an amazing amount of time an energy required to bring it all together, but she's really achieved so much already, which will hopefully lead to lots of money being raised on the night."
While Twestival is an all-volunteer effort organized outside of the nonprofit direct management and control, the volunteers are highly organized. There are guidelines of how the city organizers can run their own event. It is not a template. Ben says, "We didn't want to dictate what they did, as it didn't matter how big or small it was or how much money they raised. By allowing people to design their own events but under the original ethos of Twestival of raising money for a selected charity, the event becomes more self-organising. Having said that, I'm sure Amanda's email inbox is the busiest in the world right now!"
Tony Scott (@tonys), a technology volunteer, has also been instrumental in the effort. He's put together the main Twestival site that helped the cities to manage their own events.Says Ben, "It's through here that all the details, ticketing, sponsors and other info for all of the individual events are gathered. The dev blog is a testament to his work."
The Twestival just announced a goal of $500,000. So, on February 13th, we'll be able to see where this all goes and how networked fundraising evolves and what the implications are for nonprofit social media strategies and leadership.
Questions to ponder ....
- charity:water has a presence on Twitter and has the caught the attention of social media gurus like Twitter's founders and Mashable. Can nonprofits who have relationships with social media rockstars create a groundswell of support?
- Many nonprofits perceive "personal networking" on social networking sites like Twitter to be a waste of time. If this campaign reaches its financial goal and is a success for the organization, there certainly should demonstrate a ROI for personal networking and building relationships?
- What are the best ways to cultivate relationships with free agent fundraisers and collaborate on fundraisers with them? Seems like facilitative leadership is key.
- Could there be other groundswells of disjointed activists who don't connect with the charity - but take on the fundraising or even the program delivery that does not further the greater good?
Mashable, Twestival Social Media for Social Change
Other links aggregated on my original post, "Look Out, Here Comes Everybody To Raise Money for charity:water on Twitter"
Posts about earlier charity:water and Twitter efforts
Paul Young's Reflection on his September Birthday Campaign
Pistachio's experiment in micro fundraising
September Birthdays on charity:water