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And now, Twitter philanthropy

In a new era of social giving, nonprofits tap the Web’s social networks.

By Matthew ShaerStaff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / March 1, 2009

Oliver Weiss/


New York

They gathered at beach resorts in Dubai, pubs in London, and a noisy cafe in Beijing. Here in New York, they flocked to a popular West Side bar. By the time the sun set on the first annual Twestival, some 10,000 attendees in 200 cities across the globe had donated more than a quarter of million dollars to clean-water efforts in Africa and India.

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Welcome to the age of “social giving.” Spurred on by the success of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, campaigns like the Twestival, which was organized on the microblogging platform Twitter, are changing the landscape of modern philanthropy, say industry insiders. Out go the traditional fundraisers, with their extraneous marketing costs and rolls of red tape. In comes a new wave of digital efforts – often engineered by the same young activists that sealed Mr. Obama’s election.

“There’s a huge surge going on here,” says Allison Fine, author of “Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age,” and a senior fellow at Demos, a public policy think-tank in New York. “On one hand, as large numbers of people come to social networks, from Facebook to MySpace, causes will come into the conversation. It’s part of the genetic makeup of Americans to share their passion for causes.”

On the other hand, Ms. Fine continues, “You’ve got the technological ease of creating social networks. It’s not difficult anymore to create that networking function. The only difficulty is in creating the critical mass.”

The Twestival, which wrapped on Feb. 12, had little trouble generating buzz. Only hours after founder Amanda Rose made public her plans for the campaign in January, the news went viral, spiraling out across hundreds of blogs and Twitter feeds. Soon, Ms. Rose had secured a small army of volunteers and a team of corporate partners including TipJoy, which allowed users to contribute directly online.

“There’s an older mentality when it comes to fundraising, which is, ‘give it to me now,’ ” says Beth Kanter, a new-media consultant and blogger who has written extensively on the Twestival. “But that’s not good fundraising. When you leverage a social network, you can launch smaller, employ the best practices, and gain trust.”

Ms. Kanter has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity using her blog and a range of social networks, including Twitter. She says that many traditional nonprofits have been slow to adapt to the realities of the Digital Age. They hold out their coffers, and wait for the money to arrive, without realizing that an effective campaign is built carefully and incrementally using preexisting online groups.