Charlie Simpson shows charities the power of Twitter

What have one of the world’s oldest and most influential humanitarian organizations and a seven-year-old boy from Fulham got in common?

Both have shown in recent days the power and potential of using Twitter as a fundraising tool.

Twitter, and other social media, have become the front line for many third-sector organizations when it comes to bringing in donations – and have been used with great effect by the American Red Cross and Charlie Simpson.

From a single Twitter message, the American Red Cross was able to attract more than $35m online and mobile donations – more than for the whole of the Asian Tsunami and Katrina Hurrican appeals combined.

The appeal worked despite the charity not having a huge number of followers to receive the initial Tweet. But with careful targeting (including celebrities with massive followings, and other high-profile Twitterers) the ARC were able to leverage the power of social media to go viral very quickly.

Meanwhile, in the UK, seven-year-old Charlie Simpson raised £125,000 (and counting) for a five-mile charity bike ride he had hoped would raise £500.

And that was without any publicity other than a post on the JustGiving webite and a request to retweet from Unicef – the body he is raising funds for:

unicef_uk: Pls RT:Seven year old Charlie Simpson is doing a sponsored bike ride for UNICEF’s Haiti Appeal- You can sponsor him at: http://bit.ly/70mwpZ

Charlie’s fantastic achievement highlights Twitters ability to engage beyond the online world and into – and back out of – old media.

Once it became clear that Charlie’s fundraising campaign was taking off online, television and the newspapers picked up on it. The subsequent publicity drove doners to the web – where they not only gave, but carried on spreading the news. Old media keeps a very close eye on the web for potential news stories, and was quick to pick this one up.

There are some clear reasons why Twitter works so well in this way.

Twitterers, by their nature, like to share and spread information. The more they engage with others the more followers they are likely to get.

So, helpfully, the most popular Twitterers are often the most likely to retweet anything of interest. And a charity message – particularly one with a strong human element like Charlie’s story – is an ideal message to pass on. Firstly, it makes the sender feel they are doing something good, and secondly they know it will be well recieved.

So active Twitterers with large followings will retweet to others who have followings of their own.

The rapid snowball effect of this is what allowed an organization like the Red Cross – with a relatively small following – to rapidly spread its message through targeting the right Twitter users.

Smaller, or more specialized, charities can sometimes be put off Twitter by the feeling that they would struggle to build a significant following. But this example – and many others – shows that it is not necessarily quantity but quality that counts in terms of who is following you. Even if you are only being followed by 100 people, in reality your potential audience is closer to 100 million, as long as you know how to leverage it.

The ease of online giving is also an important factor. You can put out as many news reports and television appeals as you like, but the key is to make people respond to that call of action in the brief window where you have their attention.

If people don’t pick up the phone, or actively go online, while that window is open the chances are you’ve missed your opportunity.

Getting a Tweet – by its nature – means the reader is online, or using their mobile device. So you capture their attention and at the same time put in front of them an easy, quick and painless way to donate – ie a JustGiving page or other online donation facility.

This connection between message and call to action leads to a higher conversion rate – and more money for your cause.

As social media becomes more and more the default medium for spreading news quickly, Twitter for charities, not-for-profit and other third sector organizations is becoming less an option and more a necessity in the battle for hearts, minds and donations.

If you want to donate to Charlie Simpson’s charity bikeride – go to http://www.justgiving.com/CharlieSimpson-HAITI

To donate to the Red Cross – go to https://www.redcross.org.uk/emergencysite/Campaign.aspx?id=88917

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