twestival: sorry, not fans

As long as we’re jumping off the band wagon and swimming completely upstream on the popular social media fundraising strategies, we’re going for the whole enchilada with this post.

Consider this is our “The Emperor Has No Clothes” post.

charity:water is announcing a twestival (tweeting+festival). Mashable is joining in. The idea is to build awareness for charity:water and get people to eventually give to charity:water.

Because we’re good people, first we’ll tell you the things we like: Love the charity:water website. very nice. very focused. great navigation. Love, love their “birthday” strategies. Love their mission.

However, Don’t love the twestival strategy. Don’t like it. (Deep breath) even think it’s dumb.

To the twestival. 100 cities are involved, 100% of the money donated goes to the charity (it’s unclear if that means no fundraising and administrative costs).

Again, beating the drum:

Does charity:water get an opportunity to cultivate a relationship with those who donate?

Can charity:water have an opportunity to thank those who give?

After all the hoopla dies, does charity:water have anything more than the gifts? You may be thinking, “Cash is nice.” Agreed. But in the world of analytically-driven strategy, the keys are “what did those donors cost you to acquire?” and “what is the long-term value of those donors?” Anything else is change in a jar.

Bottomline: You cannot build a healthy ministry or charity on change in a jar. You have to sort out what donors are worth, what it took you to acquire them, and (the toughest) what those donors are worth to your organization long-term.

If you aren’t answering those questions in your donor acquisition, then you’ve just put out a tip jar and are asking for pocket change.

What does your ministry need in 2009: pocket change or relationships? We want to hear what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

9 thoughts on “twestival: sorry, not fans”

  1. I agree with your thoughts on Twestivals. I am a big believer in creating a relationship with a donor and turning it into a long term partnership for the same cause (charity, non-profit, etc.). I personally think that this Twestival is just a tip jar BUT you never know where technology or an idea will take you in the future. With enough passion it might turn into something much bigger.

    I want to share with your readers information about a tip jar that started in 1891 and today is still alive and well – raising over $118 million dollars (2007) nationwide to help the poor. The organization will never be able to know or thank each individual that helped. I even remember as a little girl that my father would give to that tip jar every holiday season. And today that tradition lives on as I contribute to that tip jar (bucket) outside Macy’s and remember my father and how I want to help even more. He planted a seed in me by his action. Here is how that true combination of passion and a tip jar started.

    In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he wanted to provide Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken. He only had one major hurdle to overcome — funding the project.

    Where would the money come from, he wondered. He lay awake nights, worrying, thinking, praying about it. As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembered how at Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.
    The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.

    Captain McFee was what I call a Trail Blazer in his time –he just didn’t have a computer or the internet to launch his fundraiser. How incredible is it that his compassion for the poor and his idea lives on today around the world. Last year, the funds from this tip jar helped The Salvation Army provide food, clothing, toys and other assistance to nearly 29 million Americans in need.

  2. Carol,
    You make a great point. Captain McFee was a Trail Blazer and his idea has done so much good through the years. I didn’t know where he got the idea for the kettle. He was paying attention to the culture around him. Thanks for the inspiration.

    What Charity:Water and the Salvation Army have in common is that they are/were both start-ups at this point. Neither had much to lose in taking these risks–and everything to gain. With existing organizations, the risks have to be calculated and mitigated. It is difficult for an organization that is not in start-up to bank on trendy donors who may be giving more for the fun and flash rather than to support the work of the org.

  3. Steve:
    Thank you for this, and for pointing me to it. As you know from my own posts, I could not agree more. And I love the tipjar analogy!

    You may enjoy reading the Introduction to The Pollyanna Principles, where I talk about history of charity that has brought us to today – a history that has done little to create a future much different from the past. The mindset you describe above is part of that discussion. You can find the intro here: http://pollyannaprinciples.org/

    Thanks again for this post and for pointing me to it!

  4. Hi Steve,

    As I posted on Hildy’s blog on a slightly different topic, I have to respectfully disagree.

    Were it not for the Twestival idea I would never have heard of Charity: Water. Not only have I now heard of them, but I have a good idea of their mission and have spent time on their website. I have read about their founder and have a good feel for their ethos. Oh yes, and I’ve bought a ticket for the Twestival event in Edinburgh, Scotland tomorrow night, so they’ve got my first donation.

    Will Charity: Water go on to build a relationship with me and move me along the line to being a long term supporter? That’s up to them. If they search blog comments then they will find me.

    250 tickets have been sold for the Edinburgh event at just under $10 each. If each of the 175 cities hosting a Twestival event does the same then that’s well over $400,000 raised. Add in the raffles and auctions at the events, and it could be well over $500,000. Raised around the world, with hardly any costs (everything seems to be being donated FOC) in a single evening (and a month’s work by volunteers.

    I really wish this wasn’t being turned into an “either / or” discussion. I’m sure Charity: Water would love to have found all of the participants and built a relationship and nurtured it, etc. etc. But I have one question, “Do you really think they’d ever have been able to find me?”

    One final comment on what Hildy had to say, “I talk about history of charity that has brought us to today – a history that has done little to create a future much different from the past.” This totally depends on what you are looking at. I work for a cancer research charity. The future for people dignosed with cancer today is VERY different from what it was in the past, and this is in no small measure down to funds raised and research carried out by charities such as mine.



  5. @Jack, Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    We think charity:water is an amazing organization. We think they are very cool in mission and in the way they operate. We’re all for them.

    I wouldn’t disagree that the “gate” or funds raised at an event like this are significant. There certainly is a place for one-time gifts. Who’s going to turn down $500,000? Not most organizations. But from my perspective, I have to wonder what it cost to generate those “one-time gifts” in real costs (all expenses applied not just direct) and what would happen if that same energy and focus were applied to efforts that would allow for a long-term value analysis and a 2nd Gift Strategy to be applied? I have to wonder if over the course of time, that the latter would be better.

    But, I’m watching and learning, just like most of us are.
    Social media is the wave of the future, no question, how it works and how we scale it across organizations of different sizes remains to be seen!

    We’re encouraging our clients to use Social Media in unique ways, but haven’t yet decided that it seems to be an effective donor acquisition tool. We believe it is a powerful relationship tool, which in our world is how donors are cultivated but not effectively acquired (yet).

    Thanks for your service to cancer research. You’re doing vital work.

    Many thanks.

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