Developing Online Donors with Twitter Chats for Nonprofits

Building an audience of loyal customers, fans, and followers is an important part of social media marketing for any online business, including nonprofit organizations. However, as a nonprofit, you are developing a base of online donors (not customers) and have the option of using your website and social media for fundraising (not sales building). Social media sites such as Twitter provide an opportunity to find, engage, and grow a base of active, online donors for your nonprofit.

According to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC), 62 percent of nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada saw an increase in online gifts in 2013. Additional research indicates that the online giving trend is expected to continue growing by double-digit rates, year-over-year. One reason attributed to the increase is the noticeable rise of millennial giving (the generation of donors 18 to 31 years old). Each year, 60 percent of millennial donors give nearly $500 to their preferred causes, according to the Generational Giving Report, from Blackbaud.

Even more encouraging is that millennials turn to mobile phones and social media as their means for getting involved and making donations. A recent study on The Millennial Impact showed that this generation actively stays in touch with nonprofits on social media, with nearly half of those surveyed saying that they follow up to five nonprofits on social media.

Think of the growth your organization could see in fundraising dollars if you could find active and influential online donors and get them interested in your cause. An effective way to use social media to engage both existing and new online donors is to host a Twitter chat, which is also called a tweet chat. Think of it as a live webinar or an in-person networking event that takes place through the social media site Twitter.

As with any event, a tweet chat occurs on a set date (often monthly), is led by a host organization (in this case, your nonprofit), includes a theme (some topic that's the center of discussion or learning), and uses a moderator to keep the conversation moving. Attendees show up to the tweet chat by using a certain hashtag (such as #VolunteerChat) to follow the stream of conversation over their Twitter feed. Unlike most offline events, tweet chats go by fast, usually lasting only 30 to 45 minutes.

When you are ready to host a tweet chat for your nonprofit, remember these six tips:

  • Promote the tweet chat: Just because you have a tweet chat doesn't mean people will show up. As with any event, you need to let people know about it ahead of time. Tweet about the upcoming chat several times leading up to the event; advertise it on your website; and send e-mails to your existing donor base letting them know about the new opportunity to learn more about your nonprofit.

  • Use the same hashtag for each tweet chat: When possible, choose a simple term to use as the hashtag for your event, and use the same hashtag for every tweet chat you host. The hashtag typically includes the word chat at the end to help Twitter users recognize it as a chat.

  • Schedule a set time and date for a recurring tweet chat: To get started, you may want to try a tweet chat in coordination with another offline event or special fundraising campaign. However, if you really want to grow an active following of online donors, consider hosting a recurring (monthly or quarterly) tweet chat for your nonprofit.

  • Identify a social moderator: Organizing a tweet chat seems like a fairly straightforward activity, but having a social-media-savvy member of your team to serve as the moderator can make a big difference. You want someone who is already comfortable and familiar with using Twitter and who can easily guide an online conversation.

  • Prepare questions in advance: Even a polished online moderator needs to show up prepared to a tweet chat. The easiest way to ensure that conversations are focused and stay on track is to have a designated topic (or guest) for each event, and then prepare five to ten questions to ask to keep the conversation lively.

  • Keep the conversation going: After the tweet chat ends, be sure to send out tweets thanking those attendees who contributed to the chat. You can also capture the thread of conversation and make it available for others to see after the tweet chat ends.

Successful tweet chats take time to build, so don't get discouraged if attendance or activity is initially low. (You may want to request that a certain number of board members or volunteers show up for each event to seed your Twitter audience with active contributors. As you continue to promote the events, you may be pleased to see how much your following grows — and the effect the tweet chats have in expanding your base of online donors.

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