Those who know me know that I tweet—quite a bit.
I started tweeting in March 2009 and have come to the conclusion that Twitter is the best continuing professional development tool that has emerged for fundraisers since I started in the profession 15 years ago.
Back in the old days, if you wanted to keep up-to-date on fundraising, it was an expensive business. You would probably need to subscribe to at least two or three fundraising journals and attend at least two conferences a year where major charities, respected agencies and consultants would be presenting their latest case studies. You might hear on the grapevine about fundraisers who were doing excellent work. But unless they happened to write an article in a journal or you knew someone who knew them and could introduce you, you’d have little or no idea about the specifics.
Twitter has changed all that. In the UK, the directors of fundraising of most major charities tweet. The managing directors and senior creatives of many of the most successful fundraising agencies do too. Twitter and linking through to blogs is the shop window for their latest thinking. Thanks to the informality of the medium, few people mind someone else joining the conversation—as long as they add to it constructively!
Am I overselling? To illustrate, let me share a couple of stories about good things that have happened for me, and my institution, thanks to Twitter:
The agency that beat all of our previous appeals
Early on in my time on Twitter, I identified one person who consistently tweeted and blogged excellent content on donor motivations and how to create fundraising appeals that truly spoke to them. “A” was the creative director of a UK direct marketing agency (well-known among charities but not universities). I responded to some of her posts, and as we tweeted at one another, it emerged that she was a graduate of the University of Leeds–did I know? No, said I, and went back to check our database. She wasn’t on it. It turned out her details had never come through to us from student records. Score 1 for Twitter.
As conference co-chair, I invited A to come and speak at the CASE Europe Annual Giving conference and share some of her ideas around creating truly compelling direct mail appeals. Modest, thoughtful and wryly funny, she was a star at the event. Another university hired her agency almost immediately and the agency delivered the institution’s best direct mail appeal results in 10 years, on a very short lead-time. Score 2 for Twitter (but not for the University of Leeds quite yet!)
Armed with this information, I invited A’s agency to be one of those tendering for work at the University of Leeds&151;a process the agency staff won fair and square with the quality of their thought and planning. The first appeal they delivered for us was seven times more successful than our previous best. In fact, during the course of 12 weeks, the appeal raised more money and acquired more donors than the previous eight years’ worth of direct mail put together. Home run for Twitter, if not out of the park.
Finding a ready-made team of student researchers to bring our history back to life
In the UK—apart from Oxford and Cambridge—the university sector is still only beginning to rediscover the philanthropic tradition that founded so many of our great institutions. The University of Leeds has just one book that details the donations made between 1831 and 1951—and it is 60 years out of date. And there are no pictures.
I’d already been through the book, looking for information to bring the philanthropic story of our university’s beginnings to life for our new generation of donors and show them the proud tradition that they are now taking up. I was trying to
work out what some of these donations would be worth in current values—staggering sums, including a public appeal that raised £500,000 in
donations from more than 4,000 donors, in 1925.
But I had no time to visit the archives and try to find the letters and other original materials that would help bring this story to life.
Then I saw a story on Twitter about a group of undergraduate history students who were researching the history of philanthropy in Leeds and Yorkshire. I found out who in the school of history was supervising their research and got in touch. Were they looking at gifts to the university? No, not at the moment. Would they like to? Almost certainly, yes!
A few months on, I am about to brief five of our undergraduate students on a 200-hour project to hunt through our archive materials and find letters, photographs, newspaper stories and anything else to help build the story around philanthropy at the university. Fingers crossed, I think they will find wonderful things, and I hope they, and our donors, will love the results.
Neither of these things would have happened had I not been on Twitter (and had a couple of lucky breaks, of course). I can’t guarantee that you will have similar experiences but if you only follow 50 people or aren’t on Twitter, then you’re missing out. Get on. Follow everyone who looks interesting—I follow nearly 1,800 people. Don’t worry about saying anything to start with—listen, learn and click through. Maybe you’ll get the chance to make your own luck, too.