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To tweet or not to tweet?

The recent discussion about the use of Twitter and other social media sites by fundraisers flagged up some really interesting points both for and against.

Both sides were compelling. However – and this is probably unsurprising, considering I’m the online editor of Third Sector and champion of all things digital – I came down in favour of using social media, and Twitter in particular.

As an initial Twitter doubter, I’ve since seen the error of my ways and now can’t imagine my working life without using it in some capacity – whether to help source stories, read comments or do research.

There was some concern among the commentators that Twitter is an invasion of privacy and that it would therefore be inappropriate for fundraisers to use it to approach donors. However, I think this misses the beauty of this social networking tool.

Users willingly sign up, knowing that they may be messaged by those that follow them and those that don’t. It is the very nature of the site. It promotes engagement and discussion and, most importantly, interaction.

It can help give an organisation a more human face by making a charity more approachable. And it offers engagement on a level that chugging and door-to-door fundraiser hasn’t been able to, by providing a open, relaxed environment where a donor or charity supporter can raise any concerns or issues they have with an organisation immediately, without having to wait weeks for a letter or phone call, and maybe even for no response at all.

It is also an information-sharing space, where people can learn more about organisations, about what’s new and interesting, and helps to develop relationships and connections.

It’s true a charity’s Twitter feed shouldn’t be a series of mundane messages, and nor should it become overly familiar or unprofessional. There is a balance to be struck. But it’s definitely worth a try.

And I don’t believe it should replace other forms of fundraising, which have been tried and tested and are successful. Instead, it should sit alongside them, because charities that aren’t using Twitter are missing out. So go on, give it a go…

  • Marc Simpson

    Couldn’t agree more. It actually seems really odd now when you can’t find the charity you’re looking for on twitter. Many people use it as a way of contacting them and as a preferred way to discuss things. Charities ignore twitter at their peril!

  • Steve Doherty

    Marc Simpson is right. Naysayers beware! Getting used to Twitter (or other similar sites) takes a little while, but becomes “second nature” very quickly. Follow us – see what we do, we’re still learning how best to build relationships with our supporters (old and new!) using Facebook and Twitter. @StDavidsHospice

  • Liam Barrington-Bush

    Great piece Gemma – was a tough discussion on the article you mentioned, highlighting some pretty deep divides!

    I would take your point a step further and say that we (as organisations and people working for them) need to rethink some of our notions of ‘professionalism’ to include the conversational, the emotional, the opinionated, as these are the elements that often encourage a more meaningful kind of interaction with people outside of our walls.

    Social media is a great catalyst for helping our organisations to be more like the people who make them up. As the previous article’s comments made clear, this is still a long way from most organisational realities, but is still a noble and necessary aim to be making the case for, in my opinion, as the world shifts towards a less top-down, and more involved kind of mass communication.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion 🙂

  • Chris Hornet

    How many potential volunteers have been lost? Most of them I reckon. There were two key time-frames which needed to be capitalised upon: the buzz around the opening up of volunteering opportunities and the games-time (and its immediate aftermath) itself. Both of those have been lost.

    Looking on from the outside it would be easy to say that the volunteering sector failed to get its act together. But there were many, including VE, telling LOCOG and Govt what needed to happen. The simple reason for why it didn’t happen I guess is a very practical one. The priority was to make sure the Olympics happened and to make sure that 70,000 volunteers were recruited, trained and managed to perform their roles (no mean feat). I think a little more honesty would have been nice about what was achievable so that expectations could have been managed better.

    I hope we’re not going to get thousands of people being bombarded with messages about their ‘interest’ in volunteering, when they’ve probably forgotten they’d registered to volunteer at the Olympics

  • John Barnes

    I agree its the chief exec / Finance director/ senior staff who should take the blame/. pay the costs – it is their management of the organisation that has failed through their failure to get funds and keep the board of trustees informed of the financial issues.

    It the senior management that get the rewards/glory when things go well so they should get the blame/pay the costs when through their actions things go badly

  • S B

    As a senior manager running an organization it would be nice to think I get the rewards and glory when things go well but that is not my experience. I am expected to ensure things go well, that is what I am paid for. There is no additional reward or even most often, acknowledgement, when it does. However I do agree that it is imperative that senior managers keep their boards informed, that is their responsibility. By the same token it is the boards responsibility to understands their duties as trustees and take those seriously, asking the right questions, managing the lead manager properly so that they fully understand what is happening within the organization and demanding relevant information if it is not forthcoming. If they have not done this then it is right that they accept the consequences of not having fulfilled their obligations. Taking things on trust is not part of a trustees job description. It is a difficult job for a trustee and does throw up yet again the question of whether unpaid boards are capable of really providing a strong and relevant governance structure for charities.

  • Jon NORTH

    Sounds a good plan John. Good to see a glimpse again of your common sense, which always made my working life more sane! Say all you want about the legal responsibilities of Trustees, but the dice are always loaded against them if they are not well-informed by the people they amploy and … trust to keep them in the picture.

  • Lauren Scott

    Interesting article John. But there seems to be the suggestion that the senior management were at fault for not informing the board of the issues. But I suppose it could equally be the case that the information was provided but that the trustees did not take proper notice of it, or deal with the issues appropriately. Either way, it looks messy and is one of the reasons why we usually always advise clients intending to set up new charities to use an incorporated vehicle (and to make sure that the trustees fully understand their duties and responsibilities). Incidentally, I’m not convinced that the trustees who have resigned will necessarily be off the hook in terms of liability, so it might be worth the organisation/its trustees seeking legal advice on this and their position more generally.

  • Michael Levitt

    If a charity employs staff or has other significant risks, then it is well advised to incorporate and take advantage of limited liability. This has been the advice for years. It is hard to understand what type of trustee cannot know about the financial collapse of a charity until it happens. Does he not ask for regular management accounts? Does he (or she) not do anything to find out what are his duties? Does he not realise he and his fellow trustees are running the show, not his employees? Come on, these types of trustee should take responsibility and not just view their position as some sort of gong.

  • Paul Griffiths

    There is a lesson here for anyone who signs up to be a Trustee of a charity. I would highly recommend reading ‘The Essential Trustee’ ( http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/publications/cc3.aspx#i1 ) .

    As I understand it, it would be the Trustees who would be liable in the first instance for the debts of the charity and they would be well advised to contact the Charity Commission for advice on their position.

    If it transpires that senior staff of the charity acted in an inappropriate and illegal manner the Trustees in turn might be in a position to recover their losses from those former staff.
    And, certainly if it was the case that staff acted illegally, by not providing Trustees with full and proper disclosure of the financial situation of the charity, this should be in the public domain so that these people are not put into position of trust again, where they might repeat their behaviour.