‘Please donate’ in 140chars?

Does your charity ever tweet general donations asks? Should your organisation capitalise on it’s healthy social community by reminding them to donate or would formally asking this way alienate them? Here’s some food for thought to help you work out whether tweeting asks is right for you.

Strategically not asking?

This morning’s Social Brands 100 report listed Dog’s Trust as top charity. This tweet appeared as part of the launch event (text: From the beginning @dogstrust decided not to fundraise through social media but to build their community).

Dogs Trust don't fundraise through social media

Dog’s Trust are masters of using the right content on their social media to grow and engage their community. To date, they have 82,400 followers on Twitter and 517,000 Facebook likes. They generally tweet / post about events, pictures of cute dogs as well as passing on messages from people fundraising for Dog’s Trust.  But no direct appeals for donations.

A very quick straw poll of five random charities on Twitter found that in the last four days, none sent a please donate tweet. The only fundraising-related tweets were one justgiving request and one promo for a raffle. These were charities with significant numbers of followers (from 6000 – 719,000).

Asking as part of appeals

Generally, direct asks tend to relate to an appeal and invite a donation via text such as these two examples (from the British Heart Foundation and Epilepsy Action).

BHF ask - Mending Broken Hearts Appel

Epilepsy Action - text giving tweet

General asks

The only general, out of the blue ask I found was from Providence Row (again for text giving). Lovely language: “If you’re feeling generous today, please consider donating…. Sending good vibes your way”

Providence Row - text donation ask

Reasons for not tweeting asks

So, tweeting an ask is not common practice, but why? I asked this question on UKFundraising’s LinkedIn group recently and got some interesting thoughts about why it wasn’t done:

  • Organisations don’t have a large donor following on Twitter so they believe it wouldn’t generate much income or response.
  • They ask their donors/supporters so much by other channels that they don’t want to over ask and ‘switch’ them off
  • Other departments other than fundraising control the charities tweets and prefer to use them only for non fundraising uses
  • Twitter feels more like a friendly chat over the garden fence and not really the place to make a direct ask. However, it’s a great place to let people know about charities or even a particular appeal (with a link) and they can then decide for themselves if they want to get more involved.

One person said “its important to firstly build up and engage with followers by tweeting on issues of interest to them rather than using it solely for fundraising requests. A constant stream of straight donation requests is likely to lead to people un-following.”

So other than practical internal control of social media, concerns were about turning people off. Is this realistic? Surely people who follow charities through social media know that they rely on donations to survive and will tolerate and could even act on the odd request for money? Are we just being embarrassed about asking? Are we missing a trick by not tapping into this warm audience?

How do YOU feel as a follower?

As a consumer of charity tweets, do you ever see general ‘Please make a donation’ tweets amongst all the others? How do you feel about these? Do they make you want to give? Would you un-follow?


Think about your twitter / social media strategy (if you have one):

  • Is your policy based on when you were growing the community rather than now it is established?
  • How do you know what your followers want and don’t want?
  • Have you asked them what they want? (See this twitter survey from English Heritage)
  • Have you tried asking for a donation? (See what happens and use tracking to count donations / page hits / unfollows etc)
  • What does success or failure look like? If 1% of your followers donated £5 and 1% un-followed would this be ok?

I wrote this KnowHow NonProfit guide: How to use Twitter for fundraising which has some tips about writing, timing and technical giving ideas.

What do you do?

Do you tweet asks? Does it just not work? What frequency is ok (once a month / once a week?) Please share your views and experiences here.


8 thoughts on “‘Please donate’ in 140chars?

  1. An excellent post Madeleine. As the person who sent Epilepsy Action’s tweet out, there have been two direct asks this week as part of National Epilepsy Week – one for credit/debit card donations and one for text giving – out of dozens of tweets that are going out over the seven days of awareness-raising.

    The credit/debit card ask got a decent number of retweets, but very few donations. That’s why we only send do them very rarely.

    I’d be interested in the differences between organisations where the Twitter feed is mainly aimed at service-users and those where the feed is aimed at supporters. A good percentage of our followers at @epilepsyaction are people with epilepsy themselves. For, say, English Heritage or the National Trust, all (I presume) of their followers are supporters, so are their success rates for direct asks via Twitter higher?

  2. Thanks for this. The reason we don’t ask on often Twitter often is many faceted, firstly as we spoke about yesterday we wanted to grow the audience before asking, we consider these channels to be a friendship, would you ask a new friend for money early on? Also Twitter is fast moving, we have tried in the past as as Mark above mentions we get lots of retweets but few donations, though the ones we do get are higher than average value. Facebook on the other hand get more lower value donations but fewer shares. Finally the audience is very different, we are followed by dog lovers, not necessarily Dogs Trust Lovers, other charities, veterinary groups and special interest groups, these people are helping dog welfare in there own way not necessarily financial.

  3. Very interesting article and comments from Mark and Jacqui. For me, I have found the best ask is not to come from the charity itself but from a supporter. I have often tweeted my followers asking them to donate to a charity – On Mother’s Day I asked my followers to consider setting up a regular gift to Child’s i as they help orphans find families and I had a follower tweet back that she had done so! I think charities should make the most of harnessing their digital champion supporters, who are really passionate about their cause, and to encourage them to tweet donation asks rather than make the direct ask themselves.
    Alternatively…perhaps ride on the next meme wave a la #CharityShakeOff 🙂

  4. Thanks Mark, Jacqui and Kirsty for sharing your experiences. It’s really valuable to get an insight into the response you’ve had to twitter asks.

    Your comments suggest that a direct ask is too blunt for twitter. That twitter activity should concentrate on nurturing communities and if they donate at some point, it’s a bonus. So, rather than directly asking we should hope that supporters pass on the ask and follow links to campaigns / information / meme(s?) and then feel inspired to donate?

    Any success stories out there? Can anyone share experiences of when their organisation has tweeted an ask and their followers respond? Does this only work for crisis fundraising?

  5. Hi Madeleine,

    Great blog post. A few years ago I remember Breast Cancer Care received a donation for every RT of a message mentioning Smint. I seem to remember it being really popular. We used a similar tactic with a corporate partner at the NSPCC on the ‘All Babies Count’, campaign. This activity was really popular and we received lots of RT’s even though the donation (was guaranteed by the sponsor) grrr….

    About direct asks I have recently found myself donating to more and more kickstarters via Twitter asks but these are projects which generally I have followed for awhile or built up social rapport with the person fundraising. I think direct asks via Twitter can work but I would always prefer as the person donating that the money be ring-fenced and directly to a particular project.

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