February 17, 2009

Amanda Rose’s reflections on Twestival

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Amanda Rose at the London Twestival
Photo by @mikebutcher

Beth KanterThe Twestival combined online twitter fundraising with a groundswell of offline self organized events in 202 cities around the world on February 12. This world-wide fundraiser, with a $1 million fundraising goal, brought together the Twitter community for an evening of fun and to raise money and awareness for charity: water.

Last week, I was in San Francisco leading a workshop and helped organized a group of attendees for TwestivalSF. Unfortunately, I was sick, so didn’t make to the event. One of the workshop participants kindly brought me bag of schwag which included a t-shirt and other goodies and told me how wonderful it was!

The Twestival events kicked off in New Zealand and traveled around the world. Everyone was watching closely, would they make their $1,000,000 goal?  Would Twestival forever change the nature of social media fundraising.  It has taken few days for Twestival to report on the results. Allison Fine wondered aloud why it was so difficult to find out the final numbers and whether it was a strategic decision because they were disappointing. She came to the conclusion of “campaign exhaustion” and “system challenges,” which were on target.

Based on the an analysis of previous fundraising campaigns (see “Twitter As Charitable Giving Spreader: A Brief History and Meta Analysis of Fundraising With Twitter“),  the first time I heard about Twestival I knew it signaled something different. Almost all the previous fundraising campaigns using Twitter were organized by a single person or organization. Previous fundraising on Twitter was about individuals leveraging their personal networks.

This was something different because it was a networked fundraiser of a scale we haven’t seen before and not controlled by a non-profit organization. The first post I wrote was called “Look Out Here Comes Everybody To Raise Money for charity:water on Twitter” with a wink to Clay Shirky’s work. In the comments, there was quite a lively discussion from nonprofit professionals raising some cautions and concerns.

This made me curious:

  • How did Twestival get started?  What is its relationship with charity:water?
  • What was the role of the nonprofit, charity:water, in working with Twestival?
  • How did the relationship originate?
  • How is the event being organized?
  • What does this say for nonprofits in an age of connectedness?

I wrote a follow up post titled “Are Fundraising Groundswells A Massive Opportunity or Distraction for Nonprofit Organizations” based on an interview with Ben Matthews, a member of the London founding group. He told me that I really needed to interview  Amanda Rose, the person doing the lion’s share of the organizing for Twestival.  She agreed to do a reflection interview with me, sharing what worked and what didn’t.

Amanda Rose is a Canadian who moved to London from Toronto several years ago with a strong background in events, PR, and marketing. She co-founded a film and event locations company where she does consulting. She recently completed a MA in Communications Management, which is where she started to tap her passion for social media, particularly micro-blogging.

As one of the key people on the Global Twestival team, her role involved a lot of different tasks; setting the strategy, writing the guidebook, mentoring city organizers, establishing teams for sideline projects, administration, working with the charity, securing partnerships, developing website content, and communications. As Amanda notes, “It quickly became too much for one person, particularly as a volunteer. I felt responsibility for the charity’s brand and overall protection of the volunteers so they could focus on what was important.”

Not long after they announced Twestival, it took on a life of its own. Says Amanda, “I knew this was a very exciting project which would not only raise a lot of money but would create awareness and bring communities together. I originally thought that we may have 50 cities involved, but only after a week of announcing it on Twitter there were over 100 cities signed up with new requests every hour. Over a dozen Twestivals were registered in the UK alone. There was a process to become an official city because I wanted to ensure that there were teams established because organizing an event alone can be a daunting prospect.”

Amanda shares how she worked closely with the nonprofit, charity:water. Says Amanda, “The organization was very receptive, creative, and professional.  Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water was enroute to Ethiopia when we discussed Twestival. He was extremely enthusiastic, asked a lot of questions and connected me with the rest of the NYC office to work through logistics.”

Amanda says that the most important goal was that everything was done in a professional and secure way in working with the nonprofit organization, charity:water. This happened on a short-time frame too. Says Amanda, “It was really the last two weeks when Scott returned from Africa that they began to get actively involved with the NYC Twestival, attending meetings and offering whatever knowledge and resource they could. The team was fantastic and we had regular Skype calls and emails discussing issues that came up. They set up a page on their web site about the Twestival for the event and really listened to us.”

Amanda says that the skills required to manage over 200 teams of volunteers include:

  • A strong vision
  • Leadership ability
  • Management and delegation skills
  • Administration skills
  • Multi-task
  • Communication and networking skills
  • Clear understanding of social media
  • International experience
  • Event management skills

There were many times Amanda was surprised by the responses to the event.  She observes that many companies, organizations, and people wanted to come together and participate without knowing exactly what or how.  Amanda notes that “It became a balancing act of figuring out what was appropriate for the Twestival sponsorship and keeping supporters engaged.”   This is probably a challenge that many event organizers with event sponsors have to face.

Amanda says “I did not expect to find myself in tears at 3am after seeing a video by a team in Asheville who spent their weekend making a video after campaigning locally, spreading news about how 1 in 6 people in the world don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water. The sheer amount of talent and contribution that came out of Twestival was mind blowing.”

Amanda is thrilled with the way the even turned out, but says she would do things differently next time around:

1) Don’t Spearhead A Worldwide Event Alone. Amanda says the next Twestival needs a better system and more capacity for managing the large number of cities and volunteers that want to participate. She notes, “I believe I did the best I could under the circumstances but felt really frustrated because I wanted to give city organizers all of the resources they asked for but either physically didn’t have time or capacity to implement.”

2) Providing A Better Virtual Hub To Support Volunteers. Amanda says the website was a key element in reaching out to the cities and that she was not prepared for the amount of work that went into setting it up. Says Amanda, “Even through this was a volunteer-run event, there was a level of expectation from people once they signed up.  I think most understood that we were doing the best we could with our resources and limited time – but it was frustrating not to be able to offer them something beyond a blog to connect and share.”

3) Be more prepared to work internationally. Amanda says it was difficult to work with cities around the world, all with different financial systems, fundraising approaches, and cultures.

4) Set up a system for incoming donations to be aggregated quickly and easily. Donations were coming in from several streams, including Amiando, Tipjoy, Paypal,  and cash donations. This made it difficult to tabulate the amount raised quickly. In addition, being able to produce real time tracking reports that showed how much each city still had to work to achieve their original fundraising target would have motivated them and spawned a bit of friendly competition.

5) Extend the planning timeline to 2-3 months. Amanda admits that it was stressful to work under these very tight timelines. “However, not unlike Twitter which is restricted to 140 characters, I wanted to challenge everyone to see what we could do in the span of a few weeks. This generated a lot of buzz and enthusiasm on Twitter and extended offline.”  Amanda observes that volunteers were amazed with what they could do in this short a timeline and the amount of creativity that surfaced was truly inspiring.  Amanda points out, “Hawaii raised over $7k in 9 days, Toronto $10k in about 15 days.  What we are left with now are international teams who have a passion to do this again – only bigger. The feedback so far has been incredible and many cities feel disappointed that they couldn’t reach their goal this time; but the amount of awareness they were able to generate through their community or local press is a testament to their hard work.”

Amanda says they’ve decided to extend their fundraising deadline beyond February 12th so they can reach the $1 million goal. Says Amanda, “At the moment the fundraising tally is over $200k, which is pretty amazing considering there are zero costs related to that (unless you count lack of sleep).  ne million was always a big aim to have and from the original goals set out by cities and other pending projects, it was certainly achieveable, which is why we decided to put it in the press release.  When we knew the number would be close, we acknowledged this as a way to increase awareness and encourage donations from the mainstream.  This was extremely successful from that standpoint and I have no doubt that we will reach our target, it just may take a little bit longer.”

charity: water have invited Amanda to visit Ethiopia with them at the start of April (costs paid by private donors, not fundraising).  She is planning to document exactly where the Twestival money is going by drilling a well and meeting with locals who will benefit from this project. Says Amanda, “I think that today, people want to have that connection with their contribution and charity: water embraces social media as a way to be as transparent as possible. This is why they were the perfect charity to work with on this somewhat experimental event series to match social networking with social good. I am grateful for the opportunity and excited about the future. ”

This post originally appeared on Beth’s Blog.


Entry-Level Living, Reflecting on Social Media Fundraising

Mashable, Twestival Raises Over $250,000
Guardian, Twestival Raises $250,000 and Expectations

Twestival Local will take place Sept. 10-13, 2009, and Twestival 2010 on Feb. 12, 2010.

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Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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