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Is Your Charity Tweeting for Twollars, er, Dollars?

Lori Halley 29 May 2009 7 comments

Twollars, the Twitter-based “currency of appreciation” that came out quietly in February, stepped into the spotlight this week with the launch of a new site design, a write-up by the high-profile online tech magazine Mashable, and even a passing mention in Business Week. CharityWater.org scored more than $1,500 US from Twollars — but will those virtual micro-donations add up to real-world funds for other charities?

Comments about Twollars at Mashable.com range from “This is fantastic and ingenious” to “This is just pure nonsense” to questions about what advantage this new virtual currency system offers to charities over TipJoy, which enables donations by Twitter users in real-world currency.

It may or may not be a good idea but try explaining it to someone who has just started using twitter/the internet and they won’t understand it…  Unless you can lock down what the service does in one or two sentences I think it becomes very difficult to promote it.
~ fluidcreativity on Mashable.com

How Twollars Works

According to the FAQ, every Twitter user starts out with 50 twollars (tw). You can check your balance and your “generosity rating” at http://twollars.com/your_twitter_username (substituting in your own Twitter username, of course).

Give Twollars

Any Twitter user can send twollars to any other Twitter user, simply by “tweeting” that  intention.  However, only charities can register to turn these donations into real dollars by selling them to someone else.

Twollars.com does not take a cut, by the way: 100% of any funds raised go to the charity. To register as a charity, you will be asked to provide your Twitter username and password, your email address, and the email address at which you receive PayPal payments.  No proof of nonprofit status is required.

Get Twollars

When your initial 50 tw are gone, you can buy more twollars from a charity at a rate of 10 for 1 US dollar, or receive them as a “token of appreciation” from another Twitter user. Twollars.com has helpfully drafted up a tweet to make it easier to ask your followers for a donation:

Appreciate my tweets? Please send me Twollars, write: ‘@replace_with_your_twitter_name 5 Twollars because …’ via http://twollars.com

You can also “go to one of the sites which rewards its users and visitors by giving away twollars.” (While the FAQ mentions that there are not very many of these sites yet, since the program is new, it would be helpful to know where to look for them. A directory of participating websites might be something for the Twollars folks to consider.)


No problem: @twollarsmsgs will give you a nudge on Twitter if you send a donation to yourself or try to spend twollars beyond your current balance.

Real Money for Charity?

According to the company’s May 28th press release, Twollars has raised more than $1,500 US for CharityWater.org — a deserving cause that does great work, and has made a name for itself for innovative use of social media for fundraising and raising awareness.

Does that mean that your charity should set its sights on a similar fundraising goal?

Now, I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly here, but I do think it's vital to recognize that Charity Water was a test case or demo project for Twollars.com initial launch — so that experience is likely not typical of what other charities can expect.

In essence, Twollars.com pledged $1500 to Charity Water in a sponsorship role and fulfilled that pledge by buying the twollars that were donated to the charity by Twitter users. It’s hard to tell, looking now at the tracking page for that campaign, how many of those twollar donations were made with the initial free 50tw granted to each Twitter account, rather from twollars purchased by the donor for the purpose.

So it’s hard to judge how long it might take for another charity to hit the $1500 mark, without a similar corporate pledge and the publicity around a new product launch. When the conversion of twollars to dollars depends on Twitter users reaching for their credit cards instead of their keyboards, and promotion has to come from your own network of supporters,  “your mileage may vary.”

In the final analysis, however, we may find — as with a number of other tools designed for fundraising on social networks, Facebook Causes being a case in point — that the real benefit to participating nonprofits lies in raising awareness of the cause, not necessarily in the dollars (or twollars!) that are raised through the micro-donations.

What do you think?

Will Twitter users take the time to figure out how Twollars works?

Will they find the dollars-to-twollars-to-dollars donation process a nuisance, or will participating in this new “virtual economy” prove to be more entertaining for them than clicking a “Donate Now” button on your website?

Will your charity try Twollars for raising funds and/or awareness?

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 29 May 2009 at 9:12 AM


  • Blake Raab said:

    Friday, 29 May 2009 at 5:12 AM

    That is interesting.  I will have to look into it.  I agree that it may just help raise awareness, but it is definitely worth trying.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 29 May 2009 at 5:27 AM

    For a fairly new charity like your BearsOnPatrol, Blake, and especially for one with such broad appeal (giving teddies to traumatized children - who can't get behind that?), I see nothing much to lose.

    The main caveat is to  be careful that your appeals for twollars don't alienate your followers.

    Here's a possible approach: Rather than asking for donations outright (at least to start with), you might try the more subtle approach of quietly asking your closest supporters to donate. Others will see their tweets: it raises curiosity and sets an example. Then you'd simply tweet your thanks - perhaps with a link to the Twollars FAQ, because educating Twitter users in how it all works will be important in accomplishing anything much.

    If you do try Twollars, please let us know how it goes and share what you learn?

  • @thewaterproject said:

    Friday, 29 May 2009 at 5:41 AM

    We've already met some new supporters we might not have otherwise. And we've already actually sold some Twollars for $ as well...again even to people we don't "know".  

    For us, the minimal input of setting up a free profile and spreading the word a bit to our established network has already shown fruit.

    I agree with Rebecca, my bet is that it was the RTs and Thanks that grabbed some of the "new" attention.  

    It's certainly an interesting idea.  IF Twollars catch on, there is potential for businesses to see CSR potential and want to buy em up.  But, you'll need crowd interest to get there...catch 22?

    One tip - we re-tell how Twollars work on our profile and link to it.  That way folks will learn and click-to-give on one page.  

    We're along for the ride!  Why not...  

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 29 May 2009 at 5:55 AM

    Fabulous idea, the easy click-to-give box in your sidebar at http://thewaterproject.org - and I think you've put your finger on the "why not" key: the "minimal input" required to participate means it won't take much (whether measured in funds or in followers) to earn a worthwhile return on investment. Thanks for sharing your firsthand experience and Twollars tips!

  • Chi-chi Ekweozor said:

    Friday, 29 May 2009 at 8:17 AM

    I’ve only just started using Twollars to fund raise for 7 Wonders in 7 Days, an epic round-the-world charity trip that is raising funds for 7 charities and signed up less than 24 hours ago.

    My gut instinct is that whilst the service takes a little explaining, its simple premise of providing a symbolic gesture of thanks on Twitter means that it will catch on.

    I’m going to be blogging about our experiences with it at 7wondersin7days.com.

    For now, I think Twollars is a great little idea that needs a lot more awareness.

    P.S. I'd be very interested in using the 'Tweet a Free Donation' button implemented by the Water Project on our site.  Care to share how you created it? Please?  Many thanks.

  • Blake Raab said:

    Monday, 08 June 2009 at 10:13 AM

    Thanks, Rebecca.  I just came back and noticed your comment.  That might be the best strategy to use for Twollars.  I already have some people donating via Twollars, but I would like to see that number grow.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 08 June 2009 at 10:41 AM

    Part of the deal with making Twollars work is also going to be educating Twitter users about it - just as it's often necessary, still, to help non-techy blog readers understand how to subscribe by RSS feed.

    You might keep that in mind when tweeting, and maybe even think about adding a little write-up on your website that explains Twollars and asks your supporters who use Twitter to consider donating their twollars to you. I'd even give them the wording, a sample tweet they can copy and paste - make it as easy as possible!

    Blake, I just noticed that you've already done that on your org's blog (Twitter Users Can Help Bears on Patrol) - way to go!



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