Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Should Your Nonprofit be on Twitter?

By now, I'm sure you've all heard of the micro-bloggging platform, Twitter. In a nutshell, micro-blogs - or "tweets" - are posts of 140 characters or less, typically answering the question, "What are you doing now?" Twitter is also the hottest thing going right now in terms of web 2.0 / social media. But is it right for your organization?

First, some of the criticisms of Twitter: "It's shallow." "It's vapidity to the point of depravity." "Who cares what you're doing right now?" And, when users take the "What are you doing now?" question too literally, those criticisms can be very valid. Posts of "Waiting for the bus," or "Just finished lunch, need to burp," are hardly useful or inspirational to anybody but the person who posted them.

On the other side, a few months back when a US Airways plane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River, Twitter got out the news quicker than any official media and carried the first photo of the evacuation of the plane. The presidential campaign of Barrack Obama demonstrated to community organizers worldwide how Twitter could be used to promote events, get out a message, and raise money for causes. But, again, is it right for your organization?

I personally love Twitter, and previously on this blog I've encouraged all nonprofits to use blogs and other social media as a communications tool. But on Twitter, I have to say that it may not be the best choice for smaller organizations who don't have staff dedicated to either outreach or public relations.

This is because the best use of Twitter requires listening, as well as frequent posting. One of the simplest, but most powerful, tools within Twitter is the reply post. Beginning a tweet with @(username) makes it a reply to that user.

If you're not prepared to quickly read and follow-up on replies to @yournonprofit, your use of Twitter could backfire. Rather than be seen as involved in the community and wanting two-way communication, you risk appearing out-of-touch or as putting yourself above your supporters.

For those organizations who have staff whose primary role is public communications, and who are tech-savvy, Twitter can be a great way to connect with potential supporters, organize activities, and (yes) raise needed funds.

But if Twitter is going to be an after-thought to an over-worked staffer who's focus is elsewhere, it's probably best to stick to traditional blogging for now. But, what you can do is encourage your supporters who are on Twitter to give you plugs (with links) on their Twitter feeds.


  1. Great post! You nailed it, I think. I've been pushing Twitter for some orgs I support, but I'm not sure it is realistic in all cases. As a Twitter user myself, the responsiveness factor is key to my impression of those I follow, as well as the "value" the orgs provide via their own timely material.

  2. Excellent post! You are correct in that social media can either bring the organization ahead of the curve or far behind. I guess it's all in the utilization. We are a small organization, but I find the time to keep our Twitter and blog going. Eventually, I think I'm going to enlist the help of interns. They would probably find it more fun then having them do other tasks around the office. Great blog!