Recently, Beth Kanter, author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, posted an interesting analysis of foundations' use of Twitter. Using the list of 90 Foundations That Tweet compiled by Kris Putnam-Walkerly of the Philanthropy411 blog, she outlined four main categories of foundation Twitter profiles:
1) Pure Foundation Brand
An extension of the foundation's communications or PR, providing news, grant announcements, research studies, and other information directly related to the foundation's activities and branded with the organization's name, logo, and web site.
2) Foundation with Personality
An 80%-20% blend of primarily foundation-related content with some level of personal interaction with followers. This account maintains the face of the foundation brand, but is maintained by an individual staff member and therefore shows a more human element.
3) Employee with Foundation Association
Individuals who don’t officially represent the foundation, but who openly state their affiliation with the organization. These are the reverse of profile type #2, with mostly personal information and some foundation-related content. The personal information is still 'professional' in that it mostly relates to philanthropy and the individual's subject expertise.
4) Pure Personal Account
These profiles contain entirely personal content. While the individual may be employed with the foundation, he or she does not state any organizational affiliation and does not formally represent the foundation.
Tactical Philanthropy's Sean Stannard-Stockton responded to Beth's post by offering his own take on foundations that tweet. While dismissing categories #1 and #4 as being either too restricted or too personal, he states his preference for the second and third categories of Twitter profiles, since these offer a blend of professional material with a personal touch. In his words:
"Profile 2 and 3 types are really interesting. These are either foundation branded Twitter profiles that clearly are authored by a real person writing like a normal human does or individual branded Twitter profiles where the person’s connection to a foundation is clearly noted."
I think the lesson to be drawn here is that in the search for how best to share knowledge, the key thing is to put humans at the center. Knowledge is not some sort of physical element that we can stack in a room somewhere and index easily. Knowledge is a concept that is rooted in the very fact that we are human."
What are the implications for grantseekers?
Foundations' Twitter updates, like annual reports and IRS filings, can be yet another source of information on grantmakers' funding interests and priorities. Foundations may provide updates on current or past grantees, share news on emerging trends or topics within their fields of interest, or even post information on upcoming initiatives.
Joining the conversation on Twitter can also be a subtle and unobtrusive way of putting your organization's programs and activities in front of a funder. Sean's comments above are particularly relevant when it comes to building relationships with funders. Given the individualistic nature of foundations and the importance of personal contact in the nonprofit sector, connecting with foundation staff (the human element) on Twitter may be a crucial new avenue for approaching grantmakers and creating an ongoing dialogue with funders.
Twitter and other social media sites allow for broader connections as well. Networks can be created among funders, nonprofits, government agencies, and other groups according to geography, mission, service population, and many other aspects. This can facilitate collaboration among different types of organizations and help to build communities of practice within the sector.
What are your thoughts? Have you had any experiences communicating with funders through social media sites? Are there any foundations on Twitter that you find to be particularly engaging? Let us know in the comments section below.
For listings of foundations that tweet, see the following posts from the Philanthropy411 blog:
You can also find links to foundations' Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, MySpace accounts, and other social media profiles in our database of U.S. grantmakers, Foundation Directory Online.
Stephen Sherman, Reference Librarian, Foundation Center-Atlanta