Can non-profits raise awareness, increase membership, and--most critically--“make the ask” successfully on Twitter? Can a 140-character message deliver the visceral wallop of, say, heart-wrenching footage of starving children covered in flies or the sad eyes of a neglected and abused animal? The answer is yes.
According to Beth Kanter, author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media , organizations using Twitter that “take the time to engage supporters in a conversation and get to know them are more likely to build trust.” And that trust can turn into raised awareness, support, and ultimately donations for their cause.
Twitter is just the latest platform to turn underserved causes into national, even global, initiatives. Danny Brown, founder of 12for12K, says, “People can encourage others and talk about what they're doing and what still needs to be done. Think of it as a group of you, offline, helping your local charity and how cool that feels; this is exactly the same but on a global scale. Twitter makes it easy, instant, and most importantly fun.”
From local “twestivals,” to throwdowns, and ribbon-sporting avatars, here's a short list of successful organizations who’ve been leading the charge, 140 characters at a time.
Twitter Handle @donorschoose Joined: November 2008 Current Followers: 2,242
Their Ask: Donations in any amount from $1 on up. “Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital. Donors browse project requests and give any amount to the one that makes their eye twinkle. Once a project reaches its funding goal, DonorsChoose.org delivers the materials to the school.”
Their Tweeters: A small group of DonorsChoose.org employees. “The goal is to provide our supporters with "nutritious" content from within organization, while enhancing our brand. We often share updates about working with our corporate partners,” says Kari Hayden, director of corporate partnerships.
Their Twitter Twist: A philanthropic “throwdown” will happen in the month of October, which, according to Daphra Holder, associate director, East Region & Mobilization Marketing, will involve hundreds of bloggers and tweeters. “It’s a friendly but fierce competition, to find out which bloggers have the most engaged and philanthropic readership,” she says. Twitter’s Biz Stone signed on yesterday  and has already succeeded in doubling donation dollars on his “Giving Page.”
Their Accomplishments: This year to date, DonorsChoose.org raised over $10 million for schools across the country through all donation avenues. On Twitter specifically, Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, launched a campaign to donate $3 to DonorsChoose.org for every new person who followed him on Twitter. The goal was to directly help public school students in low-income and high-need classrooms in two weeks. Ferriss raised $27,711 by raising his follower count during that time.
DonorsChoose.org has also developed a new feature that allows donors to tweet a link to the classroom project URL once they've made a donation. “The goal is to get additional exposure to that classroom’s need in the hope that it will be fully funded,” says Hayden.
12 for 12K 
Twitter Handle @12for12K Joined: January 2009 Current Followers: 2,729
Their Ask: Donations in any amount. Using a combination of social media awareness and fund-raising, founder Danny Brown aims to change the lives of millions worldwide with the simple rubric that for 12 months of the year the organization will support 12 different charities, one each month, and will give $12,000 per charity.
Their Tweeters: Danny Brown and the 12for12K team
Their Twitter Twist: They will host #GG24 - Go Global September 24-30 . “One of our key partners and supporters, Henie Reizinger (@HennArtOnline) is hosting a 24-hour video show via U-Stream. This will be in conjunction with 24 one-hour special sponsorship/advertising packages that will be available to bid for on eBay. This is to have a bit of fun and to complement the great worldwide concert series that Mark Lovett (@GlobalPatriot) put together in San Diego, London, and Stockholm for our supported charity this month, Doctors Without Borders,” says Brown.
Their Accomplishments: They have raised approximately $40,000 via Twitter, with just under $50,000 raised overall. Brown says their Twitter avatar wrap is a key conversation opener. Suggested by Kathryn Jennex (@northernchick) and designed by Darin Berntson (@iGoByDoc), Brown says, “It began to get recognized and spread by word of mouth.”
Twitter Handle @livestrong Joined: October 2008 Current Followers: 38,339
Their Ask: Donations and support. “We unite people to fight cancer, believing that unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything.”
Their Tweeter: Brooke McMillan, online community evangelist for the Lance Armstrong Foundation
Their Twitter Twist: “Our use of Twitter was not intended to raise money. It was intended as a way to meet people and deliver information in a new way,” says McMillan. However, she says, “It’s good for those trying to fundraise for an event like the LIVESTRONG Challenge. In 140 characters or less, you can reach everyone you know with an important message that’s short and to the point and only takes up a few seconds of their time.”
Their Accomplishments: According to McMillan, “With Lance hovering at 2 million followers, [CEO] Doug Ullman at 675,000 and LIVESTRONG at 38,000, we have increased our reach by millions.” Also, two events--Ullman’s 25K followers for $25,000 and Mashable.com’s Summer of Social Good --have helped with fundraising and awareness.
Twitter Handle: @Twestival Joined: August 2008 Current Followers: 11,824
Their Ask: Contributions in any amount and volunteers to host and work at local Twestivals. “Tweet, meet, give” is the mission of Twestival, brainchild of Amanda Rose, founder and “events-minded entrepreneur. Using Twitter, offline meet-ups are coordinated to bring people together to raise support and dollars for charities around the world, most notably Charity: Water, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing clean water to impoverished villages in Africa.
Their Tweeter: Amanda Rose, also @amanda
Their Twitter Twist: Twestival was created for Twitter. The Christian Science Monitor reported, “Using this instant-messaging power, Rose organized a series of 200 off-line charity events around the globe, from concerts in New York to knitting groups in Brussels,” to raise money. Rose says, “Twitter is a fantastic communications tool which enables you to spread a message quickly, get people excited about being a part of something bigger, and sharing what that means.”
Their Accomplishments: This year Twestival raised close to $600,000 for causes around the world, $250,000 for Charity: Water on February 12th, and more than $350,000 during Twestival Local on September 10-13--supporting close to 140 local causes. Rose points out, “We do more than just raise money--we go in and work with the causes and give them social media training, etc.”
Twitter Handle @NWF Joined: April 2007 Current Followers: 17,151
Their Ask: Donations in any amount, volunteers, supporters to sign petitions. “Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.”
Their Tweeters: mainly Danielle Brigida @starfocus and Kristin Johnson @ksuzj, though NWF has more than 60 employees on Twitter
Their Twitter Twist: NWF’s “Wildlife Watch” allows citizens who monitor wildlife to report findings using #nwf in their tweets. Brigida says response to this program has been successful, with as many as 15 observations daily. Also, she’s observed that NWF employees who tweet have been “empowered to engage their personal networks” to further awareness of their cause.
Their Accomplishments: NWF has not measured the tweet-to-donations ratio yet, but Brigida has seen conversations and partnerships sparked. It was directly responsible for the creation of an i-Phone app for Wildlife Watch. “It is a great avenue for asks, but a lot of it is just being present every day and building engagement,” she says.
Up-and-Coming Nonprofits to Watch on Twitter
@fanfreeclinic -- first transgender clinic in VA
@answerthecall -- a fund for families of NYC police and firemen killed in the line of duty
@FoPRR -- 100% of its efforts are directed to real people's needs on Pine Ridge Reservation
@UpstateForever -- promotes sensible growth in upstate SC
@kramden -- awards computers to hard-working, underprivileged children