Questions about the @ChildFund Twitter campaign

Well, I almost made it. I had decided after my last post here, that I would blog no more until my parental leave was finished tomorrow. Sigh.

What brought me back a little early was a conversation I had earlier this evening on Twitter.

Over the last few days I’d been seeing Tweets from Geoff Livingston and others about something called @ChildFund and reminders that every 200 new followers sent more aid to children in Africa. It seemed a little odd to me. How did another 200 followers make more aid available for starving kids in Africa? It would be more logical if they were asking for donations instead, and every $200 raised sent more aid to Africa. That would make sense.

For days, I couldn’t figure out how simply following a Twitter account with 199 others suddenly made more aid available.

So today I asked.

@GeoffLiving I’ve resisted asking till now – how does amassing followers help African children, exactly?

Geoff pointed me to his recent blog post on the campaign which didn’t tell me much more except that @ChildFund is ChildFund International which was known as Christian Children’s Fund until last week.

Unfortunately there wasn’t anything there to allay my feeling that we were being manipulated into following a Twitter account. I could not get around the logic that if there was money (aid) set aside for followers (and there must be because the followers are revenue-neutral) then why hold it back just because some threshold had not been reached?

What followed, when I said aloud (on Twitter) that the campaign seemed manipulative, was unfortunate.

Mr. Livingston, someone I’ve worked with (briefly) and respect as a thought leader in the non-profit social media space, came out swinging. I don’t know if he didn’t understand the question or if he simply didn’t want to answer it, but all I got back was string of answers to questions I wasn’t asking (like “How do more followers help CFI?”) peppered with ad hominem attacks.

In the end, my question goes unanswered. Why would @ChildFund limit the amount of aid sent to Africa to the number of followers of their Twitter account?

So let me speculate a bit in the absense of an answer. I’m guessing that CFI set aside a specific amount of money for this campaign to be donated at those 200 follower increments. Note that this is money/aid that CFI already has since they aren’t asking for donations from those followers.

My suspicion is that the aid in question was destined for Africa regardless of how many followers @ChildFund gets – but that’s not the impression given in the campiagn. There’s a very strong “more followers, more aid” message in the campaign.

But let’s say I’m wrong and more followers really does mean more aid to Africa. The would mean that in the end, @ChildFund would be sending less than they could if they got less followers than they expected. That doesn’t seem right either.

IF you read the Tweetstream between Geoff and I, you’ve seen his answer to a question I didn’t ask about how more followers helps CFI by indirectly increasing donations. The only way this “every 200 followers = more aid” thing works out logically is if CFI has some magic formula whereby they know the 200 more followers will bring in X amount of donations down the line. From that they can calculate how much aid to send on behalf of those 200 followers. That seems pretty unlikely to me.

So I’m still wondering. How do 200 new followers to @ChildFund actually result in more aid to African children?

8 Responses to “Questions about the @ChildFund Twitter campaign”

  1. Thanks for your continuing concern about this issue, Colin. Our efforts are being funded out of the marketing budget not pre-earmarked dollars given by sponsors for gifts. Those marketing dollars have been re-allocated from traditional advertising to social media.

    Per our Twitter exchange, rather than buying as space or SEO ads on Google, we are using them to reward Twitter followers with 1) sponsorship of gifts and 2) accountability by reporting back what’s done with those gifts. So in fact, ChildFund is giving more than it would have normally. We are showing the wares, so to speak.

    As you also admitted in our Twitter discussion, every charity uses a portion of its budget for communications, and so we are using it in this fashion rather than traditional means to bring awareness of our rebranding effort to ChildFund International (which you also mentioned you did not like on Twitter, if I recall).

    We intend to post further on this on Wednesday if not sooner and I promise to link back to this post in reference, but thank you again for raising the question again.

  2. I never questioned spending money on marketing and communications – a very necessary part of the work.

    As to my take on the re-brand, that was more tongue-in-cheek than anything – though I do keep almost saying ChildFind (the missing children folks) instead of ChildFund.

  3. Thanks, Colin. Regardless of where we sit on method, I sense you and I both care about this issue very such, and want the best for the beneficiary. That is something we can both celebrate: The desire to change the world for the better and help children (and others) in need globally, and locally.

    For me, ChildFund offers a great opportunity to make a difference through this effort. I hope you’ll understand my passion.

  4. David Hylton says:

    Colin, Thank you for your blog post and your questions. We want to clarify a few things about the Twitter campaign. We are not actually using any of our allocated money. We’ve reached out to donors who have said they will fund this campaign. This is above the amount they usually give. The Twitter campaign isn’t about raising money. It’s about raising awareness of the work that we do for deprived, excluded and vulnerable children in the 31 countries where we work. We wanted followers to see firsthand how the money can make a difference. So as we reach the thresholds we’ll purchase the items and then send them to the countries. We’ll get photos and videos and share the stories of those who received the gifts. Thanks again!

  5. zoe says:

    i think i’m still confused. what’s the simple answer to your original question colin? For every 200 new followers on their twitter account ChildFund gives money from the marketing budget towards the actual charity?

    some conversations are just not made for twitter.

  6. Fact, money was raised for the Twitter effort specifically, I was corrected this morning. It’s all new money set aside for Tweeple.

  7. […] comments that have arisen about the @childfund Twitter campaign.  Specifically, people have questioned the funding of the effort, and the rising trend of providing a reward for following (Fishing Pond Construction image by […]

  8. […] So, it looks like there’s a key lesson to be learned here. Before launching any such social media initiative, do make absolutely sure that you’ve thought the whole thing through and are able to explain exactly what the deal is – in this case where the matching funds came from and just what else ChildFund has in store for those who sign-up, beyond the knowledge that they’ve contributed one-two-hundredth of a set of farming supplies for a family. That way you pre-empt any unnecessary suspicions and resulting tricky questions and you’re far more likely to generate a good-sized pool of genuinely interested followers. Indeed, this learning goes for any such prospect pool building initiative – online or offline – although you’re potentially dealing with a more savvy and challenging audience when you embark on Twitter-based initiative than when using more traditional channels (as poor Mr Livingstone has discovered). […]