Not so fast: what are the issues associated with accepting donations via Twitter?

At a meeting last week, someone talked about making a charitable donation via Twitter using AT&T as the payment tool.  Imagine, a friend tweets you and asks for your $5 contribution to a worthy cause.  You send the $5 contribution as directed, and it shows up on your very own AT&T bill next month.  Lori Aldrete, principal of ACS Quantum, was at the same meeting and asked how that works.

In truth, I don’t know (if you do, please comment or email me).  I do know that most of the campaigns I read about seem to be using Tipjoy.  Anyone can set up a Tipjoy account as a convenient way of collecting donations that are then forwarded on to the organization or person (hey, you can even pay your friend back for that Starbuck’s coffee).  And, in fact, Tipjoy was used as the money-collecting service for at least some of the grassroots events associated with the Twestival for charity:water (see prior two posts for more about that).

I passed along the info about Tipjoy’s prevalence to Lori.  Then I wondered, if anyone can set up a Tipjoy account to collect donations, how is a donor to know that the money eventually went to the cause, and not into someone’s pocket?  Tipjoy is a system for moving “micro” amounts of money, easily.  When you read Tipjoy’s FAQs, it doesn’t seem to have been designed with fundraising in mind, even though it’s now being widely used for that purpose.  It was built as a way for website owners to get paid (competing with PayPal) and as a way of “tipping” content creators who offered free content you love.

I gather that the onus is on the non-profit to establish a Tipjoy account from which they will collect donations.  Just by looking at a Tipjoy account name, however, a donor wouldn’t have any way of knowing for sure that the charity would receive the money unless they contact the charity and ask.

As well liked and accepted as it is, Tipjoy also prompts questions having to do with fundraising ethics and transparency.  Based on a tip from Beth Kanter’s blog, I read Rachel Weidinger’s thoughtful post on an even more knotty set of issues.   Unlike Facebook, where you decide what content is public and what is private, the default on Tipjoy is for all financial transactions to be public.  In practical terms, that means that your Tipjoy donations (or payments) will rapidly rise to the top of Google searches.  

Rachel also points out, “It won’t be long before someone scrapes all the TipJoy donor data off Twitter and builds a Twitter micro donor list, and campaigns follow. I don’t want Twitter to be like that. Ick.”

So, as we adopt social media tools for fundraising, we all better think through the implications.  Do donors understand that their names and donation levels are public?  Do we simply assume that it’s “donor beware” when it comes to ensuring that a micro-fundraising drive set up by someone in our personal network will go to the intended charity?

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