Last night, I was happily catching up on my favorite TV show via the internet and the phone rang. 

The call caught me by surprise. 

It turned out to be a live "virtual town hall" hosted by one of the local candidates and callers were invited to "press 3" to ask a question.

Maybe this is a technique that others are more familiar with, but it was new to me and it was engaging enough to win airtime for a candidate I wasn't planning on voting for.

The call pool managed to get 6,100 participants on the line all at once and keep their attention for nearly an hour (during prime time). In Kingston, that's a big number!

This experience got me thinking...

I came across this blog post today from GoodWorksCo. on what fundraisers can learn from election campaigns. 

I wonder, what could fundraisers learn from the virtual town hall approach? 

What if the Director of your international aid non-profit set up something similar to talk to supporters and community members about a natural disaster - think Japan? 

What if the President of your hospital or university could answer questions about the upcoming capital campaign or the desperate funding needs of the institution?

How about when things go wrong at your organization? Would there be more public forgiveness in bringing the leader out from behind the press releases and into a conversation with concerned supporters?

There is no script here, there are sticky questions, it's not easy to be on the line, but the human connection here can be incredible. It created the feeling that my opinion and vote both matter in this election and to this candidate. It brought the party platform onto my phone line; into an intimate space in my home.


What I would have done differently? 

No surprises. I would have loved to know the call was coming and to be somewhat prepared with a good question. 

Controlling the medium means you get a say in controlling the messages. Harness the power of social media. Send out a hashtag and post live tweets from the speaker's account. This didn't happen and people were online looking for that conversation.

I created my own hashtag and sent out live tweets on request for those who didn't pick up the phone on time - that means I got to filter the information. 

Do you think we can use this in fundraising / have you ever given it a try or does it only apply to an election scenario?

04/26/2011 15:38

Awesome! I'm astounded at how all parties are pretty much ignoring social media. Control issue I guess.

Thanks for blogging about this, I've heard about it but didn't know how it worked.

Provided we were discussing something of interest and value to donors ( Heart and Stroke, Cancer, Aging ) it would be a good method to consider for charities!

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Christina Attard
04/27/2011 10:16

Paul, Welcoming you as my first commenter! Thanks for joining in on the conversation.

I was at a Social Media for Government Roundtable in Kingston about a month ago and the most frequently used word was "control" as in controlling what others write about your organization in the SM environment.

I question whether "control" is the best way to manage and whether "share" "respond" and "interact" might be better approaches.

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11/07/2011 15:16

Hi Christina. I just came across your post here through AFP. I asked the same questions about a year ago (you can read about it on AFP’s blog here: http://afptoronto.org/blog/index.php/2011/11/whats-all-the-buzz-about-telephone-town-halls/ ).

I’m going to present some of our experiences during AFP Congress in Toronto later this month, perhaps I’ll see you there.

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