Congressional Candidates to Use Twitter-Based Fundraising Tool

Twitter has become an important platform for launching online fundraising campaigns and ubiquitous moneybombs. Now a Twitter-based donation service that automates donations through a single tweet will be used by several congressional candidates in the near future. Chirpify, a four-month-old Portland firm said it has signed on at least 25 congressional election campaigns that plan to use its payment system, which allows people to send money via PayPal through a tweet.

Chirpify recognizes specific keywords in tweets that include a dollar amount – say, “Donate $30 to @JoeCandidateforCongress” – and automatically charges the PayPal account of the person who posted the tweet. The catch is not only do users have to register with Chirpify; so do the recipients of the money.

chirpify-obamaThe service is already used by nonprofits such as Make a Wish Foundation and VH1 Save the Music, along with corporate brands. For instance, Nestle uses it to sell Power Bars, according to Chirpify CEO and founder Chris Teso. Music labels including hip hop label Rhymesayers also employ the system to enable quick payments in exchange for MP3 downloads.

“It’s totally public so we kind of kill two birds with one stone for them,” said Teso. “It’s a public support or mention of their brand as well.”

Senators and House candidates will be launching on the service every month, Teso said. The startup was able to connect to those candidates through a relationship with Digital Acumen, a Twitter management firm serving political clients. Teso said the candidates couldn’t be named at this time.

The company offers its basic version at no upfront cost, but takes a flat 4 percent cut of donations made through it. An enterprise version skims nothing from the top.

The Federal Election Commission also recently approved SMS text donations, which are also expected to carry fees – probably a lot higher than 4 percent.

Like just about every digital tech firm under the sun, Chirpify is on a mission to partner with the 2012 presidential campaigns. However, neither President Barack Obama’s nor Mitt Romney’s camps have signed on, according to Teso.

So, the company aims to give them an incentive to partner. Its Tweetelection microsite launching today will let people donate via tweet. There’s one caveat: in order for the campaigns to receive the donations they must partner with Chirpify. Until they do, donation payments will only be recorded, not actually be processed.

Of course, donating to a U.S. election campaign requires U.S. citizenship. Teso said the terms and conditions agreed upon by Chirpify users require them to be U.S citizens age 18 or over. The Tweetelection tool will cap all donations at $200 to prevent campaigns from having to report them to the FEC.

“Donate $5 to @MittRomney to become POTUS,” notes a suggested tweet on the site.

Teso said the firm has been in touch with both campaigns. There’s no indication either one will join on, but Teso expects the money collected through the system to coax them into partnering. Though the system is unique, it’s unclear whether people will choose to donate through a proxy system as opposed to the campaigns themselves.

Campaigns and online retailers can use the system in two ways. They can create a request for donation using specific donation tweet language detected by Chirpify. Or, buyers and donors can tweet a payment or donation to a Twitter account using terms like “buy” or “donate.” The system uses natural language processing to sniff out payment tweets.

“We’re basically monitoring all the tweets out there,” said Teso.


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