It has been a tough few years for charities. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the 50 top philanthropists gave $3.3 billion to charity in 2010, the lowest amount recorded since the Chronicle began tracking donors in 2000.
But that doesn't mean the organizations aren't always looking for new ways to approach donors .
Enter 'Twestival' -- a fundraising event on Twitter that has become the biggest global grassroots charity event organized through social media.
More than 150 cities across the world participated this year. Each city selected one local charity, and then received a Web page from FirstGiving, an online peer-to-peer fundraising tool.
'Twestival' brings the buzzing Twittersphere offline and onto a physical location -- a fairground, skating rink, park -- for a single day to highlight a community cause. This year, it was March 24, with donations accepted through March 31 on the website. As of today, they had raised more than $550K for more than 150 local nonprofit causes.
Twestival originally started off as a single event in London in 2008, under the direction of founder Amanda Rose (also known as @amanda).
In 2009, it expanded to events in 133 cities in support of 135 local charities. Last year, it quickly transformed into a global movement with events in over 175 cities while also raising over $400K for the international humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide.
Alexander Priest, a college senior at American University (better known as @alexpriest), volunteered at Twestival in Washington, D.C. this year.
"Relative to other charity events, Twestival is really a different beast altogether," said Priest. "With its roots in the digital world, it really forces all of us on the team to push our network and our creativity to the test as we reach out to the community."
In the months leading up to the March 24 event thousands of Twitter users spread the word. A 24-hour Twestival livestream supported organizing teams around the world, setting a world record for the most charities supported by a live Internet broadcast. At the stroke of midnight on Thursday March 24, an influx of tweets with the hashtag #twestival flooded the Twitter stream.
Twestival founder Amanda Rose tweeted at 2:30 a.m., "Two and a half hours into @Twestival and our global fundraising total is already $215,840.13!!!"
The event is staffed by volunteers, the majority of whom are active tweeters between the ages of 24 and 35. But Twestival attendees do not have to be active in social media.
Joan Gerrity, who attended Twestival in Rochester, N.Y., is not on Twitter and admits to being unfamiliar with the social media scene. She serves as the development director of the YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County, which was chosen as the designated local charity for Rochester's Twestival.
"YWCA has been in existence for 127 years so we have a long history in the community," said Gerrity. "But if you don't have any newness these days, it is difficult to maintain that legacy.
"It is a joy that people who know how to handle modern tools are willing to help," added Gerrity. "We're in a whole new age and the influence reached through this medium will take our organization through many more years to come."