Journalism in the Public Interest

An Easier Way to Donate to ProPublica: Via Twitter

Help support journalism in the public interest.

Now, there's an even easier way for you to donate to ProPublica: via Twitter.

Starting Wednesday, you'll be able to send donations via Chirpify, an e-commerce platform that allows you to buy, sell or donate over Twitter. It's sort of like wiring money, and there are two ways to do it.

1. Send us a direct donation by tweeting "Donate $15 to @ProPublica to help support journalism in the public interest." You choose how much to give. (If you want to contribute $1000 to support journalism in the public interest, that’s cool with us.)

2. Keep an eye out for a tweet from us that says "Help support journalism in the public interest. Reply "donate" to give $AMOUNT via @Chirpify." Reply "donate," and you’ll automatically wire us whatever the set dollar amount is.

Either way, to participate, you need to register with Chirpify and link it to a PayPal account. The former draws from the latter to make your transactions secure. And the whole set-up takes less than 5 minutes.

Click here to sign up for a Chirpify account, and keep an eye out Wednesday for tweets announcing that our fundraiser is live.

This is an experiment, so we're curious — what do you think of donating via Twitter? Will you use it? Sound off in the comments.

Donations like yours help make our journalism possible. Thank you for your support!

Personally—and this make me officially “old”—this seems a little shady in the grand scheme.

For ProPublica, it might not be so bad, but first, in general, I’d rather not announce to the world where I’m donating money.

Second, I hate the idea of linking accounts together.  One of the things I like about Twitter (I read, rather than writing) is the minimal sign-up process, making me effectively anonymous, if I want to be.  Give my PayPal information to Chirpify to allow it to use my Twitter feed, and there’s now an indelible connection between my handle and, with resources, my entire financial history.  And PayPal isn’t entirely trustworthy, itself.

(The request-reply-acknowledge process also seems clunky to me.  I understand the necessity to make sure the post is valid and it might not be a burden on a phone.  From a desktop, though, the time you reply is a lot of time to rethink a donation.)

Lastly, that brings us to Chripify.  This is…who, exactly?  Their “about” page seems to want to strongly imply that they’re part of Twitter, but it seems like they’re pretty clearly not, which raises red flags, and they have serious venture capital funding, which is a few more red flags.  Are their servers tracking where you donate?  What are they doing with that information?  What will the VCs do with the information if Chirpify goes out of business?

(As a programmer with a passing familiarity with PayPal and Twitter’s programmer interfaces, and having taken a quick glance at Chripify’s, I don’t think it’s a hard business to replicate, so don’t expect them to survive for long, if they become well-known.)

Seeing something like this succeed would be great, and it may work better for a ProPublica core audience as-is, but it seems like there must be a more secure and transparent way of doing it.

Thanks, John, for sharing your concerns.  We certainly don’t think this is “shady.”  And we do, as we said, want to experiment with it.  A few points: First, some people clearly DO like to share where they’re donating—we’ve seen that with tweets and Facebook posts from donors, and if this encourages others to donate, we appreciate it.  And I’d note both that Chirpify has clear terms of use, and that literally millions of people trust PayPal NOT to misuse their information.  Sure, Chirpify is a for-profit (as are PayPal and the credit card companies people use for donations, and the banks on which they write checks), but that hardly seems a “red flag.”

I do want to reiterate my last paragraph above:  If the process fits ProPublica’s core audience and it increases donations, I’m all for its existence, despite any misgivings about the underlying layers.  It’s not for me, but neither is (for different reasons) sitting down to write a check.  Please take my comments less as criticism (which wasn’t intended) than a list of things I’d worry about if I was about to deploy this for my business.

So, it’s not so much the for-profit aspect that worries me, of course (except if Chirpify can’t pay the bills down the road, bad things can happen to customers when VCs want their money back), but their “trade dress.”  Chirpify’s self-description and graphic design is obviously designed to make it look like Twitter and Chripify are more strongly related than they are.  My experience has been that kind of marketing is a sign of trouble.

My PayPal concern relates more to your side than the donors’.  They have a reputation for freezing accounts for months at a time that are doing well to “investigate” under any old pretense, often taking linked bank accounts with it.  Accusing a rival of fraud to trigger such an action isn’t outside the realm of possibility, which could put ProPublica in a bad situation.

You may also want to check with the people at Chirpify, if they’ll speak to clients.  Last week’s Twitter-LinkedIn break is the first part of a long-term strategy at Twitter to make accessing their API more difficult.  One hopes they have a plan in place for that and aren’t just waiting for the hammer to fall.

...of the hypothetical $15 above, how much does Pro-Publica Net? If it’s $15 that’s great, but you get less actual money via this method than via a traditional credit card transaction, then I’ll kindly pass and keep doing it the old way.

I understand the attraction though - capturing those incremental impulse dollars makes sense.

From what I can figure, Tom, Chirpify takes 4% and PayPal takes slightly less than 3%.  Figure that’s a loss of a dollar out of fifteen, give or take.

Assuming that ProPublica has its own merchant account, the fee is probably 2% for everything except American Express (3%), plus usually a dime or so per transaction.  That comes out to roughly fifty cents out of the fifteen dollars.

The rates go down substantially on debit cards, too, since there’s no collections risk, though I don’t know how much (I’ve heard half).  The best bet would be to donate from a Visa or Mastercard debit in fewer, larger sums, to minimize loss.

If they use a payment processor, though, those latter numbers go right out the window.  An intermediary can bring the number back up to 7% without too much trouble.

I want to assure readers and potential donors that ProPublica will do at least as well from any near-term gifts through Chirpify as we do through any other online channel.  And we greatly appreciate all such support.

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