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PEAK Grantmaking

The Personal and the Professional Merge on Twitter

How It’s Inevitable and Why You Should Embrace It

After you make the decision to tweet with a personal Twitter handle, you have to decide what you’ll actually tweet about. As a philanthropy professional, it’s important to put your likeable, intelligent side forward so as to represent your employer, and yourself, well. Your tweets become an extension not only of your organization’s brand but also of your personal brand. That merge can be challenging to balance and embrace, but I would argue that tweeting with the right blend of personal and professional yields terrific benefits.

After you make the decision to tweet with a personal Twitter handle, you have to decide what you’ll actually tweet about. As a philanthropy professional, it’s important to put your likeable, intelligent side forward so as to represent your employer, and yourself, well. Your tweets become an extension not only of your organization’s brand but also of your personal brand. That merge can be challenging to balance and embrace, but I would argue that tweeting with the right blend of personal and professional yields terrific benefits.

Since I started on Twitter in 2009, I’ve tweeted about everything from concerts to wacky NYC news to fake news from the Onion. I’ve shared thoughts on gun control, nonprofits deserving of fundraising support, one-liner jokes, and the latest and greatest IRS headlines. It’s a weird hybrid, to say the least.

Here’s the thing though: I’m a weird hybrid of things. Why should @jenbo1 be any different?

In whatever job you have, especially in the nonprofit world, organizations hire the whole person. While they may not always know who that whole person is when they make that hire, the whole person arrives at work with quirks and personal life in tow. A person may choose whether or not to hide it, but it informs their daily demeanor, work style, and actions. At some point, bits and pieces of the personality-in-hiding become visible. So why hide it in the first place?

When you make the decision to join social media, you alone decide what content you want to share with the world. Here are the top worries I hear from nonprofit professionals about saying anything “personal” on their personally-affiliated Twitter:

“Talking about meals online is trivial and pointless.”

“I won’t sound professional.”

“I just don’t want them to know my stuff…that’s personal!”

Let’s address these:

Talking about meals online is trivial and pointless. Food is a huge point of human relatability, and people actually enjoy hearing about your yummy burger. Perhaps you even have a schtick: you’re on a passionate hunt for the best burger in the city. Tweet where you procure it from and what makes it great, which suddenly becomes more interesting. (We’ll talk about my bagel tweets later.) Sharing your tasty interests online can make potential foundation partners salivate and reconnect, or can get your organization discounts for from a lauded restaurant. When I was a grants manager working closely with the NYC Green Cart initiative, I would tweet photos of fresh fruits and vegetables from carts all the time, simultaneously sharing my love of delicious food and supporting an important grantee of our foundation. Related point: Twitter is a community of people from around the world who collectively have every interest or fascination imaginable. Whether you care about food or World of Warcraft or indie podcasts, people will find your related thoughts more than just trivial and, in fact, a means of connection.

I won’t sound professional. Does your water cooler conversation about your weekend plans generally sound unprofessional? No. It’s actually quite the opposite; it broadens and deepens positive connection with coworkers by showing interest and being approachable. Barring illegal activity (which you might want to reevaluate anyway), anything is fair game for conversation, in person or online. It’s up to you to figure out what type of filter you want to apply; as a rule of thumb, it’s the same as you would apply to a conversation with a friendly peer colleague. One tweet of mine about Harry Potter led a peer colleague at another small foundation in New York and me to attend a subsequent movie screening together, which led to the productive sharing of work tips, too.

I just don’t want them know my stuff…that’s personal! Ok, we get it; you lead a private life. In that case, don’t put any information out there. You don’t know who might tag you in a tweet or respond to a “professional” tweet negatively causing you to opine, revealing your carefully guarded personal leanings (heaven forbid!). But really, remind yourself that networks aren’t uniquely professional or personal – there’s always overlap – so why limit yourself to just one? If you choose to have an online presence, this attitude will only stifle you. When I tried vehemently to convince my boss, the executive director of the foundation I worked at, to join Twitter, it of course crossed my mind that I might not want him following me. But I realized how silly that was; there was nothing I was tweeting that he might not otherwise hear me comment on during the course of a workday.

With these qualms debunked, what’s stopping you from embracing the inevitable and favorable merge of the personal and professional? Being a well-rounded person online shows that you’re a well-rounded person offline, too. You interact well with all sorts of people, balance different thoughts and activities, explore your passions, and keep things fresh. Plus, by staying tuned in to grantee activities and connecting more with philanthropy peers, you can do your job better.

I balance what I tweet about, and it has worked well for me. Roughly half is directly related to #philanthropy and #nonprofits, another significant portion is #nyc or #brooklyn related, and smaller chunks revolve around other interests, #comedy, #art, #maps, #taxes (I’m a recovering IRS employee, but that’s another story!), and personal musings about #people and #relationships. A self-awareness of your personal brand and style, whatever those may be, and the ability to balance it with professional requirements or ambitions is key. Currently, as the director of GrantCraft at the Foundation Center, I share a ton of philanthropy news and our @grantcraft resources, but they often still have my personal spin.

A “mundane” bagel tweet came in advance of a long workday ahead. Though it was about food (one which my regular followers know my sincere affinity towards and mild snobbery about), it was also tied to a neighborhood location (the beloved, now closed for renovations, Bergen Bagels), carried a positive attitude, and was linked to another of my social network sites. Out of nowhere, the woman who would become my next boss, but whom I had not yet interviewed with, tweeted back about her preferred bagel shop in the neighborhood. It was startling and exciting. From this exchange, I learned she lived in my neighborhood, had a personality, and could converse via online media; she learned the same about me. In the interview, just days later, our newfound common ground again emerged; and we have been able to build off of the personal nature of that mundane tweet for a more positive and effective working relationship.

My “non-professional” tweets have opened doors for me, personally and professionally, introduced me to new perspectives and ideas, and kept me grounded in my own reality. My passion for my work comes through stronger because people better understand who it’s coming from; there’s a person attached to the megaphone. You can absolutely just be “professional” using your Twitter handle, but it’s much easier, completely acceptable, and beneficial to showcase some personality too. So let me pass on the best advice I ever received from the pre-Internet era to apply to tweeting: just be yourself.