Twitter’s speedy implosion under the leadership of new CEO Elon Musk has affected people across the globe, from investors in the plummeting stocks of pharmaceutical companies who have been impersonated on the platform, to the thousands of company staff he laid off.
But now one more group can be added to the list: veterans.
Just two days before Veteran’s Day, Twitter emailed San Francisco-based non-profit Swords to Plowshares to tell them they’d no longer be sending a $10,000 donation they’d pledged to give “until the new leadership provides guidance,” KQED has learned.
Twitter has put an “indefinite pause” on all of its donations while it awaits direction from new leadership, according to an email from Twitter obtained by KQED.
That could affect as many as 30 organizations, primarily in San Francisco, but also across the Bay Area. One group serving unhoused people is in the dark over whether a $175,000 program to help at-risk families learn digital skills will move forward.
While the total amount Twitter donates to local nonprofits currently isn’t known, a 2015 Twitter blog post projected donations of more than $900,000 annually by 2018.
Twitter has publicly committed to being a good neighbor in San Francisco, concentrating both philanthropy and volunteerism to people and groups serving the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods.
Colleen Murakami, chief development officer of Swords to Plowshares, said their organization has the financial means to take the $10,000 hit, which was intended to help pay for a Veteran’s Day gala this week. But, she said, she’s never seen an abrupt cancellation of a sizable donation in her years of nonprofit work — even during the last great recession.
“This is a first and it just feels unethical and wrong. And that’s why we wanted to raise the issue, not because we care about the $10,000,” she said.
There are 605 unhoused veterans in San Francisco, according to the latest annual point-in-time count.
Murakami said their organization honored Twitter for their donation at a Veteran’s Day gala on Wednesday. San Francisco Mayor London Breed spoke at the event, and more than $400,000 was raised to further the organization’s efforts to house and comfort veterans, particularly unhoused veterans.
The next day, they saw this email from a member of the Twitter for Good team describing an “indefinite pause”:
I hope this email finds you well. I am so glad to hear that yesterday’s event went well. I wish I could have been with you all.
I am very sorry to share that all Twitter philanthropic activities are paused indefinitely until the new leadership provides guidance.
Unfortunately, this includes the $10K donation we were trying to process prior the official change of hands. I am sorry.
Thank you for your understanding and commitment to the community in the work that you and your team do everyday.
Wishing you and the team all the best. Happy Veterans Day.
In another email, Twitter phrased the action as a “cancellation notice.”
Twitter did not return a request for comment, nor did they clarify whether the cessation of the $10,000 donation is temporary or permanent.
Twitter has laid off most, if not all, of its communications team, according to news reports. The philanthropy-focused Twitter for Good team itself may also be gone, save for its lead, according to multiple nonprofit organizations who have spoken to former employees.
Twitter did not confirm those layoffs.
Tesla founder Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter in late October to much fanfare and worry, in equal measure. While Musk promised to make Twitter a bastion of free speech, the platform was quickly met with mounting woes: wary advertisers backing away from the company, mass layoffs, and concern from President Joe Biden that Musk’s takeover is “worthy of being looked at” as a national security risk.
But while Twitter’s new boss has generated international ripples, the epicenter of the disruption is in San Francisco where it is headquartered.
Some of San Francisco’s most impoverished people live in the proverbial shadow of the Twitter building in the mid-Market neighborhood, and the neighborhoods around it. And now Musk’s new direction for the company may imperil funds meant to help them.
Organizations tackling homelessness to those training at-risk-youth in tech-sector skills have all been past recipients of Twitter help: Compass Family Services, Glide, Dev/Mission, Catholic Charities, Code Tenderloin, the Bay Area Video Coalition, and the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.
Swords to Plowshares’ Murakami is worried other San Francisco groups may see their donations from Twitter evaporate, since an email sent to her organization from Twitter mentioned additional donations being affected, as well.
“I’m concerned about all the other agreements that Twitter has with the community, particularly those in the Tenderloin and, you know, all the housing providers,” Murakami said.
Compass Family services is one such group. The more-than-100-year-old organization’s mission is to help unhoused and at-risk families, and with Twitter they did so through an annual “Twitter NeighborNest” program.
Families have made over 17,000 visits to the program since 2015, according to Compass, learning technology skills like digital literacy in both English and Spanish. Childcare was provided, and parents at risk of homelessness were also taught how to search for much-needed housing online.
It was also a way for the technology workers of Twitter to reach out and interact with their neighbors, some of whom could use their help, said Madeleine Lemos, a spokesperson for Compass Family Services.
“Every Twitter employee that I’ve ever talked to after a volunteer event told me how much they loved getting to meet our families, getting to meet our children and getting to take part in that,” she said. “So in addition to just the actual tangible skills and technology access it gave our family, it really was a place of community for everyone.”
On hiatus since the pandemic, Twitter NeighborNest was slated to reopen next week. Now, the $175,000 program — not counting Twitter’s in-kind donations of a facility, and staff volunteer hours — is in limbo.
The Twitter staff who normally communicate with Compass Family Services on the program have apparently been laid off, and no one else has reached out in their place. Lemos said the organization has been grateful to Twitter for its past support.
“As of now, we aren’t really sure who to have a conversation with about the future of the nest,” Lemos said. “We are really hoping that this program can continue, that it can serve our families as both a space where they can have computer access, workforce development and job training, as well as child care. It’s a really wonderful space for our clients and our families to be able to use. And we’d love to see a good future with Twitter in the space.”
She added, “As of now, unfortunately, we don’t know what that future is.”
At least one other recent event was affected: an annual holiday lunch for veterans held in mid-December, which has served the Tenderloin, Mission and South of Market areas for about 40 years. It’s co-hosted by Del Seymour, the noted executive director of Code Tenderloin, in conjunction with Swords to Plowshares.
Twitter was set to pay for catering the event, but now that commitment is in question.
“It’s unfortunate,” Seymour said. “The holiday time is when veterans suffer the most, where all our unhoused people suffer the most. These vets look forward to the event. We do it every year.”
Not every organization has seen a direct impact to their bottom line, yet. Just a week ago, Leo Sosa, founder of Dev/Mission, handed out laptops to San Francisco families that were donated by Twitter’s philanthropic team, Twitter for Good.
But that event was October 27, a week before the staffing layoffs, and subsequent maelstrom, hit Twitter.
Seymour, from Code Tenderloin, said Twitter is usually a generous neighbor. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey gave Seymour $1 million, which Seymour’s going to use to help buy a building for the organization.
“Twitter has been a wonderful community partner,” he said.
That track record may end under this recent Musk takeover, however.
Seymour, who is a veteran himself, put Twitter’s lack of follow through on philanthropic donations this way: “Whether it’s a dollar or a million dollars, I think it’s pretty chicken-shit.”