Serendipitous giving happens all the time, but occasionally social media fuels a philanthropic goldrush that even the most carefully planned and executed campaign could not have delivered.

As the polar vortex and a dire forecast descended upon the Midwest last week, Peter Dunn, a personal finance expert based out of Carmel, Indiana, had an idea.

“I was talking to (my son) about staying warm this week. I said some people won't be able to stay warm, and then my mind started racing from there.”

Knowing a lot of snow was on the way, he took to Twitter and sent out a simple challenge:

Within minutes, the tweet went viral and the pledges started pouring in from businesses and individuals:

As the snow piled up, so did the pledge total, fueling even more giving:

All told, Twitter users pledged $3,700 per inch of snow. By the time the weather system passed, Indy-metro had racked up 11.4 inches, equating to over $41,000 in pledges. With this money, Wheeler Mission estimates it can deliver about 18,222 meals.

Pledging Money To Help Homeless

For nonprofits, there are a few lessons to take away:

1. Stay Aware

When a social media firestorm (good or bad) erupts around your, you want to become aware as soon as possible. It’s important to check your accounts daily, if not hourly, and set up alerts for brand mentions. Users might not always tag your or use your username in a mention. Even though it happened on a Sunday, Wheeler Mission stayed on top of the tweets and made sure to thank supporters. It’s likely that the results would have been diminished had they remained silent during the impromptu campaign.

2. Leverage Influencers

The responsibilities of fundraising do not have to fall solely on the shoulders of staff members, board members and formal volunteers. Dunn chose Wheeler because they “epitomize ‘troops on the ground.’ They do what everyone else talks about.” Chances are, your nonprofit has donors that feel the same way about you, and who are active on social media. Identify and leverage them during campaigns, and keep them in mind when brainstorming creative ways to raise funds. You don’t have to do it alone!

3. Fundraise Creatively

Appeal letters, silent auctions, annual galas and capital campaigns are all great ways to tried-and-test ways to raise money, but nonprofits shouldn’t feel limited to these traditional forms of fundraising. Try running a few experimental online campaigns every once in awhile. You might be surprised what works! Donors want to give in creative ways, especially through channels that puts their philanthropy on display.

Have you seen nonprofits using Twitter in creative ways, or a group of influential donors fundraise on their own? Let me know in the comments below!