Lessons From Charity:Water

At Friday’s Fundraising Day in NYC, I had the pleasure of learning online strategy from the nonprofit that has probably done it best in recent years.  In only five years of existence, Charity:Water has used a combination of compelling content and innovative outreach strategies to build a dedicated constituent base.  Digital Director Paull Young described their approach:

  • ask supporters to ‘give up their birthdays,’ offering a great ‘experience’ in return
  • focus on ‘sharing great content,’ not on asking for money
  • ‘uncomfortable transparency’ about exactly how donations are used
  • we ‘make the campaigner the hero,’ not the organization
  • goal is to have a ten year relationship with constituents
  • 100% reliance on social media / online – no direct mail
  • exceptional video – take a look at Water Changes Everything

After his session, I congratulated Paull on his success and asked whether some of Charity:Water’s techniques could work in a larger, less nimble nonprofit.  He pointed out that he had worked primarily with larger organizations before joining Charity:Water, then added that any nonprofit could do well by paying close attention to its culture and by ‘getting people with the right skills on staff.’  In our country where the availability of clean drinking water is usually taken for granted, it’s also impressive how this organization has developed such a huge following in such a short time.

As I also heard from several speakers during the event, you get the best results by developing the relationship with constituents first before making any ask.  And as Charity:Water has demonstrated, it’s critical to stay in touch to show supporters specifically how their contributions have helped the cause.

If you weren’t able to attend the event, several session handouts are available here.

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