Charity: Water is on the rise thanks to customer engagement

ekastner    October 13, 2015

Title of Post: Charity: Water is on the rise thanks to customer engagement


Organization: Charity: Water

Industry: Non-profit

CEO: Scott Harrison

Web references: Charity: Water, Twitter, Instagram, Top Rank Blog, Community Organizer, Entre Leadership

Undoubtedly one of the most successful social media stories of the last decade belongs to Charity: Water. The New York City based non-profit organization consistently shows up on “how to” lists and seminars as the top example of how to engage donors through social media and drive up funds. Through capitalizing on today’s tech-savvy generation, Charity: Water provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. With more than 13,500 projects in over 22 countries, Charity: Water has raised over $155 million to benefit over 4.6 million people. This is a massive feat for a non-profit that has only been in operation for nine years.

Founded in 2006 by New York City night club promoter, Scott Harrison, Charity: Water was born after Harrison spent time volunteering in Liberia as a photo journalist. All of the devastation he encountered – the poor education, safety, and health – he traced back to a lack of clean water and basic sanitation systems. He left Liberia inspired to change what he saw and tapped into his network back home to get as many people as possible to support his cause.

Watch Harrison explain his approach to fundraising and the how to engage with customers, or in this case, donors.

One look at Charity: Water’s social media platforms, and even website, and you start to get a sense of how the organization has actually accomplished their 300,000 individual donor list in such a short span of time. Through the use of powerful images that elicit emotion and strikingly show the impact their donors (or customers) are having in third world countries, Charity: Water is re-writing the rules on donor acquisition and retention. Their imagery coupled with their approach to donor engagement through social media is what is setting them apart from most other charities.

charity water

Charity: Water showcasing supporters on social media through the Birthday Project

Charity: Water’s social media presence is constant – on any given day you will find multiple posts, tweets, re-tweets, and shares across the board. Their presence is fuelled by not only the projects they are working on and the money that has come in, but showcasing actual donors who are lending their support to the cause. This is incredibly important when it comes to donor engagement – recognition of the hard work your supporters are doing is key. Showing your appreciation for your donor base not only keeps them happy to likely donate again, but you are attracting other donors who may also want to showcase their leadership and support. Charity: Water is a master at doing this. Their Birthday Project is a perfect example of how they use social media to engage and attract. By encouraging donors to solicit donations for the charity instead of gifts through various means, including social media, they are not only creating an opportunity to showcase their donor base, but they are maximizing their donation probability by engaging with their customers on twitter and Instagram.

A #nothingiscrazy campaign idea shared on Charity: Water's social media feed

A #nothingiscrazy campaign idea shared on Charity: Water’s social media feed

Showcasing their donors (or customers) is not the only way they engage on social media – they have also created the “Nothing is Crazy” campaign where donors basically come up with anything they can think of that they can generate funds for and post their ideas and results on social media using #nothingiscrazy. This creates an open dialogue with not only Charity: Water but other supporters where you can collaborate and get feedback on your idea. Charity: Water is constantly sharing posts with #nothingiscrazy and encouraging ideas and campaigns. This level of engagement is important for retention and it also encourages others to be creative resulting in an increase in funds.

In the non-profit world transparency is oh-so-important in keeping your donors happy and acquiring new ones. In today’s generation especially, everything needs to be tangible – supporters want to see how their donation is making an impact almost immediately. Charity: Water does a great job of showcasing how each donation is contributing to the overall cause. The organization provides GPS coordinates and photos of the wells it builds and shares it on social media. They are very forthcoming with information on how money is spent and boast that 100% of public donations go towards their mission in thanks to operating costs funded by private donors, foundations, and sponsors. It’s not every day that a charity can claim that and not be questioned – it is the trust from their donors that has enabled them to keep going, trust that has been garnered mostly in part through their engagement. Just take a listen to Harrison explain the 100% model and the importance of transperency during a recent podcast for Entre Leadership.

Lessons for others

To say that you have raised over $155 million through donations from 300,000 individuals in just nine short years is a massive accomplishment. What Charity: Water can teach other organizations about customer engagement is a culture of appreciation and transparency. A main component to their success can be attributed to the trust they have garnered from their customers, or in this case donors. They trust the money is going to be spent well because they were shown where and how. They trust that their donation is appreciated because they and others were thanked publically. This model of transparency and appreciation can be applied to not only other charities, but to corporations trying to gain the trust of their customer base.

Submitted by: Erika Kastner, rare Charitable Research Reserve

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