charity: water, an organization devoted to bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations, has been known as one of the hottest nonprofits in recent years. Scott Harrison, the organization’s founder, explains that one of the keys to its success has been its engagement of partners and donors to become part of the charity: water story–something that (in my view) many startups and organizations could stand to learn from.
The charity: water brand is about celebrating others, making others the heroes the charity: water story, Harrison explains. “I think a lot of organizations, companies, and nonprofits make themselves the hero: ‘We are feeding the world. Look how great we are.’ And I think charity: water has always said, ‘Look how great you are. You care; you’re giving money. You’re giving time and you’re making this possible.”
The same thing goes for charity: water’s local partners, who are working, often in harsh climates, drilling 29 or 30 days a month, serving their own communities and leading their own people forward. Charity: water sees them as the true heroes, so it does its best to celebrate those local partners, leading some to accuse the brand of being too donor-centered. To that, Harrison responds that he wants to celebrate his donors’ contributions, “and celebrating them for making a huge difference in the world.” The more people witness generosity and compassion in others, the more likely they are to be encouraged to have those same attributes.
Crowdfunding has become a popular recent trend in recent years. Interestingly enough, charity: water embraced crowdfunding before just about everyone else, and continually pushes the envelope in that particular area. In fact, the nonprofit recently crowd-sourced a drilling rig. It was the world’s first crowdfunded water drilling rig, so charity: water’s project leaders felt it was important to keep the project’s funders engaged.
The project’s managers thought, “what if we mount a GPS unit of this rig? What if we give our rig its own Twitter account?” So as it drills throughout Ethiopia, all these people that donated five, 10, or 100 dollars can feel connected to it, knowing exactly where their money went. It’s important that donors feel connected to the 17,000 villages they’re helping get clean water on a daily basis.
While donors are a large part of how charity: water grows, the same is true of its partnerships. The nonprofit doesn’t have a marketing budget, so it doesn’t have money to spend on huge Facebook ad campaigns or billboards. Given that, partnerships are one of the top levers with which it can grow its movement. Charity: water invites people and corporations to help it tell its story. For instance, Harrison’s team approached EMC, a global leader in IT and business transformation, and asked its leadership to help evangelize the charity: water message to the IT leader’s rank and file. The result: EMC has raised nearly $1 million for clean water.
charity: water does spend some time convincing companies that supporting the nonprofit’s objectives will fuel their own growth. “We talk to companies and say, ‘Look, the young people that you’re trying to hire want to work for companies that are doing good in the world,'” says Harrison. He stresses the importance of creating a culture of giving in your company:
“It’s more about just giving. Lose the ‘back.’ Create a culture of generosity where you’re looking for ways to be generous. You’re looking for ways to make an impact. You’re looking for ways to get your employees engaged in their own communities and the international community; it shouldn’t feel like an obligation.”
The companies that will succeed in the world going forward, Harrison believes, truly and deeply care about the world. These companies and their employees aren’t just about the bottom line; they’re not just about the money. More than 3 in 4 Millennials factor in corporate social responsibility (CSR) when deciding where to work. A culture that believes in CSR, according to Harrison, is going to attract the most talented, empathetic, and optimistic people.
While most Inc. readers don’t have donors, substitute “donor” for “brand ambassador” or “brand evangelist” and Harrison’s words can be a prescription for success for most companies. Are you doing what you can to attract partners and audience members to tell your brand story?