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Joanne Fritz

Charity: Water - On a Roll

By December 19, 2012

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Charity: water's holiday campaign for Ethiopia.

Charity: water is young but becoming extremely influential among both donors and as a model for fundraising. Examples of its work show up in webinars and blog posts, and it's become a media darling.

Why is Charity: water so successful?

It focuses the multiplication effect of peer-to-peer fundraising for one thing, encouraging not only donations but energizing supporters to raise money from their own friends and family. The holiday campaign which plans to build 100 wells in Ethiopia, has a cloud of ideas, all spelled out on water drops that include "give up the gifts as a family," "have a snowball fight for water," and "sell hot chocolate on your block."

There are other things charity: water does well too, such as providing a rich, visual experience on its website and in all of its communications.

For instance, I supported the September Campaign that brought new water resources to Rwanda and, once the campaign had reached its goal, received this report/thank you email that energized me to do even more.

Charity: water is fortunate in that it has some donors with deep pockets that cover the organization's overhead expenses so that it can always promise donors that 100% of their gifts go to the work itself. That is a big help and not one that many charities can match.

But there are plenty of good lessons that all nonprofits can learn from charity: water, such as capturing wonderful images of everything they do, making peer to peer fundraising the centerpiece rather than a sideshow, focusing on social media, and telling riveting stories.

Much of what charity: water does is disruptive to the way nonprofits have operated in the past. It is all over the "new media," uses methods more often linked to commercial advertising and marketing, and shows a donor-centricity that is more all-encompassing than most other charities have yet managed.

Charity: water is among the new, social media savvy organizations that are disrupting the old ways. Think of Kiva, DonorsChoose, Crowdrise and Indiegogo - all coloring outside the lines of traditional fundraising and, often, the 501c3 model, with their "crowdsourcing" ways and ability to connect donors with individual recipients or projects.

Is it a passing fad? I don't think so, although many of these new upstarts and their founders share many of the characteristics we associate with social entrepreneurism and might be considered a new wave of that more familiar trend.

It is likely the edge of the future, and it doesn't look much like the past. Already we're seeing old line charities, such as the American Red Cross, morph into lighter, faster, and more tech-savvy organizations as a result of the pressure and example from the newer orgs that have been and are being birthed by the Internet age.

Even more disruptive to the traditional nonprofit sector is the challenge of phenomena that look more like movements than organizations, and that might be fleeting but still useful, such as Occupy Sandy.

While disruptive, it's all pretty exciting too. Especially since these enterprises appeal to young people and have ignited a new wave of social awareness, philanthropy, and voluntarism.

What do you think? How are these emerging organizations and techniques affecting what you do? Or not?

Thanks to GuideStar's recent webinar, Awash in Money: How to Compete with Billion-Dollar Elections and Hurricanes This Year-End, and to the presenters Andrea Kihlstedt and Gail Perry for reminding me of the good example charity: water is for the rest of us.

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December 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm
(1) angel cruz says:

I think through social media and crowd sourcing it became easier to create engagement and connect people to a certain charity or non profit organization. Interesting article. Thanks

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