More on one of my favorite non-profits: Charity:Water
By Nicolas Kristof
New York Times
Armed with nothing but a natural gift for promotion, and for wheedling donations from people, Mr. Harrison started his group, called charity: water — and it has been stunningly successful. In three years, he says, his group has raised $10 million (most of that last year alone) from 50,000 individual donors, providing clean water to nearly one million people in Africa and Asia.
The organization now has 11 full-time employees, almost twice as many unpaid interns, and more than half a million followers on Twitter (the United Nations has 3,000). New York City buses were plastered with free banners promoting his message, and Saks Fifth Avenue gave up its store windows to spread Mr. Harrison’s gospel about the need for clean water in Africa. American schools are signing up to raise money to build wells for schools in poor countries.
“Scott is an important marketing machine, lifting one of the most critical issues of our time in a way that is sexy and incredibly compelling — that’s his gift,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, head of the Acumen Fund, which invests in poor countries to overcome poverty.
Mr. Harrison doesn’t actually do the tough aid work in the field. He partners with humanitarian organizations and pays them to dig wells. In effect, he’s a fund-raiser and marketer — but that’s often the most difficult piece of the aid puzzle.
So what’s his secret? Mr. Harrison’s success seems to depend on three precepts:
First, ensure that every penny from new donors will go to projects in the field. He accomplishes this by cajoling his 500 most committed donors to cover all administrative costs.
Second, show donors the specific impact of their contributions. Mr. Harrison grants naming rights to wells. He posts photos and G.P.S. coordinates so donors can look up their wells on Google Earth. And in September, Mr. Harrison is going to roll out a new Web site that will match even the smallest donation to a particular project that can be tracked online.
Third, leap into new media and social networks. This spring, charity: water raised $250,000 through a “Twestival” — a series of meetings among followers on Twitter. Last year, it raised $965,000 by asking people with September birthdays to forgo presents and instead solicit cash to build wells in Ethiopia. The campaign went viral on the Web, partly because Mr. Harrison invests in clever, often sassy videos.