The Donation Maximization Blog

How charity:water Is Winning the Hearts & Wallets of Donors



While selling a product or service in a competitive marketplace can be a challenge, it is a proverbial walk in the park compared to what most non-profit organizations experience as they strive and, indeed, often struggle to capture the hearts and wallets of their donor base.

However, there are some notable non-profit organizations that are not just achieving their fundraising targets: they’re vastly exceeding them, and setting a new standard for what is possible. And among the most inspiring success stories right now is being written by New York City-headquartered charity:water.

charity:water provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. The organization was founded in 2006, and since then has helped fund nearly 14,000 projects in over 20 countries, which have benefited more than 4.5 million people.

Naturally, as charity:water’s founder Scott Harrison would be the first to acknowledge, it takes more than vision, drive, commitment, and an unwavering desire to help others in order to achieve these kinds of remarkable results in less than a decade. It also takes millions of dollars, and a highly engaged donor base of “loyal evangelists” who aren’t just opening their wallets, but actively playing a role in fulfilling the organization’s purpose and mandate.

So, in a fundraising climate when many donors are hesitant about making donations – not because they don’t care, but because the scary shadow of the Great Recession still lingers on -- how did Harrison and his team raise more than $8 million dollars from over 11,000 individual fundraisers in 2012? The answer is as inspiring as it is innovative: the organization borrowed a winning strategy from the private sector playbook.

Specifically, charity:water didn’t just establish a social media footprint, which is what most (if not all) non-profit organizations have done to some degree. Rather, they made social media a core pillar of their fundraising program, and as such invested heavily in posting dynamic updates, stories "from the field", campaign “sneak peaks” and more to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook - primarily.

What’s more, charity:water’s social media blitz wasn’t centralized in the organization’s head office. The organization wisely empowered its team traveling in the field to basically “take over” social media, which created a dynamic community that continues to thrive and grow bigger.

Yet charity:water’s most brilliant and “out-of the-box” decision – and certainly the move that has generated the most donations -- was transforming donors into fundraisers by helping them create their own campaigns (usually on their birthdays), which they share with their social network. These campaigns can be personal, or set-up on behalf of an organization – such as the fundraiser’s workplace, sports team, etc.

Not only has this program exponentially increased charity:water’s reach and connected the organization to hundreds of thousands of potential donors, but arguably even more valuably – but less obviously – the organization now has ongoing access to an immense amount of current and prospective donor data, which it is leveraging to create new campaigns that resonate with their donor base. And truly, the results that charity:water has achieved so far don’t merely speak for themselves. They sing triumphantly and loudly!

ExactAsk, one of our proprietary predictive analytics products, is designed to help non-profit organizations of all sizes – including those smaller than charity:water, but nevertheless doing similarly vital work at home, across the country, or abroad -- gather data from social media to maximize donor revenue from their current base.

For example, our technology deeply analyzes a non-profit organization’s Facebook page, and gleans data on each “fan” in order to identify who comprises their best donors, and how much they’re likely to donate based on their online behavior and engagement with that specific nonprofit. What’s more, similar to charity:water, the organization can feed the data into future campaigns to make them more relevant and successful.

The bottom-line is that winning over the hearts and wallets of donors has always been a challenge – but in today’s economic climate, it’s tougher than ever. Non-profit organizations need to look beyond traditional fundraising strategies and methods if they want to continue making a positive, vital difference. Read out latest blog article about the difference between donor capacity and donor willingness.

Establishing a strong and invested social media presence, transforming donors into fundraisers, and using predictive analytics to turn raw data into actionable intelligence, must be core chapters of the success story now, and for years to come.

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