Written by Shari Monnes | Boston
on August 26, 2013

Scott Harrison’s story of turning his life around from one of excess indulgences and shallow endeavors as a NYC night club promoter, to founding one of the fastest growing and influential non-profit charities in the world, charity: water -- which brings clean water to poor villages around the world -- is more than just a fascinating tale.

It’s a lesson in the smart use of connections, social media, emotional selling and accountability for your actions. And it’s a striking tale of growth with a zero dollar marketing budget to raising more than $100 million dollars and helping more than 3 million people in just six years. Is it something that can apply to other industries in marketing? I think so.

As a keynote speaker at last week’s Inbound Marketing Conference in Boston, Harrison presented not just a tale of how he got to where he is, but also succeeded in getting nearly 4,000 people in the room (include myself) to vow to support the charity’s efforts. Talk about leveraging the power of the masses!

Five lessons for Marketers

Here are five key lessons marketers can learn from Scott Harrison and charity: water.

1. Be accountable.

Being transparent and accountable for every penny collected from the public was the primary and fundamental idea behind charity: water. People have become cynical about giving to charities because they want to know where the money is really going. They want to be sure it’s actually creating some real value. How can marketers (who aren’t in the charity business) use that advice?
Application for marketers: Show your brand’s value. Don’t let customers guess about what you can bring to them. Stop talking about all the great features and bells and whistles you offer and show them proof. Show the success stories. Show the customer testimonials. Show how you are reinvesting in development and customer service and making their lives (with your product) better.

2. Leverage the power of technology.

Using social media and online digital tools to both tell their story and gather new supporters has been instrumental to charity:water’s success. The first thing Harrison did after completing his first project with the money he gathered from supporters was to send them TEXT messages and images of the completed project. He posted it online, blogged and Tweeted it. He used GPS tagging to let supporters see where the projects were on interactive maps. This goes back to accountability, of course, but it was also notable that he recognized the tools that his audience was using…and gave them ways to continue to interact with the project.
Application for marketers: Create a strategy for using all the social media tools at your disposal to share your message in the way that makes the most sense for your audience. Meet them where they want to be met, not where you are sitting now. Give your customers and supporters tools to help spread the word.

Charity Water Facebook timeline cover photos


3. Tell stories. Visually.

Harrison realized that the real power of charity water wasn’t in talking about his organization. It was in letting people (both the beneficiaries and the supporters) share their own stories. He provided a platform for people to tell the world they were helping. And why. People responded by creating videos, websites and campaigns to raise awareness and money for charity: water.
Application for marketers: Tell your customers’ stories…and create ways for them to share their stories with you and with other customers. This might look like customer reviews (works for Amazon!) or solicited through interviews and case studies. However, don’t stop there. How can you help shine a light your customer's own expertise? Can you help them grow their own businesses by showing their expertise in their fields? People share their “I’m helping charity:water” stories because it makes them feel good about themselves and feel important. How can you make your customers feel valuable and important?

4. Create ideas that are scalable.

Harrison’s first fundraising efforts involved holding benefits (parties) with a door charge. But he realized that such initiatives weren’t infinitely scalable. It wasn’t possible for every person who might want to help to come to the event. So his idea of “giving up your birthday” was born. It’s an online pledge to ask your friends to make a donation to charity: water instead of giving you (uneeded) gifts for your birthday (anniversary party, wedding, bar mitzvah…etc).
Application for marketers: Consider how to create campaigns and initiatives that can be repeated…and improved. Use crowdsourcing and social media to your advantage. How can you make it easier for prospects to interact with you and share their concerns? Can your ideas and plans be reproduced? Have you considered what is needed to make them continue to grow over the long term?

5. Use emotion.

Harrison’s images of children drinking dirty water and women walking for hours with heavy jugs to collect water with leeches and parasites in it from filthy watering holes used by animals has a strong emotional impact. As do images of children and adults deformed by diseases as a result of drinking contaminated water. Such tactics are effective, and well, expected in the world of charitable giving. But what about in business?
Application for marketers: It’s well known in the advertising world that emotion gets results. Yet, many businesses overlook the potential impact of this very basic motivator when preparing their brand messages. No you don’t have to show starving children to be successful. But consider what is at the heart of your customer’s “pain.” Are you focusing on how you can help it or just talking about yourself? Are you aligning your solutions with their needs?

Water changes everything video.

Tell us what your story.

What do you think? Is your brand following charity: water’s lead? If so, how?


Will you help charity: water?

How can you help charity: water bring clean water to people around the world?
Make a donation today.

Maybe your business can donate in-kind services that would help charity water?
In-kind donations.



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