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This is part of a special series on “accidental entrepreneurs” that showcases inspiring stories and learnings of determination and innovation in business across sectors.
“Water changes everything.” – Scott Harrison, charity: water Founder and President
It’s quite simple really when you think about it. Water is fundamental to hygiene and sanitation. It is a requirement for all living things on this planet. People need water to live, survive and thrive. Yet despite what most would argue is an absolute necessity—clean water—there are close to a billion people living without it. (That’s one in eight of us if you’re keeping count.) In fact, unsafe water is responsible for 80% of the world’s disease and for parasites that infect more than 210 million people.
How can this be?
For Scott Harrison, this question would change his life. Jump back to the year 1994. He was a self-proclaimed “party guy” who specialized in event planning at night clubs and other hot spots in New York City. According to Harrison, his life basically revolved around hanging out with socialites, throwing parties and living big—not exactly the person you picture moving an issue like clean water forward, but I’m jumping ahead of myself… that is, not until he had a change of heart in 2004.
Done with the club scene, Harrison wanted to chart a new path and dedicate his life to a new purpose greater than himself. He applied to jobs, talked with people in the know and did everything he could to make this happen. Much to his dismay however, most philanthropic organizations didn’t exactly have a need for a club promoter. Determined and armed with his convictions, he ended up volunteering for a year as a photojournalist on board the Mercy Ship Anastasis in Liberia, West Africa. Upon his return to the states, Harrison created an art exhibition highlighting his photographs and videos to raise funds for medical procedures and freshwater wells in West Africa. An entrepreneur was born. Less than two years later in 2006, he created charity: water.
Water, water everywhere
Well, it’s not quite everywhere, but charity: water hopes to provide 100 million people in developing countries with clean water by 2020. They set out to reinvent charity and their model works. The organization donates 100% of publicly raised funds to this goal and wants every donor to know exactly where their money has gone. On December 2, the group announced that it had raised $5 million on mycharity: water—that’s safe drinking water to more than a quarter of a million people.
What's their secret?
Harrison shared his tips for success and what he believes has made charity: water successful during a recent presentation at the NextGen:Charity conference.
Tell your story simply. Charity: water is famous for its images of unsafe water. These are just one way in which the group makes a complex issue easy to understand and compelling at the same time.
- Give away your story. Share your story with everyone and anyone, make it accessible and easy for others to share and promote.
- Don’t hide your failures. Harrison recounted an instance when one of their drilling projects for a new well failed. Rather than hide the failure, charity: water addressed it publicly and acknowledged the sobering real world challenges they were up against. The transparency was met with applause from numerous sectors and only served to reinforce the public’s support of the project.
- Thank your donors. Charity: water is keen on not only letting donors know where their donations are going, but also thanking them in numerous ways.
- Have fun with your brand. Harrison reminds people that charity: water’s success is no accident. They had to take risks with the brand, which resulted in its distinctive and fresh approach.
A few weeks ago we stopped by charity: water’s office in New York City to talk with Paull Young, Director of Digital Engagement and and hear more. Young shared with us details about how they’ve been able to shape their message, create a brand and ultimately share a story that resonates with people around the world.
Branding, Fundraising, Storytelling
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