Case Study: charity: water — live from Word of Mouth Supergenius

4:30 — Cale Johnson introduces charity: water‘s Paull Young.

4:31 —  How we’re using the power of birthdays to solve the world’s water problems.

4:32 — The organization is 4 years old. September 7, 2006. Scott Harrison’s birthday in NY. He was a night club promoter – getting paid to promote alcohol brands.

4:33 — He went to Africa with a charity organization. Then he threw a birthday party and asked people to fund wells in Uganda.

4:34 — In many places people get water from Jerry cans. Some people get water from the same puddle as cows (picture). 1 in 6 people don’t have access to fresh water. 80% of all disease is caused by unsafe water. ½ of schools in the world don’t have access to fresh water.

4:35 — Scott’s birthday-he took 100% of the donations and build 6 wells in Uganda. He visited, got a GPS, got the map coordinates, and showed everyone where the exact impact was for their donations.

4:36 — There’s 3 critical elements:

1. $20 gives 1 person clean water for 20 years. $5k for a well.

2. 100% of all donations go to the field. We even give back credit card fees into the charity fund. We get private donors to contribute the management fees. In 4 years we’ve raised $20 million.

3. We prove what we do. We show people direct ties to their donations.

4:40 — Each year in September, we have doubled the amount we raised. September 2008 we raised $1 million for Ethiopia.

4:41 — How can we expand from September only?

4:41 — – lets anyone start a charity campaign. Lets you set up a campaign, set up donors to contribute, track progress, etc.

4:42 — Maggie gave up her Sweet 16 to build a well in Ethiopia. She raised $5,709. Her dad was a Reddit power user – he generated thousands of dollars from Reddit. The experience has changed her life.

4:43 —, Alyssa Milano, got  donations from fans – $97K donations. We sent Alyssa a video about it.

4:43 — Last weekend, Seth Godin gave up his 50th birthday. He’s raised $36K so far, with a goal of $50k.

4:44 — Riley Goodfellow ate rice and beans for a month and built 3 wells. Her parents and friends’ parents donated the money for food to build wells. She carries around a paper with 4.5K marks on it to represent how many kids die per day because of lack of fresh water.

4:45 — Over $2.5 million so far, 127,911 people served. Most people haven’t raised much – very long tail a few hundred dollars at a time. This is doing 30% of our revenue. Our 10 year goal – 100 million people. We need to fundraise 2 billion dollars.

4:46 — The average birthday is worth $1000. If we got 2 million  birthdays, we’d reach our goal. Word of Mouth is in our DNA. $500 well = 250+ people with fresh water.

4:47 — Storytelling – first charity to have over 1 million twitter followers. We never ask for money. We share pictures and point to good campaigns supporters are doing. This Septemeber – we’re looking to raise $1.7MM for the Central African Republic pygmies to get clean water.

4:48 — We have design excellence – we don’t look like the average charity. Picture of baby bottle with dirty water.

4:48 — We unleash the audience – lots of media for people to share. An example, Twestival raised over $250K for Ethiopia.

4:49 — Birthdays can change the world – can we have yours?


Q:  Gigi from Chemical Heritage Foundation, “What platform are you using for your fundraising?”

A:  One of our supporters is the founder of Bebo. He helped us create the first iteration. We’re working on the 2nd one. We want to keep it really simple. The hands-on piece is great – lets you thank your friends

Q:  Mary from Lutheran World Relief, “We’re doing similar stuff in many communities around the world. We also help people get fresh water. We love how you take the complex concept and keep it simple. How can you make the complex so simple?”

A:  Simplicty is key. An 8 year old can tell our story. We spend a lot of time and energy on it. We’re a marketing organization – the key is message. From the beginning we think about how we’re going to communicate and how we’re going to connect with people. It is much easier to explain “We’re using $1.7 million to help the Central African Republic – a specific area, a specific goal.” We have 3 creative staff out of our 23 total staff.

Q:  Danielle, “I work with the Salvation Army – how do you empower youth so well?”

A:  I wish I knew.  Honestly – it is just happening. We activate as many people as possible, but we try to make it easy as possible. Focus on the long tail – celebrities are great, but the scale of the thousands of people who raise small amounts is really important.

Q: “What is your takeaway from today?”

A: Tony Hsieh’s talk about happiness. How can I give every fundraiser and donor happiness? What can we do for donors and fundraisers to make them feel special?

Love this live coverage? It’s all thanks to the hard work of the very talented Howard Greenstein.


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  1. Jeff Dolan

    Great insights for any charity to know. Help the cause by detaching from it.


  1. Live coverage recap from yesterday's Word of Mouth Supergenius - July 21, 2010

    […] charity: water — with charity: water’s Paull Young […]

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