How charity:water attracts new donors

dollars to projects

Earlier this week, we were fortunate to have Paull Young, the Director of Digital Engagement at charity:water join us for the third Online Fundraising Academy session. He shared charity:water’s approach to attracting new donors (>400,000 in the last 6 years!).

Paull launched charity:water’s birthday campaign, helped pull off Twestival and now leads the team’s online presence. He is responsible for attracting new online donors to charity:water’s cause. Prior to joining charity:water, Paull led accounts for a social media agency and earned multiple awards for work with Fortune 500 brands.

Session Recording:

charity:water’s approach:

100% Model

  • Fundraise separately for water projects and administrative costs. Donors can feel confident that 100% of their donations go to water projects.
  • Two bank accounts – one for administration, one for water projects
  • Operations’ bank account covered by major donors who are interested in investing in the organization


  • Every project that they implement, they mark on Google maps so people can see where their money is going.


  • Build a brand like Apple or Nike. They want people to love their brand and recognize it like other corporate brands.
  • They have developed an amazing brand team which produces amazing content online that inspires people and drives donations.

No direct mail. All online.

Inspiration: Most important part of digital strategy.

  • Inspire people to go out there and take action.
  • Invest in creatives. Invest time and energy in developing inspiring content.
  • Visual storytelling and great photography – Use instagram to share cell phone photography
  • charity:water has worked hard to convey their message and need in a compelling and inspiring way. Their Water Changes Everything video is a good example of that:
  • Engaging people on social media. Spend time in these environments, interacting with supporters and followers. To date, the Founder and Paull, the Director of Digital Engagement have managed the organization’s social media. It doesn’t require a huge staff investment.
  • Create campaigns around specific needs (ex: drilling rig) and inspire individual fundraisers to reach out to family and friends. For this particular campaign, they motivated about 1,200 fundraisers to reach more than 12,000 individual donors. – Peer to peer fundraising

  • Fundraising platform that allows people to take charity:water’s story and make it their own and to reach out to family and friends to ask for donations.
  • Similar to GlobalGiving’s fundraiser pages that allow donors to create their own fundraiser page with their own photos and goal and to reach out to family and friends:
  • Website created in 2009, when it became clear that peer-to-peer fundraising was a really successful fundraising strategy for charity:water
  • Have raised $20 million from more than 360,000 individuals. The average fundraiser raises $1,000 from 13 new donors.

Give. Raise. Influence.

  • Inspire the fundraisers! Fundraising is incredibly difficult. charity:water needs to help inspire and motivate people to feel more confident about fundraising.
  • When thinking about supporters of the organization, they don’t just perceive them as individual donors, but potential long-term fundraisers and influencers.
  • Deliver great content to fundraisers, inspire them, give them the tools to thank and update their donors.
  • A lot of unique stories have emerged–One little girl ate only rice and beans for a month in an effort to raise money for charity:water.  Two different individuals committed to walk across America to raise money. Cubby did a  campaign “save or shave his epic beard.” Sarah swam naked across the San Francisco Bay.

See your impact: Digital customer experience

  • Show every donor exactly where their money went. What well they supported and where it is.
  • Photos of the village, GPS coordinates, and brief, written update.

Question & Answer

Q: How do you get regular stories and pictures from the field?

A: charity:water sends professional photographers to the field. For organizations with smaller budgets, you might consider recruiting photographers to volunteer with your projects in the field. charity:water is also working to better train their own field staff to take better photos and to post them on instagram. charity:water has chosen to invest in photography because the results can be very inspiring and motivating for supporters.

Q: Do you design fundraisers for your supporters or do they design the fundraisers themselves? How do your fundraisers find out about charity:water?

A: Fundraisers find out about charity:water via word of mouth or online content. They get inspired and come up with their own fundraiser ideas. charity:water does not create the fundraisers–they’re all created by the individuals! GlobalGiving also offers a similar fundraiser feature:

Q: How would you suggest an organization with a $40,000 budget a year best go about implementing some of the suggestions you’ve made? How can they best build a digital strategy?

A: It depends on where your strengths lie. Having some great creative talent can be really impactful. There are people out there who would like to commit and invest time and energy in telling your story. Spend a weekend watching amazing videos on Youtube and try to track down who made them. Video doesn’t have to be the answer but it’s one great way to tell your story. You have nothing to lose. Get out there and try stuff! Get out there and share photos. Get close to the impact you’re having. Post photos online. Thank donors.

Q: What are your most effective tweets? How do you build a following on Twitter? How do you engage your audience without being annoying?

A: If you don’t have anything interesting say, don’t say anything at all. Be an organic part of a conversation, just like personal conversations. Listen to people. Find ways to add value. Engage in conversations you care about. It’s more important what other people are saying about charity:water than what the organization says about themselves.

Q: How do you go about building relationships with celebrities and more well-known donors?

A: Personal introductions. Building trust. The Founder typically has those types of relationships. It helps that charity:water’s brand is cool. This is just one of the many reasons that brand is so important.

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