How Being Transparent Actually Help This Nonprofit Empowered Its Supporters

Charity Water is a non-profit founded in September 2006, with mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in the developing nations.

In 2012 alone, Charity: Water raised $33 million with 100% of proceeds to fund water projects. By then, the total fund raised reach $93 million, funded 8,208 projects, and giving 3,223,000 people access to clean water. This kind of track record is very impressive, considering that they get to this milestone in less than 10 years!

When you think that there is more than 1.4 million nonprofits out there competing for resources, how could Charity Water created a league of its own in a very short time?

For one, Charity Water runs the organization like a startup: innovative, efficient, and continue to reinvent along the way. They embrace the power of technology and social media and use it to inspire and empower its supporters – from the get go.

Transparency breaks down barriers between an organization and its supporters to create openness that never before exist.

How Openness Empowered Its Supporters

#1. Business model: 100% donations go to projects

Any donors would love to see how their donations made a difference. So for a young organization that decided early on to embrace a business model where 100% of public donations goes directly to fund its water projects, transparency has to be at the core of their operational DNA.

By showing impact of supporters’ donations and sharing this information online, they gained the trust from people, especially those who may not be familiar with the organization and its mission at first.

For example, its dollars-to-project feature on MyCharityWater platform gives tools to people so they can start their own fundraising campaigns. Every dollar invested is tracked using photos and GPS coordinates so they can show the progress to their donors and impact of their contributions.

When people see how their donations get allocated online (with every imaginable details you can possibly think of), it inspired them to do more than just contribute that one time. The newly converted donors are empowered to do more to help the organization advanced its mission.

And that’s how this charity inspired giving and empowered supporters to raise money for water solutions.

Charity Water Transparency

#2. Optimize the use of technology and (free) social media

There’s no reason why an organization not take advantage of these tools because social media is available for free or low cost.

Charity Water has been using technology and social media from the beginning. They use social networks for branding, building relationships, fundraising, and marketing.

Although Facebook, Twitter, and blog are social networking channels where they concentrated their efforts, they also maintained online presence on other networking sites as well, i.e. Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Vimeo, and YouTube.

Social media channels and stats

Charity Water social Mid 2012 04/14
Facebook 234k fans 290k likes
Twitter 1.3M followers 1.4M
Instagram 33k followers 216k followers
Google+ +57k followers 821k followers
Pinterest 1.8k followers 7.2k followers
Blog RSS

Because Charity Water is an early adopter of social media in the nonprofit world, in 2009 it became the first nonprofit to reach more than 1 million followers on Twitter!

The advantage of going early with social media is that, during the same year they also became the recipient of the-now-closed Twestival (Twitter+Festival) – a single day global movement that harnessed the power of social media to organize offline events.

Twestival events mobilized communities in support of local causes, where people gathered in more than two hundred cities , to meet, drink and make donations for water projects. The festival raised more than $250,000 for Charity Water.

#3. Tap into the power of “You can make a difference!”

We inspire giving and empower others to fundraise for sustainable water solutions.” Charity: Water, annual report 2010

They understand that access to clean water is a huge challenge to tackle alone. They also understand the importance of scaling people’s power. Every nonprofit exists to support a meaningful cause. And technology makes it easier for people who are inspired to do good to channel their energy through different do-and-feel-good activities.

Storytelling can inspire followers/supporters because it touched people’s emotions. Social media gives people the tools to express themselves . It democratizes access that makes (practically) everyone a story teller.

Toolkit for storytelling they use include high quality photos, video clips, and graphics. All of these were created for people to see the work they do, the impact of their donations, progress update, and how contributions help changed the lives of people in need in communities around the world when the funded water projects are completed.

Each story is then distributed through an array of social media channels including on Facebook and Twitter. You may see the same picture get re-posted multiple times at different social networking sites, like this one below.

Repurpose content

The same picture may have different results on different platforms Sometime you would see the same picture is being reused (or repurpose) on Facebook and Twitter, like the one below. Because Twitter and Facebook followers are not the same. They behave differently.


Charity Water on Twitter


Charity Water Facebook

Although on Facebook, the most popular age group represents the next generation of donors 18-24 years old, kids love them too.


On Facebook, the picture earned 102 shares, 734+ people likes, and 14 comments. While on Twitter, it earned 90 retweets and 80 favorites. That means more people on its FB are more engaged than those following its Twitter account, because writing comments need some thinking.

#4. Make it easy for people to raised money (on your behalf)

Technology has made it easy for people to make donations. It began in 2009, when Charity Water launched MyCharityWater, a platform on Charity Water’s website to help people raised money for water projects.

The pitch on the site says that it takes less than one minute to start a campaign. This platform gives individuals the power to raise funds on behalf of the charity. They can create a page, mission statement (i.e. giving up birthdays for donations), and post photos. In other words, you can be as creative as you can.

65% of donations were raised online in 2011.

According to its 2012 annual report, over half of the fundraising campaigns on MyCharity are birthday campaigns. Over 6,200 people donated birthdays for their cause and raised more than $2.9 million.

But that’s not all. Take a look at some of the creative fundraising ideas that people have.

People's Campaigns for Charity Water

(2012 Annual report)

The story of Rachel

Rachel had a wish for her 9th birthday that she wanted to raise $300, so 15 people can get clean water to drink. She fell a little short raising only $220. So she told her mom that she would try harder next year.

A month later, in July 2011, she died of tragic car accident. When people heard about her story, donations began pouring in. 31,997 people from around the world made donations to her campaign.

A few months later, people raised $1,265,823 – that funded 143 projects and give 37,770 people access to clean water.

#5. Be authentic. Tell the truth

Tell the truth even when it’s bad news. One of the “September Live Drill” videos, showed how they failed to drill for clean water in a remote village called Moale, in Central of African Republic. And Scott Harrison, founder of Charity, shared with viewers about their failure and promise to keep them updated until they can provide water for the village. A dream that was realized a year later.

This story inspired people around the world to donate for its cause

“Last October, our team spent a week with the people of Sikedi Village in Malawi, shooting video and capturing stories. The result of that trip was a 3-minute video that inspired people around the world to donate $2M and bring clean water to another 60,000 people in Malawi.” – Facebook April 16, 2014.

Watch the video.


That’s the story of Charity Water. What’s your story?

Connect with Charity Water:







Note: This story was originally written for Econsultancy in 2012 (part of a study of how social media will change the nonprofits landscape). Content has been updated since then to reflect the changes.


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