Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Paull Young to talk about his work at one of the fastest growing nonprofits, charity:water. Paull is the Director of Digital Engagement (translation: the brain behind their digital marketing success) at charity:water, big on Rugby, reading, and everything Australian. So imagine Paull’s charming Aussie accent while reading some highlights from our conversation.
Question: Tell us about charity:water. What are you all about?
Answer: We’re all about the water issue. Right now 800 million people don’t have access to clean, safe, drinking water and that has an enormous impact on education, health, poverty and the status of women and girls. At charity:water we say that water changes everything—because when people in the developing world don’t have to spend hours each day walking for miles to get water, they have more time to take care of their families, get educated, build skills for work, and they don’t get sick from water-related illnesses. So the money that people raise for charity:water goes directly to building water projects in developing countries around the world.
Q: How does charity:water draw people to its mission?
A: Building our brand in the same way the top brands in the world do has been very important to us. And because we’ve built a refreshingly reputable, transparent and straightforward brand, we’ve been able to build a grassroots movement that has propelled our growth tremendously.
Q: What do you think other nonprofits could learn from charity:water’s rapid success?
A: Well every nonprofit is different and charity:water had a very unique start, which was pretty different from the nonprofit sector back in 2006. But I think we do three things really well in making our organization stand out from the rest of the nonprofit sector, and those are the basics that the nonprofit space should be thinking about.
First, we inspire through content, second, we give people the chance to make our story their own story, and third, we deliver an amazing experience for our supporters.
Our brand starts with our story, and inspiring people through content to make them take an action. Most people in the West haven’t been connected to the water issue, it’s very rare if they have, so it’s crucial that we share a story that they can connect with.
The second piece is having a platform that allows our story to be their story too. So we have a site, mycharitywater.org where you can track your fundraising and see exactly where 100% of your money goes. So we use GPS, take pictures, and use Google maps so that our supporters can be part of the change they are making in people’s lives.
The third element is about delivering an amazing customer experience. If we can share stories that people want to share with their family and their friends, and they’re able to see their impact live on the web and feel like they really have made a difference in people’s lives, then we’ve built a real and lasting relationship with them that can last for their whole life.
Q: How do you measure success? What metrics do you use?
A: So when we talk about success obviously dollars raised is important because it ultimately allows us to do work out in the field. But we actually tend not to think in dollars. If someone writes a million dollar check, I’d almost rather have 1,000 people raise $1,000 each with their friends because if someone politely writes a check, that’s one person making a huge, impressive contribution, but it’s not a story being shared.
From the digital front, the most important metric for us is how many people have SEEN their impact. How many people have seen the water projects they funded and as a result, been changed as an individual?
So when a 10-year-old gives up their birthday and raises $300, we can show that 10-year-old their impact. We hope that kid will be more generous throughout his or her entire life and be better informed about the global water crisis. So if we get that right and build a great relationship with our donors, then the dollars will follow.
Q: You just turned 29, belated happy birthday! Tell us what you did for your birthday … a rager out in Manhattan?
A: Thank you. I turned 29 last month and a few mates and I gave up our birthdays for charity:water. So a little back story…charity:water started with a birthday, September 7, 2006, when our founder Scott Harrison, a former night club promoter, had a few hundred people join his birthday party. He asked for $20 at the door and sent all that money to Uganda to build 6 water wells. That was a pretty big success for one night and one birthday. So we decided to scale it.
It’s pretty hard to make a birthday party bigger by 200 people, but it’s really easy to get 200 other people to give up their September birthdays as well. So that became what we call our September Campaign. And in two years, the September Campaign became a million dollar campaign and we thought, hey it would make a lot of sense to include the other eleven months.
And if you think about it, after you’re 21, you don’t really need any more stuff for your birthday. So, back to this idea of delivering an amazing experience, if giving up your birthday for charity:water is a better experience than a birthday party where you get crappy presents you don’t need, then there’s a great potential for growth there. And people have responded to this call to action really well with a lot of enthusiasm.
(Want to learn more about this? Check out Paull’s September birthday campaign!)