Delivering Happiness: Non-Profit Perspective

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business, charity: water, Internet, Life, Marketing | Posted on 13-10-2010


I try not to read too many business books. I have a constant stream of business info heading my way via Google Reader and Twitter. And any time I’m reading a business book I always think I’m missing out on working through the classics or another piece of great fiction that might extend my world view.

So it’s rare I’ll really enjoy a business book. It’s even rarer one will instantly produce a significant shift in my thinking. Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh managed to do both.

Reading Tony Hsieh's 'Delivering Happiness' on the bus to work - seems fitting right @dhbus?

Tony Hsieh and Zappos are renowned for their approach to customer service and company culture. Delivering Happiness looks at both through the frame of Tony’s personal experience and outlines the core thinking that led to Zappos eventual billion dollar acquisition by Amazon.

As I read Tony’s story I found more and more similarities with my work at charity: water, and also got a glimpse of how our organization can take a Zappos approach to charity and change the world while we’re at it.

We deliver clean water to developing nations, Zappos delivers shoes to westerners – how could there be a link?

It boils down to this: all online shoe vendors are basically the same. It’s not a sexy business, nor groundbreaking. The point of differentiation for Zappos is in making customers go ‘WOW’ and sparking a deep relationship with the brand. In practice this looks like:

– Free shipping for deliveries AND returns
– A real person on the phone, every time
– Upgrades when possible to next day delivery
– Most importantly, a deeply held commitment to doing right by the customer

As a non-profit charity: water doesn’t necessarily have ‘customers’. And we don’t have a ‘customer service’ department. But we’ve got something even more important: donors, fundraisers and supporters.

The question for me is how can we build a culture that can deliver that WOW factor to all of them. What is the equivalent, for a non-profit, of free shipping and next day delivery of a pair of shoes?

In the case of charity: water – it’s reporting.

We already focus on this more than most – we send 100% of donations to the field and we’ve always marked every water project we’ve built on Google Maps to prove the impact. And it’s right here, the connection AFTER our donors have committed funds, when we can ‘deliver happiness’ to our supporters unlike any other cause, and in doing so turn them into lifelong fans.

The biggest adjustment for now: ‘reporting’ has moved to the core of our digital strategy (headlined with a phrase stolen from Zappos: ‘Deliver WOW through service’). And here is an example of how reporting can WOW – check out this video we made Will and Jada Smith to show them the well they funded (they’ve since become two of our biggest supporters).

For now, grab yourself a copy of Delivering Happiness and have a read. In the meantime, check out this video featuring the Delivering Happiness crew visiting our office at charity: water last month:

And for one final piece of happiness for you – leave a thoughtful comment and I’ve got a copy of Delivering Happiness on hand that I’d be most happy to send to my favorite commenter.

Comments (8)

I have Delivering Happiness sitting next to me, and I agree, it’s a fantastic book! I especially like how it’s not just an autobiography, and not just about Zappos’ culture. They build upon each other.

I saw Tony earlier in the year at the Silverpop Client Summit (which was also when I first heard about charity: water). He and Zappos are very inspirational.

I hope more people learn from this, especially organizations that offer a service instead of a physical product. If what you offer is a service, shouldn’t you focus on… service?!

This was actually my summer beach read. I was as inspired by Tony’s promise to the Zappo’s consumer as I was by his journey in getting to Zappo’s. His desire to stay true to himself and his personal passion was very motivating.

Todd – Spot on, it’s an important message. I know you’re a measurement guy – I’m interested in thinking about the best way to measure ‘happiness’ over time to see how it ties back to our bottom line…

Also, didn’t know you were connected with Silverpop! Huge supporters of ours, I love those guys.

Lindsay – I knew you’d buy in to the DH angle, I’ve seen you in action living the service ethic!

Birthday calling, amazing idea! It obvious that your supporters felt more connected to Charity:Water. Just as good, perhaps your team felt more connected to your supporters.
I’ve spent a career exploring different approaches to connect people, authentically, at the heart, to do good. Colleagues, donors, are one thing. Friends are another.
Question is–how can we continue to keep it authentic? Instead of as another strategy. I think about this sometime.

Way to go on your creative approach!

Hi Karen – great comment!

The birthday calling was a lot of fun :) We’d been doing a bit of it individually with our birthday fundraisers, but this was by far the biggest group!

You are right- really doing this properly means it can’t just be a marketing stunt. You’ve got to build into your culture a deep commitment to really doing amazing things by your stakeholders… and this is far from easy.

That’s one of the things I like most about the book, you see how Zappos managed to do just that, at scale, delivering shoes.

I got this book for my birthday back in June and by far, it’s the most meaningful gift I’ve received. I quit my job last year and knew it was the right thing to do but I didn’t know why (other than having a “great” boss) until I read this book.

I never want to work for just a paycheck. Tony Hsieh said on tour that “companies with higher purpose are more profitable, and people with higher purpose are happier.”

I’ve been self-employed and happier selling on eBay. I can do things that I feel are right and have been rewarded accordingly: I’m Top-Rated. This is so different from my previous job where I had to train tellers to give great service, up-sell, and run their transactions as fast as they could. It just didn’t make sense to me. How do you give great personal service in a minute?

Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed selling on eBay, it’s time to transition it to be my secondary income because I have found a “higher purpose”: to use the internet/social media to bring people together in-person, face-to-face. I’m collaborating with a friend ( to build this app because I believe that remotely interacting or meeting people just doesn’t compare to the real-life experience. The finish line is very far away but I’m inspired.

Delivering Happiness didn’t inspire me to do any of this but its story of making profits, having purpose, and being happy, reminds me that it’s possible to have all three and no one should settle for less.

You convinced me to pick up the book. :-) I planned to see Tony Hsieh, when he came into town, but life happened…

[…] of this blog will know I’m a follower and a believer in the Delivering Happiness movement, and I’m quite stoked with how this video turned […]

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