Quora: What Digital Tactics Have Been Most Successful in Building charity: water’s Online Audience

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet, Marketing | Posted on 17-01-2011


I was asked the following question on Quora about charity: water’s online approach. For those of you not on Quora yet (you should be), I thought I’d share here as well.

What digital tactics have been most successful in building and engaging the charity: water audience?

Firstly, I must point out that looking at digital tactics in isolation doesn’t tell you much – there’s a real need to understand the digital strategy they are a part of to best understand our online success… but that’s for another question.

Some key tactics that have helped us build and engage our audience include:


The importance of compelling content cannot be understated. We focus on producing entertaining, informative and inspiring content each and every day.

Video content has been particularly powerful for us (to get a good feel for this view the videos at http://charitywater.org/september) and is a continued focus for us.

Likewise, photography is important for our brand. We regularly share beautiful pictures from the field online as a way of helping our donors understand the change they can make in people’s lives.

The written word is important too – we have a full time blogger on staff who adds new content every day (http://charitywater.org/blog) and also writes longer stories to showcase on our site (http://www.charitywater.org/proj…)


Not exactly a digital tactic, but the simplicity of our messaging is key to our online success.

Simple, compelling messages allow our audience to easily share the importance of the water issue:

  • 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water
  • 4,500 children die every day from water related diseases
  • More people die from lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation than all forms of violence, including war
  • $20 can give one person clean water
  • $5000 can fund a water project that can provide safe water to 250 people

These messages are simple for our audience to absorb and share. Because of this, I’ve seen 8 year old kids do a better job of telling the water story than I ever could.


The fundraising platform mycharitywater.org has been incredibly successful for us, raising over $6 million in its first 15 months in operation.

Beyond just fundraising, mycharitywater plays an important role in building our online audience as each and every fundraising audience is also a Word Of Mouth marketing campaign.

Every fundraiser shares our content and our mission with their closest friends and family, a powerful way for us to connect with new audiences. The 6,000 fundraisers to date at mycharitywater.org have formed a grassroots movement that has taken our message and content and shared it with audiences we never could have reached otherwise.


1.3 million Twitter followers attests to the importance of this channel for our cause. Twitter is an incredibly important venue for us – it’s where we share our latest news, launch online campaigns, connect with influencers and converse with our supporters.

In addition, Twitter is one of the favorite social networks of our supporters and one of the main places they share our content and promote their own fundraising campaigns.

Twitter has been one of our top 5 traffic drivers for the past 2 years.


While for most the charity: water brand is synonymous with Twitter, Facebook is also a favorite venue for us and continues to become a more important site for us to engage with our supporters.

We use our Facebook page to talk to our inner-circle of supporters and try to give them a closer look into our day-to-day operations. During our September campaigns we posted behind the scenes videos on our fan page every day. In addition, the good folk at Buddy Media donated their Facebook platform to us, which has enabled us to expand our presence to add virtual gifts and other interactive elements.

As with Twitter, Facebook is also a favorite social network for our audience. Since the launch of the Open Graph in mid-2010 our Facebook traffic increased over 1000%. And as an example of how our audience can use Facebook on our behalf, we saw our greatest traffic day ever in September 2010 when Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith posted about their partnership with us (http://charitywater.org/willandjada) to their 10 million + fans.

In 2010, Facebook was our top referring site, only behind direct traffic and Google search, and for the first time outstripping Twitter in terms of unique visitors.

Happy to delve more into tactics and share other numbers, so please leave a comment if you’d like me to add any more thoughts

The Decline, And Rise, of Charity

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet, Life | Posted on 20-12-2010


Google just launched Ngrams, a really cool tool that allows you to search for the occurrence of a word in the 500 year history of millions of books.

The first word I searched for: ‘charity

The occurrence of the word charity hit a peak around 1800 after hundreds of years of high-frequency. Then, as the industrialized world grew charity dropped away, hitting real lows in the materialistic 80s.

What inspires me? The current upwards trend. Is it any wonder that we’ve seen the word charity occur more frequently over the past 10 years? I like to think that this is a sign of society moving forward.

charity: water on ABC 20/20

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Australia, charity: water, Current Affairs, Life | Posted on 19-12-2010


Friday night was a really cool moment for charity: water as our story was told on ABC 20/20 – check it out here (RSS readers click through for video):

A great way to close out 2010!

In personal news, tomorrow I’m flying home to Australia for Christmas. I’ll be in Sydney December 23 to January 9, if you’d like to catch up comment, email me or send me a tweet!

charity: water september campaign on ABC 2020

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Current Affairs, Life | Posted on 16-12-2010


This Friday at 10pm ET ABC 20/20 will feature charity: water and the 2010 September campaign as part of a special global healthcare series.

The ABC team visited our charity: water offices in NYC and spent a bunch of time with our founder Scott Harrison, and then headed to Central African Republic to film Jim Hocking and our partner ICDI drilling one of the 200 water projects funded by this year’s September campaign.

Check out this awesome video of Jim at work in CAR

And this clip with Scott filmed in our office in NYC

If you can watch the show live at 10pm on Friday join us on Twitter with the hashtag #2020 – the whole charity: water team, Scott and Jim will be watching it live and live-tweeting during the show. If you can’t catch it live set your DVR or check out the full episode online later on (I’m not sure if you’ll be able to watch it outside the US though).

I’m excited for Friday – I hope you’ll help us spread the word!

Case Foundation & charity: water

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet | Posted on 09-12-2010


Some great folk from the Case Foundation visited our charity: water offices recently and wrote this great recap of our mission.

The Case Foundation is a really interesting social good organization established by AOL Founders Jean and Steve Case. They’re trying to use their funds and brain power to push the cause space forward online and drive more innovation in the non-profit sector. So a natural fit with charity: water.

They also filmed a video interview with yours truly, check it out:

Many thanks to the awesome team over at the Case Foundation, in particular my mates Sokunthea Sa Chhabra, Emily Yu and Allie Burns.

A September Thank You

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Life | Posted on 18-11-2010


I’ve written a lot here about the charity: water September campaign, and also the importance of saying thanks.

Back in September I shared an email I sent to close friends about the campaign, and I wanted to share another email I sent to my mates to thank them for their support.

The September campaign is a resounding success – we have nearly $1 million raised from our targeted campaigns and the lift in fundraising through the campaign has put us in a great position to fulfill our $1.7 million pledge to give access to clean water to all the Bayaka.

This note relates to my personal birthday campaign, and a thank you to those friends and family who helped me and my mates raise over $6,000.

And it’s not too late for you to join in – we’ve got two days left on our campaign and I’d love any extra contributions: http://mycharitywater.org/93rd

G’day G’day,

It’s a pleasure to be able to write this email to say thank you to you for your support of charity: water and the birthday campaign Alex Kallman, Shashi Khemlani and I put together for our September birthdays. We’re sending this email to all who donated or otherwise supported our efforts.

Our campaign closes in 3 days and thanks to your generous donations we CRUSHED our goal of $5,000: http://mycharitywater.org/93rd

To date we’ve raised $6,284 which will allow charity: water to bring clean and safe drinking water to 314 people in Central African Republic. Passing $5,000 (the average cost of a project) also means that we’ll have a water project with our names on it built over the next 12 months and we’ll be able to report back to you with GPS coordinates and photos of the well you helped us fund.

To see a detailed breakdown of where your money will go, check out the attached infographic. And to really understand the impact you have helped us make please visit charitywater.org/september and check out the 3 videos of the ‘live drill’ from the field in early September. My team at charity: water think it’s some of the most compelling content we’ve put together

If you’re a New Yorker, we hope you can attend the charity: ball on December 13 alongside the three of us. It’s a huge annual gala hosted by Adrian Grenier of Entourage. Also in attendance is Jim Hocking, the founder of our partner ICDI in Central African Republic, so you’ll be able to meet the guy you’re helping to fund.

Details and tickets for charity: ball here: http://charitywater.org/charityball

Again, on behalf of Shashi, Alex and I, thank you so much for helping us change the lives of several hundred people this September.


Paull Young

Humans as Infrastructure

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet, Life | Posted on 22-10-2010


Seth Godin raved about  Kevin Kelly’s new book What Technology Wants so I ordered it and got stuck into it today.

The book focuses on the benefits technology has brought society, and this paragraph from chapter 1 struck me deeply:

As Lynn White, historian of technology wrote,

“The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building for the first time in history of a complex civilization which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies but primarily on non-human power.”

A beautiful sentiment, and it is great that technology has played a role in replacing man-labor and freeing up our time for higher level pursuits… well at least if you live in the developed world.

This statement couldn’t help but jar against what I read on blogging on water’s Blog Action Day post, Stop Using Girls as Infrastructure:

Stop using girls as infrastructure. When we create proper infrastructures – build roads, install electricity and clean watergirls won’t need to be used as infrastructure any longer. Today they function as the electric grid as they carry firewood, plumbing system as they carry water, childcare system, etc.

Couldn’t agree more. Too often around the world women and girls are used as water (and all too often wastewater) infrastructure instead of being given the opportunity to be educated and become productive members of society.

Technology is a beautiful thing. And we’re lucky we live in the part of the world where we can play Angry Birds to our hearts content, not the part where we have to send our women and children on grueling daily walks for water.

Blog Action Day: Water

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Current Affairs, Life | Posted on 15-10-2010


Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event where thousands of bloggers around the world lend their voice to one topic – and this year that topic is water.

Why Water? This is a question I frequently answer working with charity: water.

The stats are compelling:

  • 1 billion people don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water
  • 4,5000 children die every day due to lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation
  • More people die each year because of water and sanitation issues than all forms of violence, including war

But it’s hard to grasp these numbers. When people ask me why they should care, I try to show them something like this instead.

Please take a minute to watch this video my team filmed in Central African Republic last month with a Bayaka woman given the gift of clean water after previously losing a child in its absence.

Will you lend your voice to water today?

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.

Social Media Week Panel on Entrepreneurship

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business, charity: water, Events, Internet, Marketing | Posted on 30-09-2010


Last week I appeared on a video panel for Social Media Week hosted by the State Department. I joined Rachel Shechtman of TOMS Shoes and Oren Michels of Mashery to discuss entrepreneurship.

Video here, the sounds isn’t great but the content was pretty solid. Was a lot of fun – especially fielding questions from Argentina, Colombia and Benin thanks to the reach of the State Department.

Also, I’ve gotta take kudos for the set design – Rachel and I were locked in a storage cupboard at the Passport Office and had to wrangle together a backdrop out of what we could find in the room… hence the giant American Flag sitting behind us!

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