Did you know: More people die from dirty water and poor sanitation than all forms of violence? Including war. Spreading awareness of this global problem takes more marketing than a non-profit alone can afford. Enter social advocacy.

Non-profit charity: water brings clean drinking water to developing countries. The organization’s champions create social campaigns to mobilize their networks and help end the global water crisis. This free word of mouth from supporters spreads charity: water’s message further than the organization’s limited budget could ever afford. Brands can learn from charity: water’s advocacy model how to inspire, acquire, and retain supporters.

How social media outworks traditional marketing channels for non-profits

As a digitally driven organization, charity: water leverages social media throughout their marketing and communications. Like many non-profits, their limited marketing budget ($0) makes social media an important and affordable communication channel. Besides the low cost of operation, social media builds connections for the charity: water supporters. For brands, creating a community of like-minded supporters fosters individuals’ willingness to share.  For example, charity: water Facebook fans answer one another’s questions rather than waiting for charity: water to respond.

Google recently awarded charity: water a $5 million Impact Award to install remote water flow monitoring sensors at 4,000 wells in Africa. Instead of issuing a press release, charity: water posted a picture of the grant to Instagram where their nearly 75,000 followers expressed joy at the good news.

charity: water’s birthday campaigns turn donating into a crowdsourced, social activity

As an alternative to birthday gifts, charity: water has inspired 10,000 people to “give up their birthday.” Rather than presents, people ask their friends and family for donations to clean water projects. Every brand strives to identify their advocates and charity: water has seen their most creative and engaged donors emerge through the use of birthday campaigns. For example:

  • Six year old Lory donated his birthday and raised $2,300 through the help of two Youtube videos.
  • Sarah Peck decided she would swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco if she raised $29,000 for her 29th birthday. The catch? She would do it naked! Sarah launched a blog where she posted updates on her campaign and general awareness on the global water crisis. She started her own Facebook page and posted updates on her training program. And she didn’t forget what her mama taught her – saying thank you goes a long way. Personal emails and Twitter acknowledgments kept her donors engaged and encouraged others to support her as well. She raised $32,000.
  • One guy announced to his social networks that he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, but wouldn’t do so until they funded a well. They reached their goal in three days, much quicker than he anticipated. Thinking it’d take considerably longer to raise $8,000, he still hadn’t bought the ring when they met their goal! The eventual proposal was captured on video and shared with supporters to close the loop in their campaign.
  • A champion named Cubby organized a “save/shave my beard” campaign. People donated to their facial hair preference and his clean-shaven face debuted at the charity: water gala.

Brands can follow this example by crowdsourcing their marketing campaigns – giving consumers a sense of ownership in the end result. Taco Bell, for example, uses Instagram photos and tweets about their food in official marketing campaigns.

Outreach keeps donors engaged after a campaign ends

Once a well is funded and built, a Dollars to Projects (http://www.charitywater.org/projects/d2p/) report is sent to each donor. Included in the report are the GPS coordinates of the well and photos of the local community.

Transparency is a cultural beacon at charity: water. They were a pioneer of the 100% model which sends 100% of donations directly to the field. Private donors, foundations, and corporate sponsorships cover the operating expenses of charity: water. Ultimately, this openness encourages supporters to run another campaign as they appreciate knowing every penny of their donation goes directly to the field. Transparency isn’t just a pretty word for this non-profit. Employees claim to be better global citizens because of the values espoused at charity: water. Can your company say that the core values are so honestly exemplified that your employees are better for working there?

Similarly, brands must keep the conversation going after an interaction “ends.” Send follow-up emails after purchases and ask customers for their feedback. It shows you care about their experience and keeps advocates involved with your brand after buying.

Make your marketing sharable and personal

charity: water strives to be early adopters in the social sphere, always keeping in mind the inspirational purpose of their social media strategy. They have transitioned from less sharable formats of communication such as blogs to those like Instagram with a wider reach. They are moving from one-size-fits-all email blasts to personalized emails designed to inspire, delight, and build relationships. No one should ever receive an email from charity: water and wonder, “Why am I getting this?” Their 20% open rate and 40% click-through-rate proves this strategy is working.  Personalized, relevant marketing is effective and sharable.

To participate in the Bazaarvoice campaign for World Water Day, please visit BazaarWells.

Thank you Sarah Salisbury and Kaitlyn Jankowski for your insight into charity: water.

2 Responses to “What brands can learn from a non-profit’s social advocacy efforts”

  1. This is a fantastic organization i.e Charity Water and Scott has done a fantastic job in changing the perception of the simple joys of existence – H20 and how we take it for granted …. I was fortunate to connect and see him live and it was very inspiring..

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