10 Things We Can Learn from Scott Harrison, Thirst, and Charity: Water

I just finished Thirst, a book written by Charity: Water founder, Scott Harrison. The book details Harrison’s life—from his childhood with a sick mother, to his early twenties as a superstar night club promoter, to his time on Mercy Ships, and then as founder of Charity: Water. It’s a story not only  of hope and personal reinvention, but also of the power of storytelling, and the incredible strength of a “new kind” of nonprofit—one based on transparency, a 100% giving model, creative branding, and a deep cultivation of donors’ faith. Here’s what we all can learn from Scott Harrison, Thirst, and Charity: Water. 

  1. Content. Content. Content. When you bring donors into the fold with quality, authentic content, you create an environment where they feel as though they belong. Make them feel like they are part of your team and provide them with the stories that immerse them in your work. Authentic images are key.

  2. Video content can be highly produced and edited, or it can be rocky footage from the back of a Jeep in Ethiopia. Either way, if it’s authentic to your brand, it will be a powerful tool for stakeholder engagement.

  3. Don’t underestimate the power of placing your donors at the scene of your work. Leverage technology and multimedia to do this. Look to resources like Google Maps and think outside the box.

  4. Find ways to get people excited about giving. Let them experience the feeling that comes from giving. Show them where their money goes.

  5. Campaigns work, but only when they are creative and unique to your organization. Get creative with things like birthday and anniversary campaigns, country specific campaigns, etc. Never stop iterating and innovating.

  6. Monthly-revenue models are valuable, but you need more than a checkbox for donors to click and give monthly. They need to be well thought out and promoted, and in exchange for a donor’s recurring gift, they need to receive regular content (see #s 1, 2, and 3 above). Monthly giving programs demand and deserve ongoing donor communication.

  7. Thank your donors—with handwritten notes, videos, phone calls. Highlight their peer to peer fundraising efforts on social media. Never stop making the donor feel special.

  8. Failure and mistakes are as much a part of an organization’s story as the successes are. If you’ve pledged transparency with donors, tell them the whole story. Remind them that the mistakes don’t mean the end—they’re just a moment of learning, and they fuel the passion and commitment to do good.

  9. Never, ever, be afraid to ask—for time, money, in kind support, a christmas tree to spruce up the office. What’s the worst that can happen?

  10. Let inspiration, drive, and an urgency to do good, motivate your efforts.

  11. Never stop believing in the power of your work. At the end of Thirst, Scott references a TED address by Pope Francis“A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us’? No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.” Scott continues by saying, “this is how the problems of the world get solved: One by one. By me and you and us.”