Podcast: the charity: water September campaign

August 24, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing

Written by former LiveWorld employee, @BryanPerson 
charity: water has just kicked off its most ambitious September birthday campaign ever.
Through the end of September, the nonprofit is asking people to “give up their September birthdays” to raise $1.75 million and provide clean drinking water for the Bayaka people of the Central African Republic.
Its a noble goal, powered by a passionate team plus a social media marketing playbook that should make larger brands green with envy!
charity: water provides an array of digital assets (videos, sample tweets, arresting photos from C.A.R.) for easy sharing on its website, Facebook Page, @charitywater Twitter account, YouTube, and Vimeo, and then supports and promotes each of the individual campaigns through those same social channels.
In this podcast, I discuss the nuts and bolts of the charity: water social media strategy with Paull Young, the nonprofit’s director of digital. Click above to stream or download the podcast. [RSS and e-mail readers: Click through to the original post if you can’t see the embedded audio file.]

Show notes

* Paull Young, director of digital at charity: water, shares the organization’s history and an overview of the September campaign, including the core “100 percent model.”
* Paull explains how charity: water creates social media content that fans and donors can make easy use of in their fundraising efforts.
* Paull talks specifically about charity: water’s Facebook marketing efforts, including the publishing daily behind-the-scenes videos from the Central African Republic.
* Paull summarizes the three main phases of the campaign: 1) acquire, 2) activate, and 3) extend
* Paull discusses the ROI model for charity: water.
* Bryan asks Paull what lessons brands can take from the charity: water social media marketing campaign.

Podcast transcript

Bryan Person: I have Paull Young on the line. Paull is the director of digital at charity:water. Paull, thank you for coming out to chat for a few minutes about your exciting September Campaign.
Paull Young: Bryan, it’s always a pleasure. You’ve been a good mate for some time. You’re one of the smartest blokes in this space, and I’m a big fan of LiveWorld. So it’s a true pleasure. The pleasure’s all mine.
Bryan: Just to start out, Paull, maybe talk about your role in charity:water, how long you’ve been there. Then kick into the September Campaign. That’s pretty exciting. Talk about where that’s going.
Paull: A pleasure to talk about it. I’m the director of digital here at charity: water. I’ve been here about four months as a full-time employee.
I now sit in a position where I lead everything we do online, or our online strategy and measurement, and the various behaviors we take online, of course. E-mail outside and the content we’re producing and the social media channels, of course.
Prior to the time I’ve been on board here as an employee, I’ve had a long relationship with the charity. The charity’s four years old. Two years ago, I was a member of their September Campaign that I’ll talk about in a minute. It’s a fundraiser. Gave up my September 18th birthday and raised some money.
Then, last year, I was involved in Twestival. The first Twestival, which many Twittery people out there will be familiar with, benefited charity: water and raised $250,000 across the world. Amanda Rose obviously, @amanda, sparked that campaign.
Probably quickly, as well, just in case anyone doesn’t know charity:water. A lot of people in the social media world do, but we are very young and very new. Just some background on us.
We’re a nonprofit, four years old, here in New York City. Our mission is to provide clean and safe drinking water in the developing world. We do that by our 100 percent model. Every single cent that gets donated to us we put to water projects.
We have a separate budget that covers our operations, so everything from staff salaries to travel to ink in the office printer is covered by separate donors.
We’re so crazy about the 100 percent model that we even pay back credit card fees. So, Bryan, if you were to donate us $10,000, 4 percent would come out of that. We would pay that $400 back from a separate budget so that all your $10,000 went to the field. That’s really important to who we are.
Then what we do is we prove every project that we do. We mark every project that we do on Google Maps.
In a nutshell, that’s charity:water. We’ve been around four years.

The September Campaign: Getting out the word

Paull: That leads me to the September campaign and the history of the September campaign. It’s the biggest thing we do, and it’s foundational to who we are.
charity:water was born in September. Four years ago in September 2006, our founder Scott Harrison — he’s @ScottHarrison on Twitter — started the charity by giving up his birthday, September 7th, throwing a party and getting people to give donations instead of gifts.
He sent 100 percent of that money to the field to Uganda, built six wells in a refugee camp and marked them all on Google Maps and went and reported to people, “Here’s where your wells are.”
He often says that some people couldn’t even remember being at his party, and then a few months later he was showing them where their money went. They could barely remember their donations, and he was giving them proof.
The next year, he asked other people to join him. So a number of people got involved and gave up their September birthdays, as well. That year, $150,000 was eventually raised that went to funding our water projects for hospitals in Kenya.
The year after, it got even bigger. It really went huge that year. I believe that it was 92 fundraisers that year in 2008. That was the first year that I personally was involved. That raised over a million dollars, which funded a huge amount of projects in Ethiopia.
The birthday thing really seemed to work. Every September, people would give up their birthdays, raise money and ask for money instead of gifts. That crazy idea really, really seemed to work.
So last year, we took it across the full year. We build MyCharityWater.org that’s an online fundraising platform where anyone can give up their birthday and do a fundraising campaign.
Or they can do something else. We’ve had people climbing mountains. We’ve had people sailing across oceans. We’ve got three people right now walking across American for clean water.
Anyone can set up their own project page, ask their friends to donate. It all gets tracked on the page towards their goal. Every dollar, every cent, goes to the field.
And every project gets proved. Every single person who’s donated as much as a dollar on that platform is going to be told what water project their money contributed to, which will appear on Google Maps.
That brings us to this year’s September Campaign. It’s the biggest project we’ve ever got and it’s something really special. You can check it out at charitywater.org/september and see our video trailer telling the story.
What we’re doing this year is the biggest challenge that we’ve ever approached. What we’re trying to do is provide clean water to all of the Bayaka people.
The Bayaka are a group in the Central African Republic who are a hunter/gatherer people. They’ve lived in the forest for a long time and lived a traditional existence.
Through logging and other things, they’ve been forced out of that way of life and they’re now living in the villages. They’re basically treated like slaves or animals in C.A.R.
So, our partner in Central African Republic, Jim Hocking of ICDI — he’s on Twitter as well @JimHocking — he’s very passionate about trying to bring water to the Bayaka.
We found a way that, if we hit our total for September, we can get all of them access to clean water, 16,000 of them, along with about 70,000 more Central Africans. In total, we’re trying to raise enough money to build 210 water points.
Our goal is to raise $1.7 million from now — speaking on August 19th — until September 30th. We’re planning to do so purely by individuals running campaigns online.
So, no big corporate gifts, no matching grants, nothing like that. Just the power of individuals, the power of word of mouth, the power of the Internet to hit our goal.
We’re going to need probably around 2,000 birthday campaigns based on how they tend to play out, but we think we can get there. We really think that we can make a huge difference in the field and get everybody Bayaka access to clean water.

Social media strategy for the campaign

Bryan: Very exciting. Clearly, as you said there, word of mouth and getting people talking about this online. Social media is a huge part of how you get the word out and how people share their campaigns and how much money they’ve raised and showing the progress that’s happening. And you talked about the Google Maps.
So, specifically on this September Campaign, talk about the kind of strategic approach that you’re taking through social media in letting people know about this campaign.
Paull: Yeah, it’s an interesting topic and there’s a lot going on. So I can headline it, and we can dive in a bit deeper. Bryan, you can tell me what you’re most interested in.
The real focus is the first strategic decision we made was to do it 100 percent online and 100 percent by fundraisers. We did have some conversations about trying to bring in corporates or large donors or large gifts or matching funds. And we decided to try to do it 100 percent online.
Underpinning that is our MyCharityWater.org fundraising site. That’s really the most important element that allows us to achieve that.
Our big focus is on starting campaigns, acquiring people, spreading the story, getting the story of the Bayaka out there, and then giving the individuals who support us in the movement that we’re trying to spark over this time period to do a lot of the work for us in spreading the word and activating donations.
We’re just hoping for individuals to raise a few hundred dollars, to raise a thousand dollars or more, within their own networks. When you take that to scale, when you take that to maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people running campaigns, you can get to that total of $1.7 million pretty quickly.
So the way we view it is that we produce the content. We produce the story. We provide the assets. Then we give individuals the freedom to go and spread the word for us.
Video content’s really core to us. We have a key trailer on charitywater.org/september that people can watch. It goes about five minutes. It’s a really strong story.
We put that up on Facebook the other day and had over 100,000 impressions. Many more, thousands more, views across Vimeo and YouTube. It’s featured in the nonprofit section there.
We’re going to have six more videos on charitywater.org/september throughout the campaign telling more of the background story. We released one today about the Bayaka. On Monday, we’re releasing one about Jim Hocking, our partner there, and then giving more detail about C.A.R. and health and sustainability and other issues.
So, we’re providing these assets and the links. We’re also activating through the power of our voice in social media. We’ve got 1.3 million Twitter followers and have a great following there. Twitter was a huge part of our launch.
So far this week, we’ve had the likes of MC Hammer, Jamie Oliver, Tony Hawk, Alyssa Milano, others that have supported our charity in the past, Tweeting about it alongside ourselves, along with hundreds of other users tweeting us and retweeting us and pointing to the site. I’m looking at the site right now, and after three days we’ve had 1,661 tweets with the site in it, on the official tweet button, which is just great.
So the other way we’re looking at it is that right now, before September starts, the key focus for us is helping to get the word out there, raise the awareness of the issue and the Central African Republic and the Bayaka, and try to activate as many birthday campaigns as possible. Try to find as many people with September birthdays who’ll give them up and run a campaign with us.
Or, people who don’t have September birthdays, who might run a different campaign. We’ve had people give up weddings, we’ve had people, kids holding lemonade stands. Really, the sky is the limit. But the focus is on the September birthdays.
So the first aspect is spreading our story and raising awareness, and using social media channels to do that. As we get into September, we’re going to focus more on helping our fundraisers have a great experience, helping them tell the story to their friends, helping them maximize their voice, and then really relying on that network of thousands of campaigners to help us hit our goal in total.

‘Making it easy’ to share

Bryan: Specifically talking about spreading the story, you focus on that and providing the video assets here. I also, I’m pretty impressed with some of the tactics you’ve used, for example, on your Facebook Page, and you give that video to allow them to share it. You have the option, you give people actual photos that they can post on their Wall, you give people sample tweets that they can use.
So, I’m guessing that those specific examples is what’s starting to work really well, in terms of making it drop dead easy for people to share that story?
Paull: Yeah, making it easy is critical to how we operate. I mean, and it’s critical to create word of mouth as well. So at the very core, there’s a very simple story about charity: water:  100 percent of water, of donations, goes to the field, goes to providing clean water for people.
So because of that, $20 can give clean water to one person. So $20 is enough for one person in Central African Republic to get access to clean and safe drinking water. So, very simple messaging. And then on top of that, yeah, we provide assets people can share.
It’s very easy to take a video and put it wherever you want. We’ve got the video on Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, all these different areas, and we’re encouraging people to pass it around. We’re encouraging people to click “Share” on the videos we put on our Facebook Page and post it to their own profile. We love seeing that, seeing people take our message and run with it.
We’re actively trying to make sure that we provide assets that our supporters can take and run with, and pass around to all their friends. We’re trying to provide that kind of great content. Likewise with photos, likewise with sample tweets and clicking the “Tweet” button. The easier we can make it for people to spread the story, the more success we think we’re going to have, especially when that goes to scale.
Of course, you’ve got to do a lot of hard work to push that ahead. So, we’ve done a lot of hard work for a long period of time. Firstly, building a large following: building 1.3 million Twitter followers, building 60,000 Facebook fans.
We’ve also got the support of some great agencies that have come onboard pro bono, they’re not charging us a cent. And some great publishers to support us. So, Razorfish and Golin Harris have been providing strategic services. And underneath them, a bunch of different publishers, like Meebo; Buddy Media [editor’s disclosure: LiveWorld is a Buddy Media partner] has given us a Facebook platform.
We’ve really got some great support, pro bono and for free, from different areas in the marketing community to help give us the arms and legs to get this story in front, get this piece of content in front of as many people as possible.

The charity:water content team

Bryan: Something else that you’ve done that I think is interesting, and which we certainly, I’ve blogged about and we’ve talked to clients about, is you’re starting to put daily video snippets, behind-the-scenes stuff from the Central African Republic right now. And just having that daily momentum I think must be pretty crucial.
But how does that get done? Who’s producing those videos? Do you have someone in there that’s kind of cutting it up every day? Content production, as you know, is very time consuming. So how are you efficient about that?
Paull: Yeah, that’s a good question, Bryan. So, we’re really taking a new approach to Facebook, particularly, launching alongside this campaign. So we’ve added a Buddy Media tab, we’re having more of a strategic focus.
The way we’re looking at Facebook is that we think it will be a key venue for us. We have a much bigger community on Twitter and we get Twitter, we know Twitter, it’s a really core part of who we are. We have a screen in the office with tweets on it. Our founder and CEO has the keys to our Twitter account and does most of the tweeting. There’s many people on Twitter in the staff here, so kind of a second nature for us.
Facebook has been something that we’re developing more. But what we’re seeing is that Facebook can be a real key, personal venue for us to have a deeper connection with our supporters. We know that the people that like us on Facebook, at facebook.com/charitywater, are people who want to opt in to learn more about us every single day.
We also know people love video content there. We’re trying to play with a lot of different things, but video content’s really core. So content is key… So to get back to your key question. Content is key to who we are, so we do spend the time to make good content.
We are very lean in terms of staff here, the 100 percent model demands it. Hence why we do so much work on the Internet, where things are a lot cheaper for us to activate, because we just don’t spend money. But content is really core to who we are.
So, if we look at how charity: water came about. Scott Harrison founded us. The first employee was a water-projects coordinator, someone to make sure the dollars get to the ground the right way, and to really focus on that area. The second employee was a designer, was a creative individual. So we’ve worked hard on branded design.
So still, our digital department is two people, and our content department and design department is three people. There’s two designers in there. And we have an individual, Mo Scarpelli — she’s very talented — who writes our corporate blog, who takes photos, who produces content for Facebook.
So the videos that we have now on Facebook, we’re putting our core trailers on there. We’ve got seven of those. But then every day, we’re putting a behind-the-scenes video from Central African Republic up.
And we had three people in Central African Republic filming the trailer, a couple of months ago, and they filmed a ton of B-roll. And then one of our staff is taking time to edit that content down to small, interacting pieces, that we’re putting on our Facebook Page and nowhere else. So it does take some time, but it’s not really that difficult.
Going to Central African Republic and producing a piece of content was a big piece of work, so we want to make sure that pays off. So essentially, it was about a week that Scott, Vik, and our producer Paul Pryor were all in Central African Republic, and they got as much as they possibly could.
And then we’re focusing on cutting that up, and sharing as much of that as we can, to really, not only have assets for our fundraisers and to be able to tell our story, but also, importantly, we’re some of the first people ever that are telling the story of the Bayaka. And so we’re trying to do justice to those people, to the story, to the people of Central African Republic by helping get their story and their challenges in front of a very large audience here in the United States and across the world.

Analytics of the campaign

Bryan: Now you mentioned earlier in the discussion, a focus on analytics. I know you have some background there, in your previous role. But how are you thinking about that? What are the most important numbers for you when you’re analyzing the success of the campaign?
Paull: That’s a good question, Bryan. And I love analytics; they’re a big part of who I am. So, we are actually a very rare organization that actually can record real ROI, from our social media and our online efforts. Also, it gets a bit easier because the investment figure is very close to zero, in terms of dollars we spend. A lot of time, of course, which does cost money, and you can create that association.
But a lot of what we get is for free. Dollars are the most important thing over the course of the campaign, and we will track all of our behavior back to whether we achieved our monetary goals.
However, if we just look at the number 1.7 million, that’s a really difficult issue to tackle. And I think was saying to you earlier, before we started: we’re three days into the campaign, we’ve raised $23,000. You break down $1.7 million by 45 days, you need to raise $30,000 a day. But we’re not failing right now.
There’s other KPIs that kind of underpin that. The KPIs we’re looking at are total donations. We’re also looking donations day to day. The most important KPIs are our campaigns. How many campaigns are starting? What’s the average dollars of a campaign? How many of the campaigns are successful? And we deem successful by earning at least $1. And then, how can we activate more campaigns so that they are successful and earning as much money as possible?
How many people are viewing this, how are clicks tracking around, how are our various communications efforts performing is all very important. But I’d say the most core thing we are looking at right now is how many campaigns start. We’re going to need probably about 3,000 September campaigns to be running to be able to hit our total. And how can we help everyone of those campaigns hit an average of $1,000?
If we have 1,700 campaigns at $1,000 each, that’s $1.7 million. So we’re really breaking our key metrics down into more bite-sized chunks so it’s easier for us to segment and understand our efforts, and making sure they all tie back to dollars. Every KPI we have ties back to dollars, otherwise it’s not worth tracking.

Three phases: acquire, activate, and extend September campaigns

Bryan: Now you discussed, as this campaign moves into September, you are really going to sort of move your focus from your assets to amplifying the message of the individuals that are starting their campaigns, specifically on some of your social media channels. How are you going to do that?
Paull: Yeah. That’s a good question. So the way we break down our approach to this campaign strategically is into three distinct — not necessarily distinct; they do have some overlap — but three phases.
The first phase that we are focusing on right now, before September starts, is acquisitions. That’s get the message in front of as many people as possible, get people to be inspired by the content-inspiration is really important, and inspire them to start a campaign, inspire them to give up a September birthday, ideally, or just run a different campaign. Anyone can do one. Anyone who is listening can start a campaign on the charitywater.org/september and raise money during this time period for CAR, 100 percent going through there.
Once September starts, we move more from really an acquisition strategy to focusing on activation. Now, people have to first set up a profile, then start a campaign, and then once they start a campaign, they actually need to raise money.
And that’s hard. At the moment, only about 50 percent of campaigns become successful. So we want to help as many of these campaigns as possible start raising money. Even if they only raise $50, that’s something.
But the thing is, once they become successful, they can do amazing things. There’s an eight-year-old girl called Riley Goodfellow who has raised $15,000 and built three wells by doing different things. Like, I’ve seen her on Twitter. Her dad takes photos of her walking down the street carrying jerry cans to see what it’s like to have to carry your water from place to place.
One picture we were sent by a family was really touching. There’s a picture of Riley holding this huge sheet of paper, taller than her, with lines on it. And what Riley did is she told her parents that she couldn’t conceptualize what four and a half thousand kids dying every day from lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation meant. And so she spent three nights drawing four and a half thousand lines on a piece of paper.
So once the campaigns become successful, the sky is really the limit. And then that leads into our third stage, which is really expanding the campaigns that start. So, big focus now on getting as many people in the system as possible, getting them to raise their hand and saying, “Oh, I want to do a September campaign”. Then, a focus at the start of September making sure they actually do get started and helping them get the most out of the process of asking their friends for donations. Then it’s all about helping them reach their goals.
You know, how can we help people spread the word as much as possible? Can we give them ideas? Can we inspire them? Can we have other donors donate to their campaign? How can we really make them the stars?
So by the time we get halfway through September, 90 percent of my attention is going to be on working with those fundraisers, working with the movement we started, and really helping them just maximize their own personal efforts, which, in aggregate, will help us get our total.

What brands can learn from charity: water

Bryan: Paull, you’ve worked a lot with brands in previous professional roles. What do you think that mainstream brands can take from this? Looking at your campaign and the way you are approaching it, the way you are reaching out to people, the way you are supporting them in their efforts, what lessons do you think they can take from charity: water?
Paull: In some ways, it’s easier being a nonprofit, because we are so united with our cause. However, I think there are a few key lessons. One, I think, is that purpose is really, really important. Every brand has some form of purpose beyond just making money. If they don’t, then they’re not really one that I want to deal with. But no matter what the brand is, there is a purpose. Find that purpose and try to express it. That’s the most important thing.
I think the other element is that messaging and content is really important; finding a story that people can tell. A story that’s easy to tell is really critical. We’re very lucky with that. Kind of word of mouth and our DNA. It’s really easy to say, “$20 gives one person clean water.” It’s really easy to understand that 100 percent, every cent, will go to water projects.
For most organizations, it’s pretty hard to do that. We look at a lot of companies and say, “Tell me what you do in a sentence.” It’s extremely difficult. So how can we get that content, and how can we really inspire people?
The other thing I think is really important is that we’re really focused on making sure that our fundraisers, our donors, the people that attach to our cause or our supporters have an amazing experience. We want to produce content that they will love that will entertain them.
We want to make sure that they have experience with charity: water that no other charity will give them. And we can do that by our 100 percent motto, and by the fact that we prove every donation.
Also, I think the other focus is to really forget about us and our control and what we can do and focus more on what our supporters can do with us. So, hence how we’re going to change our focus completely and not worry about pushing our messages to the outside world, but learning more about helping our fundraisers have an amazing experience. I wonder how many brands think about that when they work with their own customers?
If you ever hear Tony Hsieh from Zappos talk about delivering happiness and his theory there, I think that should be the motto of what we try to do with our fundraisers.
Bryan: And just finally, as we wrap up this interview, Paull, what’s the best way for people to find out more information about the campaign? And then also, how can they follow you online?
Paull: Yeah, that’s great. So most important is following charity: water. So on Twitter, we’re @charitywater. We were the first charity to have a million Twitter followers, and we do a ton of stuff there. We’ve got great updates happening there all the time.
Most importantly, visit charitywater.org/september and watch the video. Hopefully it will inspire you and any of the listeners to make a difference. And then, the ideal thing would be for them to start a campaign. If I could ask one thing of everyone, it would be start a campaign this September. Visit charitywater.org/september, click the “Start Campaign” button, and then work with us. We’d love to have anyone listening help us support the Bayaka.
Beyond that, I’d also say connect with us on Facebook. There’s really cool videos every day. The video yesterday I found hilarious. It was our creative director Vik having a first encounter with a Central African Republic shower, which is essentially a bucket and a hole in the ground.
So, facebook.com/charitywater. Like us, connect with us. We have a great tab there where you can send your friends virtual jerry cans. You can do a quiz on the Central African Republic. So Facebook is really very cool.
And then for me, PaullYoung.com. I’m @PaullYoung on Twitter. But you are going to get a lot more interest out of following charity:water.
Bryan: You don’t have a million followers quite yet.
Paull: No, no, no. Hopefully, nor will I ever. If I do, there is probably something…please shoot me!
Bryan: Paull, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me about the campaign. I’m certainly wishing you all the success in hitting that goal. And just seeing the kind of work that you are doing is pretty inspiring. So keep up the great work and have a good month.
Paull: Thanks, Bryan. And thanks to you and LiveWorld for helping us spread the word out there. It’s really invaluable. Every single person that helps us spread the word about these campaigns are doing a huge service to both us and the Bayaka people down in the Central African Republic. So, thank you. Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, LiveWorld.