So, You Want to Be like charity: water? | npENGAGE

So, You Want to Be like charity: water?

By on Mar 13, 2015


These days, it seems that every nonprofit wants to be like charity: water, especially when it comes to web design. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me “I wish we could be as cool as charity: water.”  Well, I have some good news for you.

Your organization has everything it needs to be as cool as charity: water.

I’ll explain.

At the Peer to Peer Fundraising Professional Forum, Kaitlyn from charity: water presented a session called ‘Meaningful Marketing’.  She shared charity: water’s story and showed some amazing and inspriring videos. And while it was a great session—I even found myself thinking about starting my own charity: water fundraising campaign—I’m not sure attendees walked away with an understanding of how to develop a meaningful marketing plan for their own organization. We definitely learned what it means to charity: water, but what does meaningful marketing mean to the entire nonprofit community?

I have to admit; my mind tends to wander.  During one of the moving charity: water videos, I found myself thinking—every organization in this room has moving stories like these.

The question is: are you telling them?

You’ll often here me say “we don’t have a fundraising problem; we have a marketing problem.”  Attendees’ response to the charity: water session validated this thought.

Let’s really think about meaningful marketing.  What does it mean to develop a meaningful marketing plan for your fundraising program? When I think of meaningful marketing, the next thought that comes to mind is storytelling.  I know, I know, you’re already telling stories.

But, can we be honest for a minute?

Are you telling the right stories to market your fundraising program?  What  makes charity: water cool is that they don’t simply tell their story, they tell the story of their supporters.

I once heard a speaker ask an audience “Do you know why Peter Pan didn’t grow up?” . For the life of me I couldn’t remember.  He shared that it was because there were no more stories. Without stories, Peter didn’t know how to grow up. You see, storytelling is not just an age old tradition. Storytelling is how we teach morals, values and life lessons.

What stories should you be telling?

You’re probably using storytelling in your marketing efforts.  But, are the stories stories resonating and having impact?  I’ve visited a lot of peer to peer fundraising event websites; I receive a lot of nonprofit emails and I tend to see the same story told again and again.

We’re great at sharing survivor stories, but what other stories could we be telling about the impact of cancer on someone’s life?

I was talking to my bestie about this topic and she reminded me of her fundraising story.  She signed up with Team In Training to run and fundraise for her first marathon after her best friend’s step brother was diagnosed with a blood cancer. Did you catch that? Her best friend’s step brother, Gregory.  She signed up because she “wanted to do something—help in some way—and this was something she could do.”  She didn’t know Gregory well, but she wanted to support her friend.

In all the stories I’ve read, I’ve never read about a friend of friend.  I know what you might be thinking: is the friend of friend story meaningful? Yes, it’s extremely meaningful.  It’s meaningful because it’s something the majority of people can relate to and identify with. We can sympathize with a survivor’s story, but we can’t always empathize with their experience. We can, however, relate to or empathize with someone who’s felt helpless and wanted to do something.  We’ve all been there at some point— feeling helpless and wanting to do something, but not knowing what to do.

charity: water


That’s what storytelling does. It connects us.

And this is what charity: water does so well. Most of us in America don’t know what it’s like to not have access to clean water, but by telling meaningful stories—stories of those in need and stories of the supporters giving up their birthdays to help— they help us relate to a community in Africa.

Here’s your homework:

  • Read through your marketing messages: fundraising emails, enewsletters and general communications.
  • Take an honest look at the stories you’re telling.
  • Ask yourself, are we telling the same type of stories?
  • The next step is to identify the stories that are not being told. The friend, the co-worker, the uncle, the teacher – make a list of people who care about your cause.  Begin mapping out a plan to tell their stories.

The world works in mysterious ways.

me and stelaRemember my bestie? The one who ran a marathon in support of Gregory. Are you wondering if she was a one and done fundraiser?   A couple years after she completed her first TNT marathon, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She won her battle, became a TNT honored teammate, a top fundraiser, a LLS staff member and hired me as a Light The Night coordinator.   And, here we are 10+ years later still friends, still fundraising, still having fun, and still sharing stories.


Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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