The final guest speaker at our recent 37signals HQ meeting was Scott Harrison from charity: water.


charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Harrison’s personal journey is compelling and it was interesting to hear how CW’s unorthodox approach, especially when it comes to branding and transparency, has helped it stand out from other charities.

CW’s messaging emphasizes cool visuals, striking videos, and from-the-field reportage. It’s more like what you’d expect from a business or publication than a charity.

For example, the image of the yellow jerrycan — often used to carry water in third world countries — has become an iconic symbol used in CW’s advertising and videos.

This image of a baby bottle filled with dirty water is also used frequently by CW:

Below, a couple examples of the stunning field photography used by CW. Looks more National Geographic than NGO.



CW’s videos are sharp too. Hotel Rwanda Director Terry George directed this PSA starring Jennifer Connelly.

Another key to CW’s success is that 100% of donations are used for direct water project costs. (A group of private donors, foundations and sponsors help pay for the everyday costs of running the organization.) CW even pays for the paypal and credit card transaction fees when people donate online so each penny goes straight to actually building a well.

Harrison chose this route because he felt many donors had lost faith in charities due to outsized admistrative costs. Many CW donors decide to give because they know for sure where their money goes. (It’s worth noting this policy presents a big challenge since it makes fundraising for operational costs difficult to scale.)

CW also works hard to document the results of donations. One way this is done: GPS and photos of completed projects.

google map

When donors see photos and videos of the communities they’ve helped, they’re a lot more likely to continue giving.

It’s a great story and it’s neat to see this kind of approach brought to the charity world. Thanks for stopping by, Scott.

Learn more about charity: water or donate.