A Quick Chat With Scott Harrison of Charity: Water

You might have read my post ‘Why I Don’t Donate To Charity: Water’. Despite loving everything else Charity: Water do and thinking that their founder and CEO Scott Harrison is great, I hate their ‘100% Model’.

I had a drink and a gossip with Scott and asked why I’m wrong. I also ask him how he feels about the ‘special’ attention Charity: Water gets at fundraising conferences.

Scott Harrison, I’m here on a date with you, in this beautiful hotel.

Listening to wonderful piano music in Dublin.

Are you enjoying Ireland?

I am.

Good. I just want to ask you a quick question. You know that I think…

You’re a huge fan of our 100% model?

You know I’m a huge fan of you. You know I’m a huge fan of Charity: Water. And despite what I said, I have donated to you in the past. But you know what I think of your 100% model. I don’t really like it.

I know you don’t.

Tell me why I’m wrong.

I don’t tell other people to follow it. For us, 9 years ago, the problem I was trying to solve was to reach out to a group of people who weren’t donating to charity and the number one thing I kept hearing was, “I don’t know where my money goes.”

So…I’m an extreme guy…I just wanted to say You can’t ever use that excuse with us. We’ll create two bank accounts, I’ll make overhead my problem, and every penny will go to the projects.

If you donate to the overheads then every penny will go to overheads. But you’re going to know where your money goes in the most clear, shadow-of-a-doubt way.

I was really trying to say You can’t use that excuse. What’s your next excuse? And believe me they have lots of them.

But it was unique to the problem that we were trying to solve which was my friends, 30 years old at the time, were saying, “I don’t give ‘cos it goes in to one big pot. I’m sure they work some joo joo magic.” and they don’t believe those ratios.

We have overhead. We’re 80/20. We’re the same as most charities.

If anything it’s been incredibly difficult. I have to go raise money to support the entire organisation. We have to run two funding streams in perfect balance. So we’ve made life incredibly difficult for ourselves.

But you know what you get. And we mean it. We actually pay back the credit card fees…that’s how serious we are. So if you donate $1000 actually go and raise that 3%.

From the other bank account?

It’s 106 people. There’s no mystery to this. There’s 106 people who’ve signed up to pay for the overhead. We treat them like investors. And I just want it to be clear.

And it works? It brought in donors that wouldn’t have come in anyway?

I think so. We’ve had a lot of donors say it’s the first charitable gift they’ve ever made. It’s the first charity they’ve trusted.
And then I think the unintended positive consequence is I can then with integrity track the dollars. I can show you…I actually know where they go.

So if you give $20 I can tag it in the system and say it went to this country. So we’ve been able to do cool things by connecting donors to their impact.

You’re happy with it.

It’s hard! Most days I wish I didn’t have to do that. I wish I was like everybody else!

But it’s worked for us. It’s funny, we had this internal conversation. We’re almost shy about it. We don’t put it out there that much. It’s just there. It’s actually subtle.

OK. I’m going to donate to your overheads only.

Good you’re allowed to! My wife and I, when we started giving around this time we were able to give more generously, all of our personal giving goes to overheads. So we purposely unrestrict it. We’re like Please use our money to pay for the phone bills. I think that’s a cool way to give. I would much rather support the overheads of an organisation I believe in, if I trust them and I trust their values, then get my name on some project or have some kid in Africa writing me a letter.

I want to pay for that extra flight home for the aid workers so they can go see their family.

I must remember you as a potential donor.

Yeh, I’m there. I give to everyone that asks.

Brilliant, I’ll do it off camera.

It’s not even tax-deductible!

The other thing I wanted to ask you is, at every fundraising conference I go to…I don’t think you’ve seen this…

No, because I don’t go to fundraising conferences.

What are you too good for us?

I just…I don’t get invited!

OK, we’ll invite you. You guys are always mentioned as the ultimate example of digital fundraising. You guys do e-mail great. You do on-line video great. Your website is brilliant. You’re what people compare themselves to at fundraising conferences. It got to the point where we have a ‘Charity: Water Klaxon’, where every time someone mentions Charity: Water we kind of like all go on Twitter and says, “Fucks sake”.

Oh, gosh.

How do you feel about that?

I don’t actually think we’re that good at digital. We look at our products and say this doesn’t work, we’re testing conversions and stuff. We think that there’s so much room for improvement.

We just had someone come in and do an entire workshop on ‘story’. And people think that we’re good at storytelling. And we had someone come in and teach us.

I think the positioning of the organisation is…fundamentally…We don’t believe we are the hero. We really believe our donors and our supporters are the heroes. And we’ve gotten criticised for being too donor centric.


Oh my gosh, so much. I feel like so many organisations look at their donors as a means to an end.

We LOVE our donors! We love 6 year old girls selling lemonade! We love people who write us in to their wills.
We recently had a guy propose to his wife with a well in India. He didn’t buy her a ring! How can I not love Sid and Sarah and their marriage? And they got to see their well right as their first child was born!

So we’re constantly looking to celebrate, in an authentic way, our donors. We don’t look at them as a means to an end. We love them and we love telling their stories. And I think that’s just a little different from what we see out there. But we mean it. It’s at our core. It’s not wordsmithing. It’s ingrained with the culture. We’re just grateful people.

It’s good. It’s good fundraising.

I Wish I’d Thought Of That: Thank You Letters

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/221867610″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

The video below is my (rejected) entry to the I Wish I’d Thought Of It competition. But every silver lining has a cloud…so now it’s also a podcast and a blog post.

When I was a kid I used to hate writing thank you letters. And now it’s my job.

I love thank you letters because they are everything that is good with the world.

As a fundraiser I love them because they’re income generators. But very often they’re neglected by charities because they’re seen as a cost.

But the nicer your thank you letter the more likely you will get an equal or greater gift the next time. The nicer the thank you the more likely there will be a next time. That’s why it’s worth sending a thank you letter for a gift of any size…even a €1 donation.

Thank you letters are the backbone of everything we do.

Need some inspiration for your next thank you letter? Here’s some lovely thank you letter openings from outside the charity sector:

  • “I must write a special letter and thank you for the dream in the bottle.” – Roald Dahl
  • “I apologize for being so rude and thank you for not hitting me.” – John Lennon
  • “While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make.” – Clyde Champion Barrow
  • “I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.” – Ronald Reagan

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_rJTU5jcdY]

Are Direct Mail, E-mail, Vinyl and Bruce Willis Dead?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBCtt3xzHaI?list=PL5Mw3rHjMloFYYYE7xymEv6vPHjsJjFOA]


[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/181522277″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=’166′ iframe=”true” /]


I keep reading that DM is dead. And now e-mail and Facebook are dead. Meanwhile, people bought more vinyl records this year than any time in the last 20 years.

What’s going on?

Well maybe it’s just impossible for things to die.

Tobin Aldrich wrote a nice blog post pointing out the DM isn’t dying…it’s changing. He also says he’s “been hearing that DM is dead for 20 years.”

I don’t think anything is dead.

Things don’t die. They change. We get nostalgic. We might prioritise differently, we might budget differently. But to say anything is dead is probably nonsense.

I could make a VHS appeal work if I sent a good strong ask on a VHS tape to the people that still own VHS players. It would work.

When you read an article saying that something is ‘dead’, check who wrote it and see if they own a company that sells the thing they’re claiming is ‘next’.

The only thing that will die is each and every person that you love.

Happy Christmas.

See You Next #GivingTuesday?


#GivingTuesday – similar to movements like the 1% Difference Campaign – are a nice idea. I don’t believe they work, but they’re harmless (aren’t they?) and do bring about a few positive results. Albeit, not in the way they intend.

So why don’t I like it?

Well, other great fundraising blogs have already beat me to it:

  • Michael Rosen points out that there is no evidence that Giving Tuesday actually does anything.
  • Claire Axelrad wonders “if #GivingTuesday encourages token, one-time transactions or small gifts that might have become larger gifts if solicited another way.
  • Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority says you should avoid it – Your message will get crowded out, social media sucks for fundraising, it encourages “spot giving”, and the Return On Investment is just awful.

Let’s delve a bit deeper…

Relationship Fundraising
Every good fundraiser knows good fundraising is about building and maintaining good relationships. Giving Tuesday is an attempt to build a relationship with a day, when you should be building a relationship with your charity.

One of the overwhelming problems with Giving Tuesday is there is little or no consideration on what should have happened in that relationship before and what’s going to happen after Tuesday.

I think we see, and will continue to see, positive results because charities ask where they wouldn’t have asked. The day gives shy charities a license to ask. It’s not that donors have been compelled to give because it’s Tuesday. It’s because your ‘ask’ compelled them. Really we should call it #AskingTuesday and just admit to ourselves that it’s a campaign for charities rather than the public.

Why Do People Give?
Do you really think people are going to give because it’s Tuesday? Are you hoping that they’re going to give to you because a different charity or person told them it was #GivingTuesday?

No…they’re going to give because you reached out, and because you asked.

So then ask yourself, is the fact that it’s Tuesday your most compelling ‘ask’? Or do you think perhaps feeding that starving child, finding a home for that puppy, or helping someone who has been sexually abused is a more compelling story and a better ask?

As a charity, is #GivingTuesday the most effective way for you to raise money? Or is it just noise?

Think about it like this – where are they coming from?

  • If a potential donor knows it’s #GivingTuesday then shouldn’t you be talking about your work instead of wasting valuable airtime?

Instead, I urge you to boil it down to your usual emotionally captivating story. And go out to the public with a clear call to action, whatever the day of the week. Let others spend time and money on it if they need to.

And to the umbrella groups and suppliers that spend money on these types of campaigns: Ask yourself if this is the most effective way to support the charity sector?

What if you put that budget in to fundraising campaigns or fundraiser training instead? What if your budgets were used to turn bad fundraisers in to good fundraisers? And ask yourself what could a DM or Telephone fundraising expert in a little charity do with these budgets instead?

Those are the actions that would bring positive increases in fundraising each and every day of the week.

Update: Only just discovered this awesome post on Giving Tuesday from Sheena Greer.

Simon’s Weekly-ish Charity Fundraising Videos

So I’ve started trying to do a weekly-ish video ranting about all things fundraising and charity. You can watch a couple of them below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUrMaS95wc0][youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRTPOZRZJ-Q] 

And if they floated your boat then you can subscribe to the whole playlist here.

Please feel free to like, share or leave comments. It’s all I have.