Charity Water – Big Ideas and Life-Changing Email Communication.


Ok, so you’re in charge of sending email blasts to thousands of people on your list. But how often should you engage your customers? Do you have a road map for each communication? Does it include auto responders? Monthly newsletters? Follow-ups? How targeted is your messaging? In this article, I’d like to give praise to a group of people who are paving the road to change, one email at a time.

charity: water email

Charity Water is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. Their “water projects” break the mold of traditional fundraising initiatives by using video, geocoding, the WWW, email, photography, and social media to inspire a movement with one, simple goal ~ to give that which is most essential for life: Water.

It all starts with a birthday. But not just any birthday, YOUR birthday. In 2010, I was inspired by a friend who had contributed her birthday so I donated on her behalf. Later that year, I received an email from Charity Water inviting me to donate my birthday. So in September of 2011, I took the plunge! I asked my friends and family to spare the trouble of shopping for my perfect gift. Instead, I persuaded them to visit my Charity Water microsite and make a donation for any amount. Not only did my friends and family step up last September but millions of others did too!

I began receiving the first of many updates from Charity Water, on July 7, 2012. Not only did their engagement email report my donation to my friend’s site, it also provided me with photos of the 75 people in Bobenga Camp des Pygmee Village in central Africa that now drink clean water as a result. I must admit that seeing photos of “real” people celebrating “real” water filled my heart with joy and accomplishment.

My next communication came on July 13, 2012. This time, they took it a step further. They tracked the donations from my birthday PLUS every other September 2011 campaign! As it turns out, there’s an entire fleet of drilling rigs starting a long trail of muddy geo-tracks across Ethiopia because of our collaborative efforts. Talk about making me feel like a part of a movement!

Here’s a recap of each of the emails that I received throughout the process:

Date Subject Description
Sept. 1, 2011 September is finally here. Their invitation for me to dedicate my birthday which was 29 days away. (When I donated to my friend’s birthday, they stored my birth date in their system)
Sept. 2, 2011 September Campaign Update: thank you for joining us. Their “thank you” email once I completed my microsite.
Sept. 21, 2011 September Campaign Update: Links, tips and campaigns to watch 9 days before my birthday, I received a list of ideas on how to make the most of my campaign.  They also grouped me with other September initiatives by sharing other campaigns to watch.
July 7, 2012 The wait is over.  Proof of your money is finally here! They tracked the money that I had donated to my friend’s birthday. Click here to view the photos from that effort.
July 13, 2012 You fundraised for a drilling rig. Here’s your proof. They tracked the money that was raised on my 2011 birthday and grouped it with all of the other September 2011 campaigns. Click here to track our entire fleet of drill rigs in Ethiopia!
August 13, 2012 Sneak Peak at September Campaign An invitation to participate again in 2012.  This gives me insight as to where donations will be dispersed for September 2012 campaigns.

It’s no secret that email is one of the most effective forms of engagement and communication.  From their on-site videos, real life photos, geo-tracking, and email notifications, Charity Water has made the world, as I know it, feel smaller and more connected than ever before. Congrats to those of you who are involved in this project. Not only are you changing the lives of others by delivering on your promise to drill clean water, you’ve set a very high bar for non-profits in the US and abroad!

Author: Alex Ilhan

Hailing all the way from England, Alex brings his email development expertise along with an endless stream of cups of tea and British cynicism. Follow him on Twitter: @omgitsonlyalex.

Author: Alex Ilhan

Hailing all the way from England, Alex brings his email development expertise along with an endless stream of cups of tea and British cynicism. Follow him on Twitter: @omgitsonlyalex.