• Views March 7, 2017

Charity: Water: Lessons in Moving Your Audience from Awareness to Engagement.  

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Charity: Water Ball and it was an unforgettable experience. The black-tie affair was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing with 400 of the organization’s biggest donors. Great cause, networking and beautiful venue aside, the event was a perfect example of how powerful storytelling motivates people from awareness to action—that night in just under 30 minutes, Charity:Water raised more than $3 million dollars.

According to Charity:Water, clean water changes everything. From a communications standpoint, messaging is everything. They have a simple goal - to bring clean and safe water to every person on the planet. And better yet, 100 percent of donations go to the field. I knew Charity:Water was a great organization and I have been to many fundraising galas before, but at this event, they really nailed it.

Here is the breakdown:

  1. Start with the audience – This was a very high-powered group attending the gala. Charity:Water set the bar high knowing the spending potential in the room and didn't scrimp on ensuring that people had a good time and felt good about giving.
  2. Personalize the experience – From the moment we walked into the Temple of Dendur, we knew it was going to be a night to remember. There was a personalized iPad waiting for each guest at their table with their name and the photograph of a person on the screen.
  3. Tell a compelling story – Scott Harrison, the CEO and Founder of Charity:Water emceed the program and told a story about this one village in Ethiopia that received about 3 months of rain per year. The rest of the year, the villagers had to walk for hours to retrieve water. Then he invited guests to all swipe the screens of their iPads and put in the passwordtogether’. At that moment, a video about ‘our’ person from that village was shown. We learned about their life and their wish for clean water.
  4. Make the ask simple – Then the Charity:Water team came around and gave everyone a mini iPad with the option to donate $30 to give their person clean water. Of course, everyone in the room pressed ‘yes’.
  5. Create an element of surprise – Scott, the showman that he is, tells his audience that he imagined they would do that and it’s possible that he’s already dispatched the drilling equipment to the village two weeks ago. He tells us that it’s also possible that all of the villagers are together right now as they are about to hit clean water and it’s possible that they have a live feed from the village, which they are about to show.
  6. Build excitement through a shared experience – The energy and excitement in the room was palpable when the video stream began. It was 10pm in New York and we were all very enthralled to watch “our” people gathered together at 6am in Ethiopia. And then, there was a burst of water out of the ground and into the air. On both sides of the world, there was a common response of sheer joy.

Disclaimer: Perhaps it was the excitement or the fact that the room was freezing cold, but I used this moment to excuse myself from the table, run to the restroom, and then to the coat check to get my shawl. I took a quick selfie to document the night. It didn't take me long. However, by the time I got back to the room there was something happening.  

  1. Make the ability to give simple – Up on the screen, there were flashing numbers. It said 98,117 lives changed, $2,943,517 dollars raised, thank you so and so. The numbers kept moving, the names kept changing and the dollars signs kept going up. The same mini iPad we used to donate $30 had become a way for people to give more and they did, generously.
  2. Show results instantaneously – The beauty of the screen was that donors could see the impact of their donation instantaneously. The numbers kept going up and each donor’s names would automatically appear on the screen after they pressed ‘yes’. It was an incredible way to engage in real time.
  3. Make it measurable and emotional –Throughout the entire night, it was about the people in this village in Ethiopia, who we were helping and this is where the beauty of storytelling was so effective when combined with the numbers to show impact. I know from the work we do in the CSR + Social Impact Practice of Finn Partners, linking data with compelling stories is a winning combination for generating media coverage and in this case, funds.
  4. Never underestimate the power of taking action together – We entered our password together, we watched our videos together, and we joined people on the other side of the world in celebrating clean water together. The evening was choreographed to engage the audience and motivate us to become a part of the story in the moment.

The beauty of this event was that everyone in the room was able to participate. Charity: Water made it easy for everyone to give and we saw the results instantly. I left on a high from being part of a collective that was able to raise more than $3 million dollars in less than 30 minutes.  It was a beautiful reminder of what we are able to accomplish when we move from awareness to action together.