Fundraiser be the Captain, Social Media as the Boat – How charity:water markets sustainability through peer-to-peer strategy

Fundraiser be the Captain, Social Media as the Boat – How charity:water markets sustainability through peer-to-peer strategy

Written by: LYU Yizhe, Eleanor

There seems to be a common procedure NGOs use to get our support: we listen to an NGO talking about its mission, the impact it has made and the project they’re going to do, and then donate if we’re persuaded. But have you ever thought about being a campaign initiator and influencing more people other than just giving out the money? The New York-based NGO charity: water shows you how this can be done.

The start of charity: water

Founded 13 years ago, the NGO is dedicated to a social sustainability aim – making more people in impoverished communities getting access to clean water. As a small-scale NGO with only 73 staff, charity: water has amazingly funded 35,281 projects in 24 countries in Africa and Asia, benefiting over 9.5 million people[1]. The secret behind the success could be led back to how the NGO was founded.

Back to 7 September 2016, Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water, held a birthday party that charged each of its attendees $20. The entrance fee accumulated into the charity’s first ever project, by raising $15,000 to build wells in Uganda. Every guest received  photos and GPS locations of the wells after all the work was done. This marked the launch of a charity for a great cause.


The September Campaign

To continue this spirit, a campaign named September Campaign started from the next year and continued for decades. The campaign asks people who are born in September to do the same as Scott, by declining birthday gifts and invite their family and friends to donate money to charity: water instead. In 2015, the NGO pushed the scale of their campaign by encouraging everyone to participate.

With the theme #nothing is crazy, the September campaign in 2015 advocated that nothing we do is too crazy and called on people to challenge themselves by doing things they think are insane in exchange for donations to charity: water. Many people responded actively through social media and the campaign ended up attracting 1,060 people to initiate the campaign and raised $1.8 million, which enabled 60,643 people to get access to clean water[2].



Different from NGO-centric one-way communication, where NGOs have to actively persuade people and seek their support, charity: water engages the fundraisers through social media and places them at the center of the whole picture, by providing the chance for them to  influence  people around them and the world they’re living in. When people witness the impact of the donations made by their family, friends and acquaintances thanks to their initiation, it makes them feel encouraged to contribute even more[3]. Just as Brady Phelps, one of the campaigners in 2015, said: “When I heard the stories of lives changed, saw the impact of donations made, and realized the potential to change the world through clean water, I was all in.”[4]

By making fundraisers the heroes, not only did charity: water had flipped the premise and showed how an individual’s initiation could turn into something big and impactful.