charity:waterLast week, I had a meeting with a new client who operates a successful and fast growing non-profit. His organization’s momentum has been steadily building over the last five or six years, but his website hasn’t been keeping up over the same five to six year period.

“They’re the model for everyone today,” he says in the first few minutes of our conversation. “They’ve created something so cool, something so different, that their supporters do all of the marketing for them.”

No, we aren’t talking about Apple, but charity: water, the most innovative, forward-thinking non-profit of the 21st century.

If you haven’t heard of charity: water, their mission is a simple one (which, by the way, is part of their marketing success):

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

It’s an important mission, but not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world, right? Yet the organization has received support from President Obama, Richard Branson, Tyler Perry, and charitable “tycoons” like TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie. (Similar to in this regard.)

So, how do they do it? And how can other non-profits tap into the magic?

charity: water Markets a Product

How many non-profit websites have you seen that try to sell you on how great they are as a non-profit? They’ve got testimonials from donors about transparency, quotes from recipients, and they definitely make sure you know what credentials they have.

charity: water doesn’t play that game.

Instead, charity: water is marketing a product, and the product is the solution of clean drinking water. But there’s one other product here: you. charity: water wants to have the hippest of the hip to stand behind its “product.” The non-profit knows that when you have support from people with a following, everyone else will file into line.

This “people with a following” category can be sectioned into two types:

  • Celebrities/Leaders
  • Social media savvy Gen-Yers.

GenY Targeting & Social Media

Founder Scott Harrison understands one of the basic principles of content marketing: create something valuable that people will want to share, and they’ll do the bulk of your marketing for you.

When asked bout his social media policy, Harrison smartly replies, “It doesn’t start with an ask, it starts with a give. We don’t use our social media to ever ask for money.” Rather, the social media raises awareness and gets people excited. Then they give.

Total Transparency

Secondly, charity: water makes a big deal out of transparency – as they should. The group operates under a 100% Model, in which every single penny donated goes directly to fund water projects. Other operating expenses like salaries, office supplies, and even the credit card transaction fee associated with your donation is covered by private donors, foundations, and sponsors.

The website also has a neat feature that shows the location of the specific well your dollars funded on Google Maps. You can then read information about that specific well and the village it serves.

Design & Copy: Clear & Concentrated

Poke around the site a bit and you’ll see that charity: water uses clear, bite-sized copy and very little of it. Simplicity is everything when trying to get people interested and passionate about your cause.

charity: water has figured out what most non-profits are just now realizing: people aren’t really that interested in knowing about every facet of your organization. Rather, your average donor wants to see what you’re doing and know that all the money goes to the cause. Long-form copy is out in this game!

What’s your take on charity: water’s business branding? Where do you see the future of non-profit branding headed?