Book Review: Thirst

By Scott Harrison

Founder & CEO of charity: water

When Scott Harrison set out to establish charity: water 12 years ago, as he says, on paper he was a terrible bet: “Former nightclub promoter, thousands of dollars in debt, starts charity from friend’s cosy drug den.”

Yet, despite those shaky beginnings charity: water boomed. From 2008 to 2010, donations to American non-profits dropped 10% – while charity: water grew 395% over the same period.

Today, they’re  the cool charity on the block … the ‘Apple’ of charities … adored by the press, by celebrities and sponsors.

They have fans, not donors. Their social media posts are endlessly shared, their peer-to-peer fundraising is impressive and they were the first not-for-profit to have over one million Twitter followers.

So, how did they do it?

There are endless lessons for fundraisers in this book … far too many to be covered in just one article. So put this book at the top of your reading pile to get the full story.

But for us, there were a few key messages that resonated. So, we’ll start with some of our favourite quotes from the book:

“My vision for charity: water was clear. I wanted to reinvent charity, to make giving a joyful experience to bring donors back to the true meaning of love through acts of generosity and compassion.”

“Conventional wisdom says that you don’t start a charity by prioritising content, but I believed we needed compelling stories about real people who were drinking bad water. Without them, there would be nothing to talk about, nothing to inspire donors to care or give.”

“The only way to solve a problem as big as the global water crisis is to just focus on the present – one village at a time. One well at a time.”

And after hosting an event fundraiser in New York:

“This is what charity: water is all about. Tonight we didn’t just help another 310 communities get clean water. We also bought great joy to 400 people here in New York. We proved that pure giving – the kind that comes from deep within your heart, the kind where you expect nothing in return – can be a powerful and life-changing experience.”

And let me finish with charity: water’s three pillars for success:

Pillar One – Trust

The organisation operates under a 100% model. It means that all public donations go directly to the field.

‘The Well’ is a program that pays for charity: water’s overhead and administrative costs – all the basic necessities that keep them running. The Well began with a few generous donors and has since grown to 129 individuals and families from around the globe who give at annual levels ranging from $60,000 to $1 million.

Pillar Two – Proof

Not only does charity: water promise that all public donations will go to the field, they show everyone exactly where and how their money was used.

When someone makes a donation, they tag it to a specific project, such as a well or water purification system in a designated region. Then when the project is complete, they send them proof: photos, GPS satellite images, sometimes even videos. And they constantly find new and innovative ways to deliver that proof.

Pillar Three – Branding that inspires people

charity: water set out to build an optimistic, imaginative, hopeful organisation that people would donate to because they felt empowered and inspired.

They spend their time thinking about the wants and needs of donors. How to involve them in redemptive, life-changing work and how to show them the impact of their generosity.

There’s no doubt that over the past decade, charity: water has changed the way that many people think about charitable giving. And this book gives you a behind the scenes look at how they did it. Thirst is an outstanding book that shows how you can build a better charity, a better business and for Scott Harrison, a better life. And of course, if you buy it, 100% of the author’s net proceeds will fund clean water.

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