3 reasons why charity: water have raised more than $90 million


Image – charity: water

When US non-profit charity: water want to engage and inspire their supporters, they don’t only talk about the thousands of wells they’ve built in developing countries, or the millions of people who now have access to clean water, although these facts and statistics are impressive.

They tell a story. And they’re really good at it.

From its inception, great storytelling has been a powerful tool that’s helped charity: water to raise more than $90 million.

Here’s three reasons why charity: water are fabulous at communicating their stories – and some tips to help you write stories that will engage, motivate and inspire your donors: 

ONE: Stories start at the top – By that I mean that there’s a culture of storytelling within charity: water that is nurtured at CEO level.

Founder and CEO Scott Harrison worked as a photojournalist before establishing charity: water, so it’s not surprising that he understands the power of storytelling.

Scott knows that stories do more than facts alone can do, that they’re more memorable, and help donors not only to understand charity: water, but also to feel it. Stories enable their donors to empathise with their mission, empathy helps to build trust, and with trust comes relationship building.

Scott began by telling his own story, a passionate story of personal transformation. It began with Scott observing the depths of poverty in Africa, when he realised that it could be alleviated if there was access to clean water. This motivated Scott to turn his life around.

He shared his story with friends, and they were compelled to want to support Scott in achieving his mission. The friends donated – $15,000 for clean water projects – and charity: water was born.

Scott has continued to put stories at the forefront of charity:water’s communications. And those stories have ensured that charity: water is at the forefront of donors’ minds.


  • Talk to your CEO and Board members to find out where their passion for your cause lies. Do they have an inspirational story about why they founded the organisation – or why they were drawn to working for your cause?
  • Make a presentation to the Board about the power of storytelling, and ways that you could begin to integrate storytelling into your organisation’s communications.
  • Suggest making stories a regular agenda item, where at each meeting one story is shared about the impact of your organisation’s work.

TWO: They tell stories that people want to share.

What makes charity: water’s stories so compelling that we want to share them with others?

They’re personal stories that focus on someone who has been changed by their experience with charity: water. It might be about a mother who has running water for the first time in her village, or young students who no longer have to walk 20 minutes during school hours just to access a drink of (dirty) water from a nearby cave.

These stories are a powerful way to show us the difference that charity: water is making to individual people’s lives. We see first hand the impact, and the element of transformation provides a narrative that we want to follow.

They make us care. All charity: water’s stories are emotionally engaging. Always. They don’t manipulate emotions, the stories are authentic. But they don’t shy away from showing donors a passionate story that will make them feel something about the problems they are addressing. Their stories help donors to engage their heart as well as their head.


  • Choose one person whose life has been changed by your organisation’s work, or whose story highlights the passion within your organisation.
  • Check that your story speaks to the impact of your mission and values.
  • Send your supporters a story directly, and ask them to share with their network. Don’t forget to thank them if they do.

THREE: Storytelling is an integral part of the culture at charity: water.

For charity: water telling their stories is an ongoing, active, and integral part of their fundraising communications, and everyone is involved. Have a look at this clever video where charity: water staff thank their supporters on their fifth anniversary. It turns charity: water’s birthday story into a donor-centred thank-you campaign – helping to strengthen the relationships with their donors – individually.

Donors’ stories are important too. There’s a collection of these stories on their website. The ultimate example of this is the inspiring story of Rachel Beckwith, a young girl who gave up her birthday to raise money for charity: water, with an unexpected outcome. Sharing Rachel’s story resulted in over $1.2 million dollars being raised in her honour.

Stories are also included in charity: water’s annual report, whether they be impact stories, donor stories, or profiles of staff. It’s a great idea, and simple to achieve when there’s a strong archive of existing story content. Charity: water’s supporters who want to see their financials are also given the chance to connect on a deeper level – and engage the heart as well as the head.


  • Make gathering stories and sharing them a priority – whether via staff, volunteers, donors, or participants in events.
  • Find ways to include stories in your annual report. Move to a digital version so you can include video.
  • Organise some training for staff in storytelling, so they know how to recognise potential story material – and provide staff with one great story that they can share with their own networks about your cause.
  • Make sure your organisation is on the social media networks that will best reach your supporters. Share your stories as much as possible – on your website, e-newsletter, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


The human brain is hard-wired for stories – it’s how we connect with others. Stories help us empathise and understand how the world works.

Donors make decisions primarily on what they feel passionate about, or a cause area that they have an emotional connection with. Stories help to deepen that connection.

Good stories are infectious, and donors want to be part of those stories, and part of that success.

Do you know of any non-profit organisations who you think tell their stories well? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram – or just send me an email at maria@nonprofitstories.com.au


By Maria Chilcott

I work with non-profit organisations, helping them to transform their communications with stories that will inspire giving. Email me