Social, Email Help Charity: Water Raise Awareness

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

A combination of social media and email marketing helps charity: water fundraise to bring clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

“We operate within a $0 marketing budget, so we don’t use traditional marketing methods like direct mail or buying ads,” said Sarah Salisbury, digital marketing manager of charity: water, via email. “We use email and social media to get our message out and focus on creating content our supporters will want to share.”

The New York-based nonprofit has about 140,000 email subscribers. It uses email not to push a hard ask for donations, but to encourage engagement with videos and stories about the families it is trying to help.

In social media the strategy is similar, with content that is very image- and story-focused. “We rarely ask for donations on social media. That’s not why people are on Facebook or Twitter,” says Salisbury. “They’re on social media to see beautiful photos and read inspiring stories. That’s what we try to share.”

Each year on Sept. 7, charity: water’s “birthday,” the nonprofit launches the September Campaign, its largest annual fundraising effort, focusing on a specific region or project. In 2011, it fundraised to buy a $1 million drilling rig. During that campaign, a GPS was installed on the rig and was set up to tweet its coordinates wherever it drilled a new well. Now everyone who contributed to that rig can follow its progress @cwyellowthunder.

In 2012, the goal was fundraising for Rwanda, which was done by telling the stories of families living in the Rulindo District.

“We wanted to inspire our supporters to fundraise for large-scale water systems there,” says Salisbury. “We set out to raise $1.7 million, and ended up raising over $2 million. More than 26,000 people will have access to clean water as a result; 1,788 people started fundraising campaigns, and 13,782 people donated.”

There isn’t a “typical” supporter profile at charity: water in the traditional sense, says Salisbury. “The people who fundraise for clean water range from six to 60, and live all over. The common thread is that they’re passionate, early adopters, creative and tech savvy. They’re on social media, and they have a global perspective.”

Asking people to fundraise is a hard ask, admits Salisbury. “We’re asking for your time and energy. Because of that, we’re mindful about who we ask to fundraise and who we’re reaching out to for awareness. During the September Campaign, we had different messaging for segments based on their level of involvement with charity: water and how recently they had fundraised or donated.”

The email strategy, created in partnership with Responsys, was based on supporter engagement. The nonprofit had never before sent out emails at such a high frequency and was worried about burning through the email list.

“We tried to find ways to measure who we could comfortably send a twice-a-week and who we should stop sending to,” says Salisbury. “We set up a sneak-peek landing page and let people sign up specifically for emails about the campaign, and used Responsys to target only supporters who were consistently opening and clicking in each email.”

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