Giving Tuesday: The Crazy Story behind charity: water

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday was created to mark the beginning of the season of charitable giving. Since it began in 2012, Giving Tuesday has helped raise $177 million for charities around the world.

This year, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight charity: water, an international nonprofit that has helped more than 7 million people around the world get access to clean water. charity: water isn’t your traditional NPO: They’ve flipped the script on financial transparency and radically rethought a unique approach to structuring their teams and expenses. They’ve consistently found clever ways to circumvent the cynicism of an internet audience using simplified, cause-driven messaging and guerilla marketing techniques to tell their story and change the world. Churches and nonprofits of all types could take some notes on charity: water’s habit of constantly finding unorthodox methods to share their story.

And their founder Scott Harrison isn’t your traditional CEO—his story reads like the screenplay for a feel-good Christmas movie about self discovery and finding meaning through helping others. Scott was a successful nightclub promoter in New York, turning a hefty profit on the lavish lifestyle of New York’s upscale night scene. Scott describes himself as winding up “spiritually bankrupt” in 2004, and moved from New York to Africa in search of spiritual fulfillment and renewed faith.

“I wanted desperately to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?”

Scott signed up as a volunteer photographer for Mercy Ships, a humanitarian organization which offers free medical care for some of the world’s poorest nations. With his New York luxury in the rearview mirror, he dived head first into a pragmatic, sparse existence with 350 other volunteers, sharing bunk beds and army-style meals. It was there Scott first discovered the need charity: water now addresses today—the sheer number of diseases and health problems that could be solved by access to clean water.

After eight months with Mercy Ships, Scott found his calling: Taking the skills he’d used as a nightclub promoter to rethink the way nonprofits reached an audience of donors.

“For me, charity is practical. It’s sometimes easy, more often inconvenient, but always necessary. It’s the ability to use one’s position of influence, relative wealth, and power to affect lives for the better. Charity is singular and achievable.”

Today, charity: water has a unique approach to the way they handle donations. 100 percent of their operational expenses are covered by private donors, a collection of foundations, and big name angel investors from Silicon Valley. That frees them to put  all other donations towards providing water to those who need it the most. In an age of skepticism towards nonprofit budgets, marketing strategies, and operational costs, charity: water has found a unique way to combine radical transparency with grassroots marketing tactics to reach an oft-cynical audience.

Since it’s founding 2006, charity: water has funded 24,000+ water projects for 7,000,000+ people. But with 663 million people still living without access to clean water, there’s plenty of work to be done.

We’re privileged and excited to be hosting Scott Harrison at Summit 2018, where he’ll share the charity: water story and what churches can learn from his nonprofit-revolutionizing playbook of tips and tricks for reaching and engaging an online audience. And for every Summit registration we get on today (Giving Tuesday), we will donate $20 to charity: water.

To learn more about Scott Harrison and charity: water, you can visit their website at

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