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Oct112012

Why Great Web Design is Worth Millions to charity:water

FOWD WEEK!

Today we look ahead to the opening keynote of the Future of Web Design, New York conference with Paull Young, director of digital engagement at charity:water. Paull tells us how charity:water relies on an amazing creative team to inspire grassroots action and raise millions for clean water projects.

It's easy to inspire hordes of people to "Like" or retweet for a good cause. It's much harder to get them to donate money or volunteer their time.

That challenge is what charity:water is able to overcome on a daily basis. The non-profit organization, which funnels donations into clean water projects in needy areas, has mastered the art of converting inspiration into action. Over the past six years, charity:water has raised over $70 million and helped 2.7 million people gain access to safe, clean drinking water.

And they've done nearly all of it on the web.

Paull Young, director of digital engagement at charity:water, says charity:water's online success starts with effective design.

"The first and most important part of our digital strategy is inspiration. We use stories, photography, and design elements to inspire people. Then we have a very simple web platform where they can take action," he says.

charity:water uses compelling photography to tell its story and inspire action

The organization's home page is designed to engage users from the start, with well-produced videos and gorgeous high-resolution photos of charity:water projects around the world. The water crisis is laid bare with compelling infographics, project stories, and clear calls-to-action.

Three Core Values

charity:water has become one of the premiere web non-profits in just a few years. How have they risen so far? By sticking to three simple values:

the 100% model

Every dime raised by charity:water initiatives is used to fund clean water projects. The organization's staff and operations are funded by major donors and merchandise sales.

proof

Every water project is marked on Google Maps so fundraisers can see the impact of their efforts. Fundraisers are given an online report with GPS coordinates, photos, and details about the village and specific project.

The epic brand

Through inspiring storytelling, photography, and design, charity:water hopes to build itself into an "epic brand" that inspires love and loyalty -- think Apple or Nike for the charitable sector.

Three years ago, the small design team created mycharity:water, an easy-to use platform that allows inspired site visitors to quickly set up their own fundraising projects and get to work. Fundraisers are encouraged to come up with creative projects -- some have shaved beards, run triathlons, or held dance parties. charity:water provides fundraisers with tips and checklists, packaged email and web assets, and routine updates to help donors stay on course and raise as much money as possible.

mycharity:water also includes built-in social components so fundraisers can connect with each other and share tips. Young envisions an expansive "network of relationships" that will drive charity:water's success in the future. So far, the mycharity:water platform has accounted for $18 million in donations. 

"Our belief is that if we build a grassroots movement of inspired people, we will solve the water crisis," says Young.

At the Future of Web Design conference, Young says he'll discuss the charity:water story and the value of great design. For example, one of mycharity:water's most successful fundraisers, Eastlake Church in Seattle (the church has raised more than $800,000 so far this year), found charity:water during internal discussions about web design.

"One of their designers showed them our site and they sat around watching videos, and that's how they decided to start a project for us. That was pretty much a $1 million ROI on beautiful web design," he says.

charity:water's creative team is relatively small -- only four designers and developers. But Young says the team is well-supported because of its importance to the business. 

"We really value creativity. We invest time and energy into it because it's so important."

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