The Success of charity: water’s Monthly Donor Community

During the final days of the year, I was able to catch up on some presentations that had been sitting in my inbox. I was excited to hear Noah Barnett’s intro and the presentation by Viktoria Harrison, the co-creator of charity: water on the Virtuous Summit. It was, of course, tremendously inspiring for a monthly donor advocate like me.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the virtual summit, please check it out here. Viktoria’s presentation is on day two. There were a few tech glitches in the first two minutes, but after that it became very interesting.

When I talk to fundraisers about monthly giving, they often mention charity: water and their tremendous success with their monthly donor community, The Spring. They’re envious! Wouldn’t it be great if they could replicate that?

You may ask why The Spring is so successful. Viktoria gives the answer, but it may not be what you think.

The No. 1 reason is that charity: water’s leadership wanted to move away from the one-off gifts and the short-term approach so many nonprofits live in. 

That move from short-term revenue to long-term focus was the first step in making the success happen.

 “All roads lead to The Spring,” Vik explained. “It’s charity: water’s flagship giving product, the one that everything else relies on. The Spring is a passionate and determined group of monthly givers on a mission to end the water crisis in our lifetime.”

Image of The Spring

Credit: charity: water

charity: water’s messaging is aimed at bringing in more donors to join The Spring. Monthly giving is the number No. 1 priority at charity: water.

They also have a clear mission, and it is extremely clear how a certain gift a month can make a difference. You bring clean water to people in need. Wow, who wouldn’t want to do that? For example, $40 a month can give 12 people clean water every year, and 100% of the funds go to the water projects.

charity: water keeps their community engaged with updates. They tell stories. They use VIDEO and lots of (paid) social media.

 “The Spring isn’t just a monthly giving program,” Viktoria explained. “It’s about cultivating community and inspiring donors. We put language around it. We gave it a name. Donors aren’t simply asked to check a make gift recurring box, they’re invited into a strong community of world-changers.”

The results have been tremendous. “It really worked,” Viktoria said. “The Spring has completely revolutionized our revenue model at charity: water.”

She shares how in three and a half years, the community of donors has grown to 62,000 members, with a consistent 40% growth in revenue, year-over-year. Currently, charity: water receives $19.8 million annual recurring revenue from the program.

Who wouldn’t want to replicate those numbers?  Of course, you would.  So, what’s stopping you?

The answer: Leadership! Or should I say, lack of leadership and the lack of risk-taking. Believe me, I see it all the time!

That’s why I typically advocate to start with that low-hanging fruit and the tick boxes, because once leaders start seeing the results, they’re more willing to take the next step.

Vik and Scott Harrison were clearly committed to making a change. They saw the need to stop churning their one-time donors, and they have changed their business model. Now it’s all about The Spring.

So let’s assume you have the leadership who is willing to look at long-term results, and they’re willing to give you carte blanche to totally focus on monthly donors. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Can you come up with a clear description of the big need?
  • Can you explain how the donor can be part of the solution to solving that need?
  • Can you create the amounts to help guide the donor to make the monthly gift?
  • What will happen to those whose needs are met?

Those are the hardest questions to answer. The name for a monthly donor community, the videos focused on monthly giving, stories, cultivation, retention and upgrade materials will follow if you have answered the above.

You’ve heard me say it before when I talked to other organizations that really grew their monthly donors:

  • “Make monthly giving a thing.”
  • “Put monthly donors as a separate line item in the budget. “

If you’re an organization that has historically generated donors through direct mail and you have a robust major gift and legacy giving program, and you’re using multiple channels — you can’t simply turn off that spicket. And I would never recommend you do! Because your direct mail program is a feeder to all other programs. It’s also revenue you can’t just replace and as we’ve seen with some case studies in the past, it can really have a negative impact.

But if you’re a nonprofit with a great email list, and you have a budget for digital ads, or you can create a budget because you’d like to get out of the event business, I recommend you take a serious look at the options to move some of your event money to more monthly donor-focused channels.

Especially if you can answer the hard questions. If you have the right gift amounts, great stories, video and other engaging messaging to create a special community that wants to be part of the solution and help the people or animals you serve, you can do a lot more using digital ads and social media directing to your site.

Now, at the beginning of 2021, it’s a great time to check this all out. Watch the video, watch the summit, get inspired and take some lessons from charity: water. I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to replicate their success, but you can probably get a lot farther than where you are now.

It starts with your leadership and the right mindset and focus. Are you ready to grow your monthly donor program to the next amazing level? I hope you’ll say yes.

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