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How to write a great fundraising email, the charity:water way

by Christiana Stergiou

The other day, I looked back on the emails I’ve received over the past few months from charity: water. They’re all very good, but there was one that got me right where it should. In fact, I think it’s one of the best charity emails I’ve received all year.

I’ve been following charity:water’s meteoric rise for some time now on twitter and through their website. Since their inception three years ago, they have raised about US$10 million from approximately 50,000 supporters. And as a result have helped almost one million people in 15 countries to access clean water. Their almost overnight success has come as a result of sheer determination, brilliant networking and excellent fundraising.  (BTW, they’re looking for a director of fundraising.)

They are the most followed charity on Twitter, with over one million followers, have raised substantial money by using Twitter (more about that another time) and are doing so much right online to build a strong support base, as this recent email demonstrates.

What’s so great about the email I received from charity: water?

Let’s start with the subject line. It didn’t say: Latest news update from charity:water. It said: Will the beautiful women of the world please stand up.

The picture at the top of the email was of a proud and striking woman. It was clear that this was her story, and that of Program Director Becky Straw. It looked interesting and again I read on.

The intro from founder Scott Harrison went like this:

Our Water Program Director Becky Straw recently returned from Northern Uganda, where it all began for charity: water. In 2006, donors funded the first set of wells in a refugee camp that desperately needed clean water. Today, thanks to your continued help, we have 88 clean water projects serving over 58,000 people in Uganda. I hope Becky’s story touches you as it touched many people here in our office. – Scott Harrison

And Becky’s story was very moving indeed – mission-centered, highly descriptive and intensely personal. Here are just a few excerpts:

From my vantage point in the truck, I watch women gather up their children and move to the edge of the road to let us pass. Their feet are gnarled and calloused: a result of thousands of miles walked barefoot over rocks and mud. With babies strapped to their backs, their brightly colored skirts sway and their knees quiver and brace under the weight of water and children. Most balance pails on their heads, while some grip 80 pounds of water with sweaty palms, a bright yellow 5-gallon Jerry Can in each hand…

… This is when I met Helen Apio. While most women hung back politely, Helen jumped toward me and screamed two inches from my face. Technically, it was singing. But the high-pitched shrieking was so loud and reverberated with such energy and emotion, I knew I had to talk with her.

She told me about the new freshwater well in her village.

“I am happy now,” Helen beamed. “I have time to eat, my children can go to school. And I can even work in my garden, take a shower and then come back for more water if I want! I am bathing so well.”

I’m in awe of how they manage. But of course, they have no choice. The average woman in Africa walks three miles every day for water. Often, it’s water from putrid rivers or disease-infested swamps. Worldwide, women are more than twice as likely as men to collect drinking water.

And it gets even better. I recommend you read the full email from beginning to end here.

It’s a great example of how you can share stories ‘from the field’. For your organisation, that might be through your nurses, researchers, trainers, counsellors or campaigners.

Finally a strong donate button on the bottom and, you guessed it, I pressed it. It’s interesting to note that all charity:water’s donations are processed through Paypal, including their regular monthly gifts. And it worked like a dream. (Their donate page is one of the best I’ve seen, too. So simple.)

Want more?

There’s a lot we fundraisers can learn from charity:water. Check out this New York Times article about founder Scott Harrison. Or watch this video about how it all started for charity:water and their 3rd birthday fundraiser, Born in September.

I’d welcome your thoughts, so please comment. Link to your own examples of brilliant fundraising emails or please send your examples to me.

[photo credit: charity: water]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Junayd 24 August, 2011 at 4:20 am

This is a really great resource. We’re a small startup non-profit building our donor operation from scratch and this is hugely helpful.

Thanks for all that you do.

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