July 14, 2009

Saving the world through social media

Nonprofit organizations can be many things: caring, diligent, altruistic, painfully earnest. One thing they rarely are, though, is chic. Enter charity: water, started by Scott Harrison, an ex-party promoter who leveraged his natural flair for marketing into a group that, in only 5 years, has helped provide clean water to almost 1 million people in third-world countries.

With only 11 employees, charity: water has raised money (over $10 million so far!) in ways so catchy, for-profits can only dream of catching up: asking people with September birthdays to request donations in lieu of presents; holding "Twestival" gatherings on Twitter; and producing videos, including the one above. The group has nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter — slightly more than the population of Washington, DC.

Declares Harrison, “Guilt has never been part of it. It’s excitement instead, presenting people with an opportunity — ‘you have an amazing chance to build a well!’ ”

Via Nick Kristof in the NYT

Update 7/21/09: Social media can be a winner for for-profit businesses, too. A study in PSFK today shows a correlation between engagement in social media outlets and financial success for companies including Starbucks, Dell, and eBay.
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