Scott Harrison is the founder and CEO of one of my favorite non-profits: charity:water which has brought clean water to 8.49 million people around the world. They’ve raised $320 million to date—and put it to good work. Scott just released his first book Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World and it’s about time. He’s an incredible storyteller and, both in his book and in this episode of the podcast, he shares stories of personal struggles, vices, darkest times and their ensuing transformation with vulnerability and openness.
This episode is also a crash course in marketing through story. Scott’s rowdy past as a nightclub promoter taught him how to get people excited about joining his party, and he brought those skills to charity: water. He shares many of his tactics, and foundational frameworks about how to reinvent an industry through language and transparency.
In this episode, you’ll also be glad to know:
- If you feel lost, morally bankrupt, or you’re on the wrong path, ask yourself what it would look like if you did the exact opposite of what you’re doing now. Sometimes bouncing between extremes helps us find our way.
- There is a difference between mission and vision and succeeding in both areas requires different approaches.
- There is opportunity in any market if you can find a different way to look at it. It used to be common practice for charities to use guilt based marketing; i.e. you should feel bad for what you have, so donate some of it. Scott saw this as an opportunity to get people excited about donating their resources, which was a huge part of charity: water’s success.
For more on Scott’s story, visit thirstbook.com. 100% of the net proceeds from his book go to charity: water.
Listen to the Podcast
Watch the Episode
Some Questions I Asked:
- How did you go from being a club promoter to starting charity: water? [4:15]
- What was going on in your head at age 18 after taking care of your mother for 14 years? [9:50]
- What was the moment that you realized you needed a change? [15:00]
- Have you taken some of your vices and redirected them in a good way? [17:05]
- Let’s get back to the story- take me to West Africa. [19:35]
- Did you set out with the intention to make charity cool and fun or did it happen by chance? [28:20]
- What are some do’s and don’ts for people who want to give? [40:20]
- What were some of your mistakes? [43:50]
- Talk to me about progress. [45:28]
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- What it was like for Scott and his family after his mother contracted carbon monoxide poisoning. [5:30]
- How Scott stumbled into night club promotion and getting paid by brands to drink alcohol in New York City after his band broke up. [12:05]
- Scott’s realization at 28 that collecting material trophies is an endless race with no good end. [14:50]
- How Scott used the 180 degree question when he felt morally bankrupt: “What would it look like if I did the opposite of what I’m doing now?” [20:00]
- Scott was rejected by all attempts to serve except one, that required him to pay $500 per month and live in Liberia, the poorest country in the world. [21:30]
- How Scott leveraged his email newsletter list that originally informed people about parties to sharing stories of transformation and struggle in Liberia. [23:00]
- 52% of all disease throughout the developing world could be solved by giving people clean water and toilets. 1 out of every 6 people in the world don’t have clean water. [26:00]
- The difference between mission and vision. [29:50]
- After learning that 42% of Americans don’t trust charities and 70% of Americans think charities waste money, Scott realized that was the hurdle he was going to have to overcome. [30:15]
- Scott built charity: water on four principles to fight the stigma against poorly run charities: 100% donation goes to the cause, transparency, positive charity brand, and making local stewards heroes for their work. [32:00]
- It was once normal for charities to use guilt based marketing- imagine if Nike told you “you’re fat and lazy; go for a run.” Would you give them your money? [35:15]
- 130 families pay for charity: water’s staff, office, and bills. All of your donations go directly to families who need clean water. [45:00]
- charity: water helps 3,500 people per day. [45:38]
- Why charity: water decided to start a subscription model called The Spring. [49:00]
- Buy Scott’s book Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World. 100% of the proceeds go directly to charity: water. [52:00]
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