How charity: water Paints a Clear Picture With Nonprofit Marketing Copy

Nonprofit marketing copy addresses core nonprofit challenges: How can we put a fresh coat of paint on an old problem? Highlight gravity and urgency, without negativity? Overcome transparency issues that prevent donors from giving?

nonprofit marketing

For charity: water—a nonprofit that has funded safe, clean drinking water for 14 million people in 29 countries since 2006—World Water Day is the Super Bowl of their nonprofit marketing calendar. To make the March 22nd event more “colorful” and “impactful” than ever, they teamed up with paint manufacturer Pantone to reveal “the true colors of dirty water.” 

“The world is full of stunning colors. But they’re only beautiful if you don’t have to drink them,” charity: water said across social media. “This #WorldWaterDay, visit to see the water crisis in full color and show your support for the 771 million people who deserve to drink clean water in the only shade it should be: crystal clear.” 

The vivid landing page looks like a home remodeling site. “The answer is (not always) clear. From neon green to vaguely maroon to classic beige, we’ve seen dirty water in every shade imaginable⁠–⁠and never want to see someone drink it again.”

Paint swatches of dirty water shades are set alongside stories of individuals who have sacrificed health, time, income, or opportunities in pursuit of a basic human necessity: Sin and her husband in Cambodia who spent 30% of their income treating water-borne illnesses; Tencia, a baker in Mozambique who needs clean water to pursue her dream; Aissa in Niger who fell down a well with her baby and nearly died collecting water for her family. The full stories are emailed to campaign participants who can also “throw some shade” by sharing on social media.

color swatches on charity: water's landing page

Thousands participated in one of the “biggest World Water Days yet” on social media, with even more joining their community of monthly donors—sometimes called “passionate, dedicated world-changers,” but most cleverly dubbed “The Spring.”

Successful nonprofit marketing hinges on personalized content, contextual storytelling, and transparent branding.

At a time when people yearn for progress and brand activism is expected, there is still a bridge to cross in order to build trust, inspire action, and stay in memory. With transparency, personalization, and great storytelling campaigns, nonprofit marketing can scale. 

Here’s what we’ve learned.

Learn why the best return on your marketing dollar comes from copywriting.

Personalized content achieves audience connection.

Charity: water’s social media pages are a beauty to behold with rich, powerful imagery that appears straight from a National Geographic magazine. The strong visual component is backed by strategic language that uses personalization to connect with audiences. 

Visitors are invited to “take the first step” by participating in the color story experience. Personalized text changes depending on which color box a visitor selects, updating to say: “Your color is [red / yellow / orange / gray / green / brown].” Visitors are further encouraged to use their voice and spread the word on social media.

The idea behind the social campaign is simple: Instead of sharing the last food you ate or TV show you binged, why not share the last charity you supported and spread that contagious generosity? The more ways readers can interact, engage in new experiences, and advertise the mission as part of their core ethos, the more their commitment deepens. 

Visiting charity: water’s website doesn’t feel like a blatant ask for money. It’s an educational resource. On the Someone Like You page, visitors answer questions about their values to connect with one of 400 people living in Adi Etot who can share what life is like without clean water. The charity acts as a facilitator of understanding and meaningful connection. 

Storytelling builds a reason to give. 

Facts and statistics have their rightful place in nonprofit marketing, but storytelling delivers relatability and context to drive emotional connection with the audience.

Audiences need a clear vision: “What is life like in the communities we’re donating to?” In a blog telling the story of Helen Apio of Uganda who said clean water makes her feel “beautiful,” charity: water clarifies: “The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. Helen’s family was divvying up 10 gallons.” Each day, Helen was forced to choose whether to grow food, wash her children’s uniforms, cook a meal, or bathe herself. Anyone can look up a statistic, but first hand context drives relevancy and urgency. 

Audiences also need to comprehend the value of a donation, no matter how big or small; charity: water tells the story of Kuen Leap—a sole breadwinner with an ill husband earning $480 a year who took out a $1,000 loan to line the well in her backyard. Now donors have the context to imagine the difference $65 water-purifying BioSand filters make in Cambodia.

Transparency inspires confidence.

Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water has said he built his nonprofit on three principles. The first two relate to transparency. First, 100% of all donations go directly to water projects; investors cover the overhead operating expenses. This promise is clear on every campaign page, addressing the nonprofit marketing obstacle: Can we trust you to help us make a difference?

Second, all progress reports yield full transparency—mapping new well locations built with donor dollars and remaining open about the tough work ahead. They use turns of phrase like “We’re just getting started,” “We’re getting closer every day,” or “here’s what to expect over the course of the next 21+ months” to indicate that wins won’t happen overnight. Sustainable monthly donations become easier when donors can see where and how their money is used.  

Calls to action uplift and empower.

Tyler Riewer, content strategist for charity: water, said the third pillar is to “focus on hope rather than guilt” and give audiences “the opportunity to feel powerful rather than powerless.” 

Charity: water’s copywriting welcomes visitors with empowering uses of “you,” “we,” and “us.” “With the help of over a million supporters like you, we’re on a mission to end the water crisis in our lifetime,” they tell visitors. The World Water Day 2022 campaign page gives shout-out to the “community of generous supporters” who transform lives with clean water; curiosity’s piqued for newcomers with a desire to be part of something bigger. The reader is the hero of the story. 

Successful nonprofit marketing centers on determining what type of action people should take and providing the opportunity. Each page of the charity: water website carries one or more clear calls to action, directing the desire to get involved—whether it’s to give, engage, amplify, learn more, share, meet, or donate.

MarketSmiths Case Study

Marrying personalized data and habit-forming exercise routines, HealthAware’s tools are perfect for getting patients on the move. Unfortunately, it lacked a dynamic website to match. But after competing with a rival copywriting firm, MarketSmiths proved its worth. We took HealthAware’s bewildering stable of medical tools and explained them elegantly, intuitively communicating their benefits in streamlined, accessible copy. We went on to draft almost half of HealthAware’s new website—with remarkable results. Within a month of relaunching, HealthAware gained ten high-quality leads from its site. Combined with our work on HealthAware white papers, we’ve secured HealthAware’s place in a competitive market—and improved health outcomes too.

How vibrantly is your nonprofit’s story being told?

From the World Water Day campaign through every page of charity: water’s site, common threads of personalization, storytelling, transparency, and empowerment engage audiences with copywriting for humans. Any nonprofit can extend charity: water’s basic principles to their campaigns to drive action and sustainable growth. 

Do you feel like your current nonprofit marketing content is missing its color? Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes and a coat of copy to breathe renewed life into your mission. Contact MarketSmiths to learn more about government and nonprofit copywriting.

Jennn Fusion

Jennn Fusion

Jennn made up her mind to become a writer when she was five years old and has buried herself in research and the written word ever since. She grew up a snowboarding, guitar-playing, concert-going punk-rocker in Buffalo, NY, home of the chicken wing. After earning a BA in Journalism and English from SUNY Geneseo, she spent most of her twenties working as a music journalist and a promotions marketing manager in Toronto. Her freelance writing career spans nearly two decades of crafting copy for lawyers, doctors, realtors, digital marketers, tech startups, and consultants. When she's not on her laptop with 100 tabs open, she's hanging out with her German Shepherds, husband, and two children; dressing up at theme parties; excelling at Cards Against Humanity and Puns of Anarchy; cruising the ocean; or venturing into the woods to live like Thoreau. 

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