Earlier this summer, we started tracking the communications of pairs of national nonprofits working in the same space. Where are the organizations’ strategies in sync? Where do they diverge? What can you learn from their approaches? We are calling the comparisons The Showdown. We will often declare “winners,” but that part is just for fun. Contributing writer Antionette Kerr is back with another edition, this time on social media storytelling and some bonus tips on Snapchat. ~Kivi

I know a lot of nonprofit communications pros have a love/hate relationship with one of our contestants, but even if you are tired of reading about them, hear me out, as we look at a Showdown between…

charitywater logo

VERSUS water.org

Let’s start with the Facebook battle.

These two represent the perfect battle of nonprofits trying to balance tugging on emotion and providing information. Many communications pros struggle with that balance.

Charity: water is an organization ripe with emotion, starting at the top with founder Scott Harrison’s story of abandoning the fast life in New York City to work with the medical organization Mercy Ships in West Africa. Love it or leave it, this organization has carved out a niche for pulling heart strings.  

“I’d made my living for years in the Big Apple promoting top nightclubs and fashion events, for the most part living selfishly and arrogantly. Desperately unhappy, I needed to change. Faced with spiritual bankruptcy, I wanted desperately to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?”

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This penchant for emotional storytelling runs throughout the organization’s social media, into its well-established brand, and corporate America seems to LOVE IT! Now the nonprofit has turned it into a video to promote membership into The Spring.

What is The Spring? A monthly giving program.

“We’re looking for 10,000 people to fight with us, month after month, until every single person on this planet has clean water. You can be one of them. Join The Spring.

On Facebook it looks like this:

‘In just three days, we’ve seen The Spring community skyrocket to 3,886 members! That means clean water for more than 52,000 people annually. Imagine what 10,000 members would look like. Help us get there by sharing our film! And consider joining The Spring.

Notice the headline for the film…

“Until nobody on earth dies from dirty water.”

On the other hand…Water.org’s Facebook communications are very information and fact driven. Instead of tugging at the viewer’s heart strings, that group lets the facts compel donors with posts like these:

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For our friends at Water.org, even the story of a seven-year-old girl in Kenya comes right back to numbers.

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Next, I followed the organizations’  strategies on Twitter…

Back to charity: water and The Spring. The group quickly generated excitement for its promotional film. Here’s what I found…

“If you weren’t one of the first 1M+ to see it, we’d love for you to watch our new film now: https://cwtr.org/2bR1hWV

That’s right. In a little over a week, the film had over 1 million views.

For those who missed it, there has been a steady stream of Twitter love for charity: water’s new video with shoutouts from celebs including Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Tony Hawk, and a whole lot of international fanfare.

Meanwhile, I hopped over to Water.org’s Twitter to see what type of approaches the folks there were taking. And while the organization didn’t have a major campaign during the days that I followed its feed, I did find much more of the heartwarming emotional connection that I was looking for on Twitter with posts like this…

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And this…

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There isn’t a whole lot to report on the Instagram front. Both charity: water and Water.org’s Instagram feeds seemed to the resting place for images and videos that were waiting to become repurposed content on other social media sites. Most of the images were previously shared on some other form of social media.

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Last . . . (and, in many cases, least because most of the national nonprofits that I reviewed for the summer Showdown series didn’t have an account) . . .  Snapchat.

The popular mobile application is transforming the way we share photos with our people and is still causing a stir. Some just hoped it would go away as fast as its posts. The big hit, especially for those between the ages of 18 to 29, isn’t especially popular with nonprofit folks.

Snapchat isn’t the fad some of us assumed it would be. I was once a stodgy executive director who didn’t want my communications staffer spending time on Snapchat, so I get. I wanted the staff to focus on outreach that could help build clients or revenue. It was hard to see the value of Snaps from that chair. 

Charity: water has since changed my perspective. Nonprofit tech bloggers are applauding the staff for having an active Snapchcharity water snapchatat presence. Their “success” assured me that Snaps don’t have to be complicated like major campaigns. They can be used to capture everyday life like a planning meeting, a silly moment, or a serious one. Either way, it creates an avenue nonprofits need to focus on to engage donors, especially a generation that is underrepresented in our databases.

Here is what charity: water did to impress the Snapchat world…

charity water activist

A series of snaps

charity water halloween

Halloween pictures of staffers 

Who knew winning on Snapchat was that simple?


So I have to declare charity: water as the winner of this Showdown.

charitywater logo

The nonprofit has braved the waters of social media campaigns in a serious and lighthearted way with appropriate strategies on each platform. I also dig how major corporations are looking to a nonprofit as a thought leader for storytelling and audience engagement on Snapchat.

So here are a few takeaways from this Showdown:

This pairing shows some of the challenges of nonprofit communications pros. Even highly acclaimed, tech-savvy industry leaders have some challenges related to social media.

1. Don’t let Instagram become the graveyard for your favorite photos.  

With all the photo options out there and this notion that Instagram is now competing with Snapchat to create a video platform, there is some confusion about what to do with that platform. An organization’s Instagram can and should have its own artistic life—and don’t forget those crazy hashtags. I personally liked when Charity: Water used #fightdirty, but I have seen that around lately.

2. Find your balance between emotional posts and informative posts, or forget it all and be true to your brand and audience. Love it or hate it, that approach seems to be working for Water.org and charity: water.

3. Snapchat might look ghostly, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Don’t worry about spending a lot of time on cumbersome projects that will just disappear. As we’ve seen from charity: water, some of the most talked about images don’t have to be serious.

Communications pros, tell your boss that it is NOT a total waste since things like Memories (a new way to save Snaps and stories on Snapchat) will help agencies collect their favorite moments—This is a plus for repurposing.

Memories can even be used to create new stories from past Snaps taken or combine different Stories into a longer narrative. Snapchat advertises this as a fun way to celebrate an anniversary or birthday… that could mean a staffer’s work anniversary, a client’s journey through your program, or the organizations anniversary. Memories means finding old Snaps and stringing them together into a story. This is great news for the nonprofit world.

Here’s my new Snapchat litmus test…

  • If this is not serious enough for a Facebook post
  • Not picturesque enough for Instagram
  • Not “call to action” enough for Twitter

Then it probably belongs on Snapchat

Still unsure about Snapchat? You are not alone.

Here are a few blogs about who is using Snapchat, why and how.

What’s The Deal With Snapchat For Nonprofits?


Is Your Nonprofit Too Old to Barf Rainbows on Snapchat?

I’ve had fun comparing two organizations working in the same space. My takeaway is this… Engaging your audience is not a competition with other nonprofits (even those with  similar missions)…it’s really about improving the way you effectively communicate with fans of your mission and not being afraid venture into new waters.

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Published On: September 27, 2016|Categories: Social Media, Storytelling, Writing Skills and Content|