“And it would persuade more people to donate. Which, right now, might be what matters most.” A recent article in The New York Times, “Why Don’t You Donate for Syrian Refugees? Blame Bad Marketing” shares research on causes and charities that were more successful in raising funds than others. Although conventional wisdom holds that the most effective appeals emphasized innocent victims where your donation can prevent dire consequences, the researchers found the opposite. They cite Nike. They don’t “tell people to exercise because otherwise they’ll get fat and have a heart attack. Instead, the company uses stories of amputees running marathons to make you believe you can transform your life, if you just buy the right pair of shoes.”

Charity: Water has adopted a Nike-like approach: “every piece of marketing has a hero,” according to Lauren Letta, the organization’s chief operating officer. “Maybe the hero is a girl in a village. Maybe it’s a drilling rig operator. Or, maybe, if you make a donation, the hero is you.” Charity: Water’s fundraising efforts using this approach have been incredibly successful, raising $252 million and supporting 23,000 projects in villages and rural areas across Africa, Asia and elsewhere. The article contrasts Charity: Water’s success with the complex, immense, enduring and heartbreaking Syrian refugee crisis, which has drawn relatively little charitable giving. The reason provided, according to the research: “Blame bad marketing.”

What are the hero stories in your organization? What’s the simplest version of your work?

Images via Nike