Wanted: More Amazing Organizations (only the focused and passionate need apply)

We are not really Charity:Water fanboys. It may look that way given that this is the second post in a row highlighting them in some fashion. Perhaps it seems Charity:Water is able to operate on a plane or in a way that provides few transferable lessons for other nonprofits. Or maybe it is because Charity:Water isn’t an advocacy organization like most we work with so their experience doesn’t provide learning opportunities.

But damn. Their new September campaign (don’t go there yet…haven’t linked to it for a reason) and the context in which we came across it today shouts out as a teachable moment about the power of focus, passion and having a simple call to action.

Earlier today for reasons totally unrelated to this post we were looking at the home pages websites run by some of America’s leading conservation organizations. Great organizations doing vast amounts of positive work around the US and internationally. We know leaders and staff of many of them. Some are current or past clients.

We invite you to click the links below. They will open in new tabs or windows. Check out the homepage of some or all and gather a quick impression of what they’re working on, what’s moving them and their members and what their passion is RIGHT NOW. Go on…

Checked them out? Great.

Now, head to Charity:Water. Look at what’s there and perhaps watch a video (yeah…you’ll figure out which one). We’ll wait a minute. When you come back we’ll discuss.

So…what do we think? First? What do you think? Why did we ask you to look at some other sites before Charity:Water?

In our opinion, Charity:Water knocks it out of the park with the introduction of their newest campaign on their homepage. Clear and focused. Passionate and compelling. A big vision but simple call to action. Instead of sliders and links to dozens of programs with myriad graphic boxes and colors we see a single face inviting you to watch a video answering a simple question, “What’s Next?”

Charity:Water homepage - http://charitywater.org
Charity:Water homepage in late-August, 2011. Focus, passion and a simple call to action (why isn't everyone doing this?)

Why don’t we see more of this from other organizations?

Well, if was easy then everyone would be doing it. But wait, is it hard to be focused and passionate? Yes. Yes it is. Organizations may be bound together on the surface by a single mission (protect the environment; clean America’s water; conserve wilderness) but decades of programs, special funding opportunities, the interests of donors, foundations, board members and staff have combined to produce a wide-ranging set of projects, teams, interests and silos.

Success breeds more calls for help and over the years these organizations have come to work everywhere and do quite a bit of almost everything. The need is great. Everyone wants them to help.

But something for everyone comes at a cost, both internally and externally. Clarity becomes hard to find. It may be possible for a single staff member to describe what they do but can every single staffer, volunteer, board member and donor or member come together and say “right now the organization is working on X” …where X is described the same way each time.

We suspect not. And when you can’t describe the something amazing that your organization does for people then chances are people may not find the organization to be amazing. And that’s unfortunate because this world NEEDS MORE AMAZING in it now that ever before.

More focus. Much more passion. Many more incredible stories. Don’t do it all…just do it very, very well.

3 thoughts on “Wanted: More Amazing Organizations (only the focused and passionate need apply)

  1. I too have been impressed by how many times charity:water’s website comes up in client’s lists of “sites we want ours to be like.” But as I’ve thought about it, it seems to me that part of the reason that charity:water is able to be so focused and passionate is due to their fundamental organizational design. They don’t actually *do* any projects, they are just a marketing/fundraising organization that raises money for others to do projects. Which, among other things, lets them focus exclusively on the marketing, messaging and fundraising. Which they do amazingly well. It’s an interesting argument for “Movement as Network” in fact. 🙂

  2. Great thoughts. I’m wildly hesitant to write anything about Charity:Water that comes off as “this is a great example” because, in part, for the reason you mention. They’re focused by design – without all that history of scope creep while still retaining the direction of original founders. It will be curious to see if/what they look like in 20 years. As I mention, it is very easy for organizations to say “well, we don’t work that way” and not want transfer the lessons from their work (even while they say “we want our site to be like theirs”).

    True. But a bit of a cop out. You can want your site to look as passionate and focused but if your org isn’t the site won’t be that. There are good and bad websites, of course, but the best of them reflect reality.

    The “movement as network” idea here might be the diamond in the rough…that idea I wasn’t writing about directly that is the one worth exploring some more. Unlike many organizations that work “with partners” or “in coalitions,” Charity:Water does a good job explaining how that works where needed (and not letting muddy the communications waters where not needed).

  3. Instead of an apples-to-oranges comparison, why not find examples of advocacy organizations who have superlative websites?

    What you deride as mission creep and funder-directed add-ons is actually exactly what advocacy for social change is and does. If you want a better environment, or safer consumers, or good government, or whatever it is, you pursue multiple goals simultaneously, seizing opportunities where they arise and creating new ones where they aren’t. The dream of a singular focus is the dream of someone who’s never been an advocate. (That’s not intended as a slam, although it probably reads harshly — just a fact. Something I’ve seen plenty of places, such as the “evaluation” world that tries to force its square peg in advocacy’s round hole.)

    But there’s probably something to be learned about the charity:water example — the refreshing simplicity after all the exceedingly complex home pages of the other groups. But how do groups that are by design much more complex than charity:water — and, accordingly, have more complex websites as you wend your way through them — have more effective home pages, or entry points to the rest of what the organization stands for? Advocacy organizations need plenty of advice — that much is clear — but they need advice that is tailored for them.

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