In this episode I talk with Scott Harrison, he’s the founder and CEO of charity: water, a charity that is just over a decade old and broke all the rules when it comes to how a charity should operate. This has lead to over a quarter of a billion dollars raised which has provided over 7 million people in less developed countries with clean water. Their goal is that some day every human on earth will have access to clean water.
Today’s conversation is a little different as most episodes we focus on marketing, the client experience and other business building topics. Most of the conversation today relates to how to make an impact on the world around you and do the work that really matters. This is something I believe you all as financial advisors do on a daily basis, using that tool called money to help your clients create life experiences and leave a legacy behind for people or causes they love.
Here are a just a few highlights from our conversation:
- We get into how radical generosity helped Scott understand true happiness and the secret to helping your clients experience it as well.
- Next we discuss the 3 things Scott did early on to blow up the traditional charity model that was revolutionary to how charities functioned at the time. This has led to charity water’s backing from the founders of Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify as well as a number of Hollywood’s who’s who.
- Then we cover the secret behind storytelling to create a movement and why sharing stories of failure leads to greater connection.
- Lastly, make sure you don’t miss little 9 year old Rachel’s story.
THE SPRING – THE CHARITY: WATER STORY
- Join “The Spring” movement by clicking here.
- Donate your next birthday for charity: water by clicking here.
Already heard it once or twice? Please leave a short review here, and tell me which guests I should have on!
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- [07:07] Scott shares his transformational story, from promoting top nightclubs in NYC to selling all his possessions and moving to Liberia – a country with no public electricity, running water or sewage.
- [15:26] Find out what documenting as a photojournalist in West Africa taught him about courage and the single event that turned his charity experience into a $96,000 donation.
- [23:39] Find out how radical generosity can help you unlock true happiness and fulfillment.
- [28:00] Why are there 663 million people in the world that don’t have access to clean water? Scott explains the MASSIVE water epidemic that nobody’s talking about!
- [34:58] Discover the business model behind charity: water and how Scott’s team had to think differently about creating a sustainable and transparent solution to solve the world’s water crisis.
- [43:55] Scott explains how he was able to turn 200 bucks into $250 million by building an inspirational brand that focused on compassion, generosity and empathy, rather than shame and guilt.
- [44:57] How he kept his promise to donate 100% of proceeds to people in need, despite nearly going bankrupt.
- [47:19] The million dollar conversation that kept the lights on and the secret to crafting a compelling story that resonates with your audience.
- [55:01] The incredible story of Rachel, a 9-year-old who’s wish to give, raised over $3 million and helped over 100,000 people get clean drinking water.
- [01:02:45] What was it about charity: water that made it such a powerful movement that encouraged people to make a difference?
- [01:05:41] Find out what Scott would do differently if he had the chance to go back in time and talk to his 25-year-old self.
- [01:19:06] Who is the first person Scott thinks of when he hears the word successful and why?
- [01:10:25] Scott shares the one book that has had the biggest impact on his life and why it’s been a pivotal part in helping him serve those in need.
- [01:12:06] The one piece of advice that has led to his success and his goal to someday return the favor of writing a million dollar cheque to charity.
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Scott Harrison
- Charity Water
- Donate Your Birthday!
- The Spring Film
- The Spring
- Rachel Beckwith’s Story
- Yellow Thunder Drilling Rig
- Mercy Ships
- Ruhlin Group
- The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
- The Bible – New Testament
PEOPLE MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE
REVIEW OF THE WEEK
Thanks Josh for the review. I do my very best to keep an incredibly high caliber of guests for the show, so LOVE hearing that feedback. For those out there who haven’t given a review yet, I’d love if you’d take a quick second to do so at bradleyjohnson.com/itunes and if you have future guests we need to have on the show, make sure to include them in your comments as we read all of them! Thanks for listening this week and we’ll catch you on the next show!
[00:00:37] Brad: In this episode, I talk with Scott Harrison. He’s the founder and CEO of charity: water. It’s a charity that’s just over a decade old and broke all the rules when it comes to how a charity should operate. This has led to over a quarter of $1 billion raised which has provided over 7 million people in less developed countries with clean water. Their goal is that someday every human on earth will have access to clean water. Today’s conversation is a little different as most episodes we focus on marketing, the client experience and other business building topics. Most of the conversation today relates to how to make an impact on the world around you and do the work that really matters, something I believe you all as financial advisors do on a daily basis using that tool called money to help your clients create life experiences and leave a legacy behind for people or causes they love.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation. We get into how radical generosity helped Scott understand true happiness and the secrets to helping your clients experience it as well. Next, we discussed the three things Scott did early on to blow up the traditional charity model that was revolutionary to how charities function at the time. This has led to charity: water’s backing from the founders of Facebook, Twitter and Spotify as well as a number of Hollywood’s who’s who. Then we cover the secret behind storytelling to create a movement and why sharing stories of failure leads to greater connection. Lastly, please make sure you don’t miss the story of little nine-year-old Rachel.
So, I want to get on to this conversation with Scott and I truly hope it inspires you as much as it did me and if you’d like to learn more about the charity: water story, we’ve included a link right at the top of the show notes. They’re available at BradleyJohnson.com/24. There is a movie. His team did an incredible job on not only will it inspire you and tell the story of charity: water and the amazing work they’re doing but it will also show you a lot about how to market properly because it is out of this world amazing.
[00:02:36] Brad As always, links to books mentioned, people discussed as well as a complete transcript of the show are available there as well and be sure to stick around after the show because I’ll give another shout out to a Blueprint listener for a recent review. As always, thanks for listening and without further delay, my conversation with Scott Harrison.
[00:02:57] Brad: Welcome, everyone, to this week’s episode of the Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast. I’m incredibly excited. I have Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity: water here with us today. Welcome, Scott.
[00:03:09] Scott: Thanks for having me. It’s good to be here.
[00:03:11] Brad: Dude, I don’t even know where to start this. There are so many places I wanted to go with this conversation. It’s greater than a 50% shot I’m going to break down and cry through this interview.
[00:03:20] Scott: Happens to me too.
[00:03:22] Brad: So, we’re going to get some really good stuff. You’re literally changing the world and I don’t just throw that out there. I’m not saying that lightly. You are literally changing the world. So, before we get to the story of charity: water and the amazing things you’re doing all over the world, let’s start with something completely off base here.
[00:03:38] Scott: Okay.
[00:03:39] Brad: So, our audience is obviously financial advisors. A number of those advisors are hosting events all throughout the country on a monthly basis, weekly basis. And in a previous life, you were really, really good at hosting events, one of the top promoters in New York City. So, my first question for you, let’s say I wanted to take what could be considered an everyday type of restaurant or venue event in my local marketplace and I want to completely transform that to a can’t miss event, what’s the secret behind doing that?
[00:04:12] Scott: Lighting. Start with good lighting. Go get a lot of candles. Most restaurants have pretty bad lighting. I’d start there. I think music is important. Velvet rope always helps. Just putting that out in front so it feels special as people are coming in. Guest list helps, you know someone’s name as they come, they feel expected, they feel appreciated. Little different than what we were doing. We were racking a thousand people in clubs with house and hip-hop DJs and charging $1,000 for a bottle of champagne but those are really the elements. We always care about good lighting, good sounds, a great snappy looking doorman outside that knows people’s names and welcomes them. And a coat check without too long of a line.
[00:04:57] Brad: A coat check.
[00:04:58] Scott: Obviously, if it’s winter.
[00:05:00] Brad: Well, this is interesting because a lot of financial advisors out there you’ve heard the term probably free dinner seminar and where, “Hey, all of these are kind of a similar event,” and what I found the secret with some of our top clients, it doesn’t feel like any sort of an educational event. It feels like a live event whether they have a radio show and they’ve transformed it into the radio show live at some venue where you can be a part of an event live. How did you build that demand? I mean, what was the marketing behind that? Because obviously you were very, very good at what you did and you’ve carried a lot of that skill set to how you promoted your charity, charity: water. And so, I’m just curious before, because there is an amazing skill set there. I don’t know if people told you that before but I just looking at your story and soaking it in, you have a skill set there and so I just didn’t know if there’s anything that you could share with the audience that might make…
[00:05:48] Scott: Well, I should say I’ve been out of the business now for 13 years but for the decade that I was promoting these top clubs, it was all about models and celebrities. So, you kind of had the most beautiful people, the people on the covers of magazines inside the club that would then drive demand from a customer who could afford to pay astronomical amounts for booze. So, I’m not sure how familiar people are with bottle service but it’s kind of a ridiculous idea. I mean, you pay $5,000 or $10,000 to sit at a table with $30 bottles of vodka that you’re paying $750 or $900 for but you’re really paying for the privilege. It’s access, it’s proximity to the beautiful people, the cool people. So, a club promoter has to really run two businesses. One, make sure that there are people with American Express black cards who are willing to pay for that access but then you also have to bring in the people that are on the magazines and on TV and basically, they always drink for free so they get treated like royalty. Again, this is many years ago.
[00:07:01] Brad: Well, what’s interesting though what I’ve seen is the branding and the promotion. You’ve done an incredible job of telling the story so you had to tell a story as a club promoter. You obviously have to tell a story and you’re doing an amazing job and basically taking that skill set and using it now to change the world in a much different way. So, even though they’re two very different worlds, I see some common themes that have made it successful.
[00:07:25] Scott: Sure. It was definitely storytelling. The story we were telling that I’m kind of ashamed of now is you get past our velvet rope, you spend all your money on the best alcohol, you sit with the beautiful people and your life has meaning. And there’s not much redemptive, not many redemptive qualities to that story but it worked for 10 years and made us some money and at that point, I was living completely hedonistically and selfishly and it was all about me.
[00:07:54] Brad: So, let’s go there. Let’s say where your story takes the redeeming turn where you really changed the trajectory of your life. You were in South America I believe on a New Year’s Eve party.
[00:08:05] Scott: Yeah. Well, the club years were really an active rebellion against say very Christian conservative upbringing. I was an only child. My mom became very ill when I was four so she was an invalid my whole life growing up and I was really that good kid that played piano on Sunday and church. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t cuss, I didn’t have sex, I didn’t drink, I didn’t do drugs. I really played by the rules. So, moving to New York City at 18 is just this act of utter rebellion, give me my inheritance now and it’s time for strippers and drugs and booze and the fast life. So, I spent a decade chasing after those things and at 28 I took a snapshot of my life. I smoked two packs of cigarettes for 10 years. I had a coughing problem. I had a drinking problem. I had a serious gambling problem. I had a pornography problem. I had a drug problem, pretty much everything short of heroine. But my life looked amazing on the outside. I mean I’m the guy jumping into the back of Mercedes with three models and turning up at a club and there’s a sea that just parts as we jump out and are led to the best table.
So, it was really looked great on the outside but a pretty dark existence. I mean, there were days I would get home at noon. I remember looking out my window at other people on their lunch break and suits. They’d probably gone to the gym in the morning and I was still up from the night before and I’m like this degenerate trying to take pills to come down off of whatever we had gotten high with the night before. So, I was in Uruguay. I was in Punta del Este. We would always go away on New Year’s Eve. We went to like South America because it just felt different and fun and reckless. And we’d rented this huge compound with servants and horses and magnums of champagne everywhere. I remember going to the fireworks store and dropping a thousand dollars, I mean, just to light fireworks in our backyard.
[00:10:08] Scott: And at the time I had a BMW, I had a grand piano in my New York apartment. I had a Rolex and my girlfriend was on the cover of Elle magazine. And I had a Labrador Retriever. All of these things that I’ve been chasing after, all these boxes I had ticked that I thought would make me happy and I realize on this trip that I’d actually become the worst person I knew and I was morally bankrupt. I was spiritually bankrupt. I had betrayed the value system that I have been brought up with and if I continued down this path, I might not live to see the age of 40. A lot of people in nightlife just die young and if I did make it to 40 I’d probably look like I was 100 by the time I was 40 because it just it takes its toll on you. And this really interesting kind of spiritual tension starts happening for me. I’m drinking a lot. I remember being hungover during the days. Then I start to read the bible again. I start to read like dense theology and tried to find my way back to that moral spiritual foundation that I just completely walked away with for ten years. In some ways, I wanted to come home. And it happened pretty quickly. I came back to New York wanting to make a change. Took me a few months but in the summer of that year, I just sold everything that I owned. I remember liquidating 2,000 DVDs on eBay in a single lot. They used to be worth something.
[00:11:32] Brad: They did.
[00:11:33] Scott: Twelve or thirteen years ago. And just getting rid of everything and I kind of made this deal with God that I would give one year, a tenth of the ten years that I had selfishly served myself and I would go serve him and others and see where that took me. So, having sold my possessions I remember renting a cobalt blue Ford Mustang, grabbing the Bible, grabbing a bottle of Dewar’s, grabbing my cigarettes and just heading north, no idea where I would end up. And I drove in mostly through Connecticut and Vermont and I wound up in Maine at a dial-up internet café and there began to apply to volunteer at some of the famous humanitarian organizations in the world. Wanted to find the exact opposite of my life. I wanted to explore the 180-degree turn and I thought going to the poorest country in the world and not getting paid to do that and see if any of my gifts were relevant and could port over seemed like a good idea.
So, I apply and maybe the smart people listening aren’t surprised that I’m denied by all these organizations because no serious humanitarian organization will take a nightclub promoter on even for free. Those skills do not seem immediately relevant or compatible so I’m just getting rejection letter after rejection letter. And finally, one organization writes me back and says, “Hey, kid. If you’re willing to pay us $500 a month and if you’re willing to go live in Liberia, the poorest country in the world,” actually there was no data on the country at that time. It had fallen off of the United Nations development charts because of Charles Taylor’s 14-year civil war. “Hey, kid. Pay us $500 a month, go live in Liberia and you could volunteer.” I said, “This is perfect. Here’s my credit card details.” This is the exact opposite of my life. And again, it happened very quickly. Weeks after getting that call I was staring at this 522-foot hospital ship with 350 volunteer crew who had come to offer their medical expertise in service to the poor for free.
[00:13:36] Scott: And I remember having this moment where I felt like I could probably, I just needed to quit everything in one go. I remember getting hammered before I got on the ship. I probably drank eight beers, smoked three packs of cigarettes the night before and then just quit. I never smoked again. I never gambled again. I never looked at porn again. I never set foot at a strip club, never tried touch coke or any of that stuff. I really just shed the vices in one go and walked up the gangway.
[00:14:05] Brad: So, literally, as soon as your feet touched that boat since that day, all of that…
[00:14:10] Scott: Yeah. I drink a little wine and beer now but that’s a vice in my gut maybe but that’s it.
[00:14:16] Brad: I mean, there’s a lot of listeners, I mean, a lot of financial advisors, it’s a tough life and can be a very demanding job which tends to lead to vices. What went through your head? How were you able to do that is a better question?
[00:14:29] Scott: I’m just an all-in kind of person. I mean, it’s easier for me to quit something altogether then to do less of it or maybe to apply moderation. When it comes to drugs, gambling, sex, pornography, I think an extreme no is a lot better than moderation. So, I guess I felt like I was – I mean, it was something almost symbolic or prophetic about walking up the gangway of a ship and sailing away to a new life, sailing away on a humanitarian mission and I didn’t want to bring any of my crap with me. I didn’t want to bring the vices. I was getting a new lease on life. I didn’t want to be held back by that. It was hard. I mean, imagine smoking two to three packs of reds a day for ten years. I mean I might have chewed a lot of Nicorette on that ship for the first few weeks.
[00:15:19] Brad: Got rid of a cigarette habit, picked up a new Nicorette habit.
[00:15:22] Scott: Lasted a few weeks and then we just couldn’t get it anymore so that was it.
[00:15:26] Brad: So, let’s continue the story where that ship took you and what that led to.
[00:15:31] Scott: Yeah. So, my role in the ship was to be their – I was a photojournalist. Now I’ve gotten a degree at NYU, through the club days that I’ve never used, in Communications. I like telling stories. I was a pretty good photographer and I was a pretty good writer. When I was young, I was one of the youngest. I was the youngest writer for the county paper and at 16 had front page stories and just I loved storytelling, loved writing, loved taking pictures. So, I signed up to do that, again, to pay $500 a month to do that in Liberia and I just couldn’t believe. So, I’ve never seen extreme poverty before and when our ship docked at the port, effectively there were 5,000 sick people who came to see our doctors and this was a problem because we could only serve 1,500 people so there were 42 beds in the hospital, three operating theaters and over a whole run of the mission. We could see about 1,500 patients.
So, my third day on the mission I’m standing outside the stadium at 5 in the morning. The government has given us their football arena, their soccer arena to screen the patients and see who we can help and who we can’t. And I just remember the terror, the sadness and turning away 3,000 people. We shut the doors. People were banging. They were sobbing. They were wailing. So, many of these people have walked for more than a month with their children with the hopes of seeing a doctor and there were just too many of them. We couldn’t help. I just never experienced anything like that before. Inside my job was to document all of those 1,500 people up close and we were maxillofacial surgeons so the stuff that we saw it’s almost impossible to describe the sickness and suffering. People with faces missing, missing ears, missing noses, volleyball-sized tumors from 14-year-old children, leprosy, people who had been hacked up by the rebels during the war with missing arms, missing feet, missing hands. Just extreme, extreme suffering.
[00:17:40] Scott: To give you just a sense of Liberia’s health care system at the time, it was one doctor for every 50,000 people in the country. Here I think we have a doctor for every 180 Americans. So, if you got sick, you’re just completely out of luck and thankfully we were there to help. So, as difficult as it was to turn away thousands of people, I began to focus on the people we were helping and the blind people whose cataracts we were removing. I remember being there early on as this woman, 25-year-old woman named Marguerite. She’s gone blind I think in her teens so she’d actually had sight and then exposure to the equatorial sun had given her two cataracts so she couldn’t see anything through. And I remember being there for her surgery and I felt like I could do it. I mean it took 20 minutes. Just do a little slit, the tweezers, pull out the bad lens, in goes the new lens. And I was there the next day and she’s got these two giant patches and she’s being led around. Her sister was there.
And I was there actually photographing the moment that they took the patch away from her eyes and she could see the first time in a decade. She started screaming. She tackled the nurse hugging her. She tackled me. She grabbed her sister and was hugging her and dancing. I think the surgery cost a couple hundred dollars. And just watching this woman. She had a daughter. I mean, she would be able to see her daughter for the first time ever. That was what life was like every day. So, just kind of imagine that there are 1,500 stories that have those happy endings and people who have been written off for dead, people who might have seen a local witch doctor even and cut and had paste rubbed on their tumor and they needed a surgery and these amazing surgeons would just cut out the tumor, throw it away in a bin and then stitch them back up.
[00:19:35] Scott: So, it was a really extraordinary experience. The cool thing was that I went with a built-in audience. So, I had 15,000 people on my nightclub list that were getting these stories so imagine on a Monday of the week you’re getting invited to the product party at a flagship store by me and then a few weeks later you’re getting pictures of leprosy and tumors and people that are blind. And I mean, people in some ways didn’t know what to think. There were a lot of unsubscribes for sure. This wasn’t what people had signed up for but other people began to give money and began to inquire about how they could volunteer, how they could help serve and it was really amazing to kind of almost in an instant redeemed the guest list that I accumulated for ten years, the people that I had gotten wasted and reveled in getting wasted for a decade. Now I could tell them a completely different human redemptive hopeful story about the work of these doctors and invite them to be part of it.
[00:20:34] Brad: Was there anything that surprised you about the response from that list? Because like you said that was two completely different worlds, same list, two completely different worlds. Was there a surprising response that you remember?
[00:20:46] Scott: Yes. Some of the most jaded people were really deeply moved by these stories. I think there was a greater level of empathy and compassion than one might expect from someone who goes to a nightclub and spends $10,000 on booze. So, that year ended and the ship actually would sail around the coast of South Africa to dry dock for a few months and it was a 57-year-old ship so it was really old and they would do preemptive maintenance on it. During that time, I thought that would be a bad use of my time kind of going to the ship and being on vacation in South Africa. So, I went back to New York City with my photos, put together an exhibition in the Chelsea Art District and then invited all my friends from nightlife to come and look at these life-size photos and TV walls and morphs I did. It was a multimedia exhibition. And then at the end of this whole experience as I went through that it was designed as a hospital, as I went through this hospital at the end, I asked them to sponsor a surgery and that exhibition in the event, the closing event, will end up raising $96,000 for the work of Mercy Ships.
So, I gave 100% of that money to the org and then I went back for a second year to really document, to follow the money. So many of these people were not givers. They’ve made their first charitable gift. They were cynics. They were skeptics and I wanted to show them that hospital ship is not now turning into a yacht. I wasn’t going to be driving a Lexus with gold rims around, that more important work that they had made possible, more lives are going to be saved and improved and I wanted to document it. So, it was the better half of two years.
[00:22:22] Brad: What was the biggest thing you learned about happiness? Because it was, I mean, when you looked like you had it all together and you really didn’t on the inside and then now you’re just literally giving two years of your life away to help others, what was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself there?
[00:22:38] Scott: I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. It was just positional change. In serving myself, I was almost a slave to the sycophancy, the selfishness, the hedonism. And when the focus entirely shifted to serving others to improving their lives to ending their suffering, there was such a freedom in that and it was a great place to be because I’m surrounded by these doctors who could be in the Maldives, the British Virgin Islands with their families because they made enough money and instead they’re paying their own way to go to West Africa to operate six days a week on the poor. So, it was just an amazing experience and I was able, I think, because I quit everything. I didn’t feel like I was carrying any baggage. I just ran joyfully into this incredible experience and what a blast to be able to serve people in this way and to see their lives being changed and see people getting their sights, see people walking, see kids lives saved that parents had thought were dying.
[00:23:39] Brad: Let’s dig in just a little bit and then I want to get into the birth of charity: water and how that came to be but our listeners are financial advisors and what’s interesting is their job if you really distil it down is they’re responsible for taking someone’s nest egg, their net worth that they worked their entire life for and helping retirees turn that into happiness, whatever that is for them. If you were responsible for doing that for someone which you are in a different way, what are some things that you think are the key to helping people realize what that could be for them or how to turn that money into happiness?
[00:24:16] Scott: Oh man, I mean, I think very simply it’s giving money away. I mean, giving money away is one of the most joyful acts that you can participate in. You get to live vicariously through all of the causes that you are supporting and you get to learn about the people who are laying their lives on the line. You get to learn about the people whose lives are being saved through this work were improved. I think it’s frustrating to me sometimes. I mean, now on charity: water, gosh, I’ve been to 66 countries and I’ve been to Ethiopia 29 times in the last decade and seeing how little money it takes to radically end suffering and seeing how much money is just latent in bank accounts, so much more money than people need, so much more than their families or their kids and grandkids ever need. But the numbers keep moving. Someone will hit their number and then they have to raise the number and then they hit that number after another 10 years and then they got to raise the number again. And you have people, there’s all this kind of inert capital that could be repairing the world. It could be literally transforming humanity every day and just sits there.
So, I think maybe it’s, I mean, from a financial standpoint my wife and I just lived very differently. We’re worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars and we’ve given three times that away since we’ve been married. So, I kind of keep 25% and gives 75% and that’s the ratio of how we want to live. So, I was in Uganda a few weeks ago and I got a call from the office and a 90-year-old man living in a retirement home had seen the video on our website and then called the office and decided that he wanted to donate $500,000 and he asked us – his initial plan was just to leave it to us in his will and when he called up and said, “Would you guys want it now or do you want it later?” of course, one of the 20-year-olds in our office said, “We’d like to put that to work right now.”
[00:26:14] Scott: So, I got back in Uganda and I FaceTime’d with him and I said, “Why don’t you come to New York? I’ll take you to lunch and you should have some fun with this gift. You are going to die and not see any of it so you should come to the office and you should meet the 80 smart people who are going to administer and steward that gift and get to know them and get to know the organization.” It was great. He came. We spent a few hours together and he’s been doing this now to a bunch of other organizations. He’d invested very well and bought a penny stock like 40 years ago that turned into a $130 billion company.
[00:26:42] Brad: Wow.
[00:26:43] Scott: He did so well that Charles Schwab invited him out to dinner. So, he’s just been giving out of his account. He lived modestly his entire life. He had a tiny apartment in New York City, 400 square feet, lives in a very small retirement community and instead of kind of hoarding his money, he’s just joyfully giving it all away and getting exposed to so much good work going on in the world. So, I think financial advisors can help unlock that joy and I think the more you give, the more you get. I mean, we’ve seen people almost get addicted to giving, to saying yes and of course you have to be good stewards of that and need to do due diligence on the organizations and there are checks and balances and all that but helping people find the joy of giving and I think that needs to be authentic. So, the advisor probably needs to have some personal experience with giving their money and seeing their money make an impact with radical generosity if they’re going to share that with any sort of authenticity.
[00:27:39] Brad: Well, let’s get into charity: water and how you guys have done it differently. My buddy John Ruhlin who was nice enough to connect us, he’s the connector of connectors out there so that’s my shout out to John but…
[00:27:49] Scott: And one of the nicest guys, huh?
[00:27:51] Brad: Yes, he is. So, he likes to call you guys the Apple of charities and Apple, the tech company, which is cool and what’s interesting, the more I learn about your story the old Apple campaign, Think Different, you guys come out very differently about charity and one of those was 100% of all giving actually goes to the charitable cause. It’s not a certain – I know a lot of charities it’s like pennies on the dollar actually make it to the cause. So, let’s back up a step. Let’s go to the actual issue that most people don’t even understand that water is an issue because we just drink it right out of the faucet and don’t even think much about it. So, let’s start there but then as you uncover this problem, let’s go into how you thought differently about actually building a charity that would solve that problem.
[00:28:38] Scott: Sure. Well, I discovered water on Mercy Ships and it was super fortunate for me. This was a huge 522-foot hospital ship. Doctors they’ve been at this for 25 years but there was a little bit of money that they always allocated for a volunteer to go out and dig some wells and just have a few communities get clean water. So, as my job as photojournalist I had to document everything happening on the mission and I would jump in this Land Rover and I would drive in the rural villages. And when I got out there, I saw people were drinking from swamps like they were drinking nasty green, turbid, infested water that I wouldn’t let my dog drink. If I saw my dog getting near this water I would yank his chain back so fast and I’m watching children drink this water. So, I have this huge aha moment, holy crap, no wonder thousands of people are turning up sick to see our doctors. This is the condition of water in the villages and more than half of Liberians were drinking from swamps, ponds and rivers. So, half the country didn’t have its most basic need for health met.
So, this is happening, I’m watching this guy out in the village and I’m seeing the conditions. I’m scrubbed up documenting these expensive surgeries and I’m telling the surgeon’s what I’m seeing and they’re all encouraging like, “Yeah. We know. Water makes people sick. We would have a lot less work to do if people had clean water to drink.” So, I really stumbled on the issue through health and at the time there were a billion people worldwide without access to clean water. So, I just couldn’t believe this. None of my friends were talking about the water crisis. The largest water organization in America was raising $12 million a year to serve a billion people. So, there was no sense of scale, no energy, no awareness at large about this incredibly important issue. Some of the statistics, 52% of all disease throughout the developing world throughout the Third World, some people would say, is caused by bad water and lack of toilets.
[00:30:37] Scott: So, half the sick people around the world today do not need to be sick if they just had clean water and a toilet. So, a thousand kids will die today of bad water. I mean, it takes an incredible toll on people. So, that’s kind of the state of the issue. A lot of progress have made over ten years. That number has now gone to 663 million. So, we went through about a seventh of the planet to a tenth of the planet but it’s twice the population in America. So, you think about just the sheer number of people today that will drink water that could kill them today that could kill their children of diarrhea, of bilharzia, of cholera and it could blind them with trachoma. It’s a really shocking epidemic and it takes such a human toll on people’s lives that they don’t have clean water. So, we have said for years water changes everything. It means health, it means education, it means money to local economy and so many of the places where we work around the world women are walking eight hours a day to get dirty water and now we’re going to get clean water.
So, imagine hauling 40 pounds with a clay pot on your back of water that you got from the river and when you went to get water from the river you are afraid of being attacked by crocodiles because the woman that was your best friend was just snatched three weeks earlier and was never seen again as you saw a crocodile drag her into the river as she was getting her water. And her younger sister a couple of years ago got raped in the bush on that long walk for water. So, you’re a woman, you’re tasked with getting the water and you take this kind of perilous journey every single day to then get disgusting water that you bring home to give to your kids knowing it could kill them. These are the circumstances you’ve been born into and you’re making less than a dollar a day. You’re living off of the maze that you’re growing or the soybeans that you’re growing.
[00:32:35] Scott: And the terrible irony in so many of these communities is that they are living on top, a couple hundred feet above the clean water that could save their lives and improve their lives and it’s one of the most extraordinary things to go and to bring a million-dollar drilling rig, to bring hydrologists and compressors and trucks and basically stick a straw in the ground, hit a massive aquifer of clean water a couple of hundred feet down so 20 storey, 25 storey building down and three days later, we see a community drink from clean water for the first time. So, that’s what we’ve been up to for the last ten years and I’ll talk about the business model but I don’t believe there’s a better issue in the world. If you want to improve people’s lives, if you want to end suffering, giving humans access to clean water to drink with, to bathe, to wash with is just some of the most powerful things that you can do. It’s one of the most incredible gifts that you can give and I believe that way more today with a lot more sky miles than I did when I started.
So, that was the issue that I was going to tackle with a very simple mission. So, the mission would be see a day on earth when everybody has clean water to drink and continue fighting to make sure that kids aren’t dying because they have to drink from a swamp and women aren’t getting raped because they had to walk eight hours through the bush or through the jungle. So, that would be the mission and take a solution agnostic approach. Sometimes wells are right. We work in India where we have to build rainwater harvesting systems. We work in Nepal where we can’t throw wells and we build these huge gravity-fed spring protection systems and networks of pipes and well lots of different things work in a lot of different contexts. I think we have employed 13 solutions across the portfolio but we know how to bring clean water to every single person on earth. So, that’s the amazing thing about this issue. There are issues that we are working on where we are looking for cures for diseases. They may exist in test tubes. They may be five years of research on or ten years.
[00:34:32] Scott: No one is scratching their head right now wondering how to get a single person on earth to clean water. We just know how to do it. The solutions are there. There’s not the will to serve this bottom 663 million people, 80% of them living rurally. We’re not selling them our products yet so we’re not incentivized to go and improve their lives but it’s not a mystery. We actually know how to do it. So, that’s the issue. When I started, I had the – so we’ll rewind now so I partied for ten years. I’d spent two years, 28 to 30, on the ship. I come back to New York City at 30. I’m completely broke because I’ve given all of my money to Mercy Ships and the people that I’ve met along the way to try to support them post-surgery in many cases. And my old club partner takes me in and says I could sleep on his closet floor and it was a walk-in closet of his solo loft in New York City. And I was running around telling everybody I wanted to end the water crisis. I wanted to see a day on earth where nobody drinks dirty water simply because of where they’re born.
And as I started talking to my friends, I realized this was not going to be easy because there was a huge disenchantment, a huge skepticism when it came to charity and I would hear expressions like, “Charities are black holes. I don’t know where my money goes. I don’t know how much of my money will actually reach the people that I’m trying to help.” And I came across some surveys. I remember flipping through USA Today, one of those polls. It said 42% of Americans don’t trust charities, 42%. 70% of Americans think charities waste money. So, I realize if I was going to make a dent in the water crisis I would need to approach the market completely differently than the traditional charities had if I was going to involve people my age and younger. My friends were not giving to the Salvation Army. They would never give a dollar to the United Way. They didn’t know what the [inaudible] did. Charities had bought their physical mailing addresses and sent them paper asking them to put checks in self-addressed stamped envelopes. This was not the future.
[00:36:35] Scott: This was not how people were going to be responding. And so, I just had a couple of bold ideas. I mean, we really looked at how do traditional charities operate and then said, what would the opposite of that be? If a charity operated with opacity, what would hyper-transparency look like? If a charity couldn’t tell you where your money went, what would it look like to use 100% of the money and track every dollar? So, we just built a business model from scratch that was very different and was almost crowdsourced through conversations with skeptics and really three main pillars. The first one was to take the objection people have around money completely off the table so you could never use that objection with us, “How much my money will go?” 100%. We would find a way to use 100% of every donation we ever took from the public to only directly build water projects and serve people with clean drinking water for the first time. We would even figure out a way to pay back credit card fees.
So, if you went online and dropped $1,000 in your AMEX, I wish I got $1,000. I’ve asked AMEX. I don’t. I get $970. We wanted to send $1,000. The money we didn’t even get so it would be this pure unadulterated model and then I literally opened up two bank accounts. I put $100 in that bank account to kind of seed it which the public funding would go and then the second bank account so that’s where the overhead money is going to go. And I am somehow going to go and figure out how to convince people that it’s really cool to support our staff and our office one day, our flights as we do all these projects, health insurance maybe one day and dental and a copier and a toner and the overhead would be completely separate. And that would be an incredible challenge starting two businesses with $100 each and then having to run them in perfect balance. Because if we raised too much money for the water projects, we go broke and missed payroll. If we raised too much money on the overhead side, we wouldn’t look efficient. So, that would be the dance of the 100% model.
[00:38:35] Scott: The second thing was because money would not be fungible in our organization, we could use technology to track these dollars with integrity. So, if you gave me $61, I could say, “Here’s where the $61 landed. I could just track it because I didn’t step on it.” So, proof was really the second pillar and we were fortunate to start charity: water the same year as Google Earth. And I met the Google Earth founder and realize that this guy had just built a platform where we could put every water point where there was a well or a rainwater system or a spring or a biosand filter. We can geo-locate it and make all of this data transparent to the public. So, you, Brad, can go with a $50 inheld GPS device to Best Buy, buy this thing and then pull a data set off of our website and go visit every project across 24 countries.
There would be no hiding and people said at the time, “Well, what if donors went on their own and found their projects were broken?” We’re like, “Well, we’d want to freaking know they’re broken so we could go and fix them. You know, why do you think we’re doing this?” We’re not in the business to raise money like we can – believe me, running a nonprofit there are many, many better ways to earn a living. Most of the people here have taken massive pay cuts. Some of them have left. Tech companies have taken 50% of their pay, given up stock options, given up equity to use their gifts in the service of others. So, we want our work to have lasting sustainable impact. So, we’re just always looking for ways to prove where the money went, connect owners using technology to the impact that their gifts had. And to really love our donors, not look at donors as a means to an end. We were doing a service to them. If we could restore their faith in charity, if we could create a virtuous cycle, a loop where they knew that their money had reached the intended purpose and had improved lives, maybe they would give more generously to other things.
[00:40:31] Scott: Third thing was to build a beautiful brand as you said. As I looked at the sector, I didn’t see any Apple of charity. I didn’t see any Nike. I didn’t see any Tesla or Virgin. Charities used shame and guilt to peddle their wares. Everybody I’m sure remembers those old commercials on TV, the kids with flies in slow-motion locking eyes with the camera and then the 800 number comes up and it works. People feel shameful. They feel guilty. We have too much. They pull out their credit card. They call the number but nobody wants to tell anyone else about that charity. Nobody wants to spread the word. Nobody wants to wear the T-shirt of the charity that uses guilt and shame to coerce them into giving. So, I thought Apple and Nike were just two very different brands. Nike could market and say, “Brad, you’re so fat and lazy. Turn off the TV. Stop eating the Cheetos and go for a run.” But they don’t. For years they have marketed saying there’s greatness within you. There is potential that is unlocked. If you don’t have arms, you can win the shotput tournament. You don’t have legs, you can run a marathon. You can cross the finish line and people respond to that and that’s why people want to wear a Nike shirt because of what it says. They just happen to sell shoes and sweatpants and hats across all these different categories.
So, I wanted to build a charity that said great compassion and generosity and empathy is within you. You have the power to improve others’ lives. You have the power to end needless suffering with your time, with your talent, with your money and it should be really fun so come join us because we’re doing that every day and it’s a blast. And invite people into that. And care about the way things look and care about the design and the branding. And my first hire was someone to help with water programs and my second hire was a creative director to design and build a beautiful brand and I married her two years later. I literally was married to the brand for a decade and cared so much and had a thought partner there.
[00:42:37] Scott: So, give away 100%, prove where the money goes, build a beautiful inspirational brand that uses very different messaging than charities typically had. And then the most important thing probably was working through local partners. I didn’t want to send white people to Africa or to India or to Southeast Asia. I wanted to take the role of raising awareness and money getting people to care about this issue but then helping to train grow the local organizations so they could lead their communities forward in a sustainable way. So, Rwandan hydrologists. Ethiopians in Ethiopia. And today that looks like 1,500 locals that we support through a partner network around 24 different countries. And you won’t see any people that look like me over there. You might see us with clipboards every once in a while, auditing and going and helping to ask questions about capacity and what training do they need, what skills, what tools do they need but the work really is led by locals. All that stuff was so different at the time 10 years ago that we just exploded and people have never seen anything like this. People just started throwing money at us.
[00:43:41] Brad: And so just over a decade later, how much total money have you raised?
[00:43:46] Scott: Over a quarter of a billion dollars now from over 1 million people so it’s been very grassroots, probably 1.2 maybe 1.3 million givers.
[00:43:55] Brad: How did you accomplish all that with $100 and two separate bank accounts?
[00:44:00] Scott: Well, it was really hard, Brad. A lot of work. A lot of flights. We, like any startup, we all worked 80, 90 hours weeks for the first couple of years and being married to the creative director kind of helped because we would leave the office at 1 in the morning and we’d go back at 10 or 11 the next day on weekends and just worked incredibly hard. The business model was really challenging. Out of the gate, we started raising millions for the water projects and a year and a half in, I almost bankrupted the thing so we almost ran out of money to pay our small staff at the time but yet we had all of this money, $881,000 specifically, that we couldn’t touch. So, the bank account for the water projects would’ve covered burn for nine months and I’m about to miss payroll because this bank account has almost nothing left and interestingly, the advice I was getting from the finance people at the time was, “Dude, go borrow from the $800,000 like write an IOU. Money is fungible. You’ll pay it back. You got the pay your people. They’ve left these jobs to come and serve and you have to take care of your people.”
And I remember just being so offended by that idea. If we touched one penny of the public’s money, our integrity would be compromised. There would be a crack at the foundation. We might as well all hang our heads and resign in shame and leave the country because we’ve made this bold promise that 100% would go. So, I was really looking at sending out all $881,000 building as many water projects as we could and then shutting down the organization. And I remember praying with very little faith at the time for some sort of miracle and wouldn’t you know it, a couple of weeks later a complete stranger walked into our office, sits down with me, spends two hours listening to me about the organization and the struggles and the vision and wires $1 million on the overhead account. And we go from dead to 13 months of capital.
[00:46:02] Scott: And we use that extra year to build what is now a pretty sophisticated multi-tier, multi-year program where 117 families support our $12 million overhead here in New York at different levels and it’s now some of the most incredible people have joined that giving circle, the founders of Facebook, the founders of Twitter, the founders of Spotify, senior execs at Apple which has been pretty cool, having Jony Ive and Angela Ahrendts as a part of that group helping to pay for our overhead.
So, we didn’t compromise. Could’ve ended very differently. If some guy didn’t walk in and give a million dollars, we wouldn’t be having this interview and I probably would’ve tried to reboot with a traditional business model where you just throw all the money onto one pile. You take care of yourself first and then what’s left goes to the poor and the programs. We’re really fortunate to be able to make it work and we’re still paying back credit cards this day which now cost hundreds and hundreds of thousand dollars a year. Sounds like a good idea 10 years ago but I just believe if we’re going to say 100%, it’s 100% and we really – if you’re a donor and you give $1,000, you don’t want me proving $972. You’re not thinking about the AMEX transaction fee even though that’s all we got. You want us proving $1,000 so we’ve been fortunate to find a way to do it.
[00:47:17] Brad: Is there anything thinking back to that make or break conversation that million-dollar conversation, is there anything that sticks out to you as like, “This is what I said and where he got it?”
[00:47:29] Scott: It’s funny. It was a tech entrepreneur, amazing guy named Michael Birch who had started a social network called Bebo that he went up selling to AOL and I’ve been to nine countries with their family now. I was in Uganda within a few weeks ago and he was going to give the money before he met me. So, really it was mine to lose. It was about the brand. It was about the business model. They had spent a lot of time on our website. We had really cared. Even a year and a half in we had a robust website and he had just never seen anything that looked like that. This is not a guy that have given to charity. This was one of those cynical people.
So, yeah, he was coming. It was funny because he wanted to write a million-dollar check and his wife said, “We can’t write a million-dollar check like what if he loses it or, you know, imagine him taking that to the banks,” so they had to figure out how to wire $1 million and it took them a day or two after that meeting. So, I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just thought I was telling the story for the 700th time that year and we were very fortunate and they’ve now given over $15 million to the organization, have gone really deep with us. I’ve been able to take their kids around the world and watch them kind of grow up with charity: water. It’s been amazing.
[00:48:41] Brad: Well, it’s interesting because principle number three, the storytelling is what actually sustained you guys when you really dig into that story, right? So, let’s go there because my buddy John sent me. It was about a 20-minute video where you guys rolled out The Spring and we can dig into what The Spring is here in a second but we help financial advisors tell their story for a living. So, it’s not something that I’m unfamiliar with the crafting of a personal story and how impactful that can be for a business. But, man, you guys take storytelling to a whole other level. I mean literally, I was tearing up from a video from some random guy named Scott that I’ve never met before that runs a charity I really didn’t know much about. So, can you dig in what’s the secret to how you craft a story that’s so impactful because you guys have a serious gift for it?
[00:49:32] Scott: So, I would say that that is one of the unique things that we’re good at. People are always kind of asking, “Well, what’s the secret sauce? Is it branding? Is it the 100% model?” I think we could have a bad looking website and even lose the 100% model but still be pretty successful because of the storytelling. I think when it comes to major giving, people give to people and I’m sure that’s true in your world. A lot of your financial advisors are probably not winning business necessarily on the merits of their business but really on the merits of the relationship or their values that they’ve shared with the client. So, and it’s interesting thinking about these 117 wealthy families, very accomplished people, CEOs of huge companies and Internet entrepreneurs. I would say less than 20 came to us because of the issue of water. They weren’t looking for the biggest water charity to support. They came to us because of the way that we were doing it, the values of the organization. The story, the people that they met, personified values of innovation, disruption of integrity and generosity and respect of honor like all those kind of the soft stuff is I think why these people have chosen to support the overhead, to support the behind the scenes.
So, I would say when it comes to telling a personal story I’ve just been so open about my drug use, my porn addiction – I mean, I’ve just been so open about that that I think in a way there’s power in truth, in this power in transformation. It’s not who I’ve been for 12 years. I’m married. I’ve got kids. I walked away from that life many, many years ago and I think just being open and vulnerable about my past has really helped. And there’s a bit of, I don’t know, I mean I hear all the time that people will come across our story and sometimes they’ll leave their job or they’ll start a nonprofit or they’ll take a leap of faith or that thing that, I mean, if a nightclub promoter can raise a quarter of $1 billion and give 7 million people clean water, come on, what can a person with a credible job or a degree do?
[00:51:42] Scott: So, I think the organization tells stories – We see stories everywhere. We see stories in really counterintuitive places. I would give you one example. So, I like to tell stories that speak to values and I’m very intentional about what values we are trying to convey when we tell a story. I’ll give an example. We crowd sourced a million-dollar drilling rig five years ago. We have a huge program in Ethiopia, 600 locals are working on charity: water’s work. They’re now in a state called [inaudible] right in the north and we just needed more drilling rigs to go faster. So, I wondered if we could crowdsource it. So, I put up a million-dollar drilling rig on the Internet. I flew to the factory. I told the story of the craftsmen, the family business that was making these drilling rigs for 100 years so people knew they were just a small Italian family that love to make drilling rigs and they’ve given us a great deal on it.
Long story short, 10,000 people came together in this campaign. They raised $1.1 million and now we had another rig. We painted it yellow. We threw the logo on it. We put a bunch of names of the people that had given on the rig. We put a GPS tracker to the rig and we gave it a Twitter account. So, you could follow our rig. You still can in real time as it drives around Ethiopia drilling 90 wells every single year, helping 90 communities get clean water. So, that story happened. I felt great. We closed the loop. We did it in a different way than just showing your family a photo and GPS of a well that you built. But I learned five years later that our rig has crashed and apparently it is just belly up, wheels in the air on some dirt road in Ethiopia. And I think our local partners were a little sheepish to shout this from the mountaintop. I don’t remember. I heard it from the staff member here.
[00:53:29] Brad: They weren’t tweeting that out is what you’re saying?
[00:53:31] Scott: They weren’t tweeting that we crashed the rig, right? This is interesting. So, I think it was going to take about a month to get it back up and running again. My reaction is to try to dispatch a film crew immediately to get me that high res image and make a video of my crashed rig so that I can send it to the 10,000 people that paid for it with an email subject that said, “Your rig crashed,” because it’s true. And that story speaks to the values of our local partners who are not drilling wells by the highway, by the paved roads but are trying to serve the most forgotten remote communities and sometimes probably shouldn’t have been on that road. The road wasn’t wide enough but their desire to serve that community led to an accident and by the way we’ve all had accidents. We’ve all had car crashes. We’ve all hit somebody in a parking lot and it’s true and it’s raw and it’s real. So, unfortunately, by the time I found out that we tried to send them there, they already had the rig repaired and back drilling again. But that’s not how most people would think. They would think that is a story to be suppressed, not a story to be celebrated. And we have tons of examples over the last 10 years where we’ll share a story of failure because it speaks to the tenacity of a local partner. It speaks to the complexity of the work. It shows how hard it really is and we’ve seen those stories resonate with people.
[00:54:59] Brad: Very cool. Well, I have to get to this story and I very well may cry on this but that’s cool. We’ll put it out to the world speaking of being vulnerable. So, the story of Rachel. I’m a Dad, you’re a dad. I’ve got a seven-year-old, a five-year-old and a one-year-old and it speaks to, I mean, we’re talking about the story of charity: water and how powerful that was. It’s so powerful you’ve created movements. You’ve creative movements where 50-year-olds are giving away their birthdays. Five, six, seven-year-olds are literally giving their birthday gifts and saying donate to charity: water instead. People are climbing mountains and raising money for charity: water and there was a little girl named Rachel that her story just crushed me but…
[00:55:46] Scott: Yeah. I’ll tell it. I mean, the birthday idea was something we stumbled upon, Brad, and we wanted an idea that was for everyone where people they didn’t necessarily just have to give money but they could also raise money and they could involve their friends and their family in something really good and redemptive and beautiful. And we thought what if we could kind of redeem the birthday? Birthdays have become pretty materialistic and really about us. I throw a party to celebrate myself. People send me gifts that I don’t need. I don’t need another tie or a wallet or a belt or women probably don’t need another handbag or a pair of shoes or we don’t need the $50 or $100 Amazon gift card when so many people are living without their basic needs. So, I thought what if we could just get people to donate their birthdays to charity: water? And I thought the sticky marketing story would be to ask for your age in dollars. So, I tried this with my 32nd birthday and I said surely everyone I know has $32 that they could donate to charity if 100% of the money went and they could see photo and GPS proof of the projects as they were built.
So, I wanted to raise $59,000 just as I emailed everyone I knew and it spread and friends of friends started giving. Then this idea just took off and 61-year-old donated their birthday, 89-year-olds donated their birthday and then this extraordinary little girl named Rachel donated her ninth birthday. She’s seen me speak in Seattle and at the end of my talk, I think there were a thousand people there. I said, “Hey, look, there’s one thing everybody in this audience could do, donate your next birthday and turn it into a giving moment that involves your friends and your family and your loved ones and your coworkers and your birthday can help people have more birthdays. They could live longer, more healthy prosperous lives with clean water because of you.” So, Rachel’s ninth was about to take place. She cancels her birthday party, tells her mom she doesn’t want any gifts and she tries to raise $300 which would help 10 people get access to clean water. Falls a little short, she raises $220.
[00:57:47] Scott: And her mom says she was bummed. She actually thought like she’d let people down and would try harder next year for her tenth birthday. So, when her campaign happened I was in Central African Republic at the time and right after her birthday I land and I turn on my phone and I get a text from her local pastor saying, “Hey, this little girl in my church named Rachel. She did this campaign for charity: water and she’s just been killed in a car crash and there was a 20-car pileup. The tractor trailer had lost control. She was the only fatality.” And he said, “Her last wish was to help kids get clean water through your charity and I’d like to honor her last wish. So, we’re going to reopen her campaign,” have asked us to reopen the campaign and he said, “I’m going to try and get everybody in my church to donate $9 in her honor.”
So, I remember walking up the stairs with a 72-stair walk up at the time in New York City and sitting down on a couch, telling my wife the story, pulling up the page and donating that $80 with tears in my eyes kind of watching her hit her goal in that moment. And then I started to see the $9 come in and Rachel’s story spread from her little church in Seattle throughout the community, started spreading around America to the morning shows, to the New York Times, started spreading to Europe. People in Africa started donating to this 9-year-old girl who had cared about them and had died tragically before realizing her goal. And it was just so moving. Over 30,000 people heard about Rachel’s story and contributed and she wound up raising $1.3 million. So, from $220 that she saw alive to $1.2 million inspiring so many strangers.
[00:59:33] Scott: And I met her mom soon after in New York City in a green room of a morning show and I remember just blurting out. The minute I saw Samantha, I said, “You’ve got to spend the one-year anniversary of your daughter’s death with me in Ethiopia where the projects were going to be built. You have to see for yourself the lives that your daughter’s vision will change.” Mom starts crying. I start crying. She says I love to come. Can I bring Rachel’s grandparents? And that was such a moving experience, a year later, to take Rachel’s mom and grandparents village to village to village to meet thousands of kids that were helped, thousands of women and men through those projects. We end up giving at the time over 30,000 people clean water for the first time. And I just remember, oh, it was so moving. I mean women would come up to Rachel’s mom and they would throw themselves, prostate at her feet. They were weeping and they would say through a translator, “We know your pain. We’ve lost children too but your daughter’s death was not in vain. It’s given us life.”
And one of the cool things was this was years ago and just recently on a recent anniversary of Rachel’s death we looked at what happened to the people that gave to her campaign and we found out so many of them were inspired to take the birthday idea that they had gone to raise another $2 million. So, her impact is now over $3 million and counting. This little nine-year-old girl has helped 100,000 people get clean water for the first time in their life. There’s just so much in that story for us. The purity of heart, a nine-year-old is not yet cynical about the world. A nine-year-old says why are kids drinking dirty water and why would I want birthday gifts if I could help just a few of them? And it just resonated with so many people here at the organization and so many people around the world. We made a beautiful video that maybe we could put in the show notes of that day of what Rachel’s wealth look like and it’s hard to get through that video without crying. It’s a wonderful testament to Rachel’s legacy.
[01:01:44] Brad: That’s a powerful story. It’s amazing. I think all of a sudden in business I like to think that we all work hard, we’ve all been pretty successful. We work with a lot of very successful people and that story right there shows a nine-year-old has outachieved the vast majority of all of us right there with just the intent, right?
[01:02:05] Scott: Yeah. I mean, it’s humbling for us. I mean, there’s a lot of people here at my office that still have their own birthday so it’s a challenge. I think I’ve given up eight birthdays now. I’ve made my son give up his birthday and said, “Look, don’t send any baby gifts. Let’s just help people get clean water.” Trying to start a legacy for him and he ends up raising a bunch of money and hopefully, one day when he’s a little older I can take him to meet some of those people and much better than toys or blankets.
[01:02:39] Brad: So what, Scott, and we’ll wrap here in a second, I want to ask you some philosophical questions but what is it do you think about charity: water if we can just kind of wrap this kind of a story and the movement, what was it about charity: water that you think made it such an easy – I won’t say easy story because obviously, you’ve dedicated a lot of work and your heart and soul into this movement but what is it that makes this such a powerful movement and makes it an idea that people spread over and over and over?
[01:03:10] Scott: One thing that comes to mind is we’re very intentional not to make ourselves the hero so we really look at our role as the guide and maybe this is relevant for some of your advisors. There are so many organizations position themselves as the great hope. Look how great we are. We’re digging wells around the world, celebrate us. We haven’t done that for 10 years. We have celebrated our community. We have celebrated nine-year-old girls like Rachel. We have celebrated our local partners who might crash a rig from time to time to serve their own communities and lead their people and their countries forward. We celebrate our volunteers. I celebrate our staff. We celebrate donors, supporters, beneficiaries, partners. It’s really about everybody else except us. And I think that’s allowed people to really take ownership of the story whether it’s climbing a mountain, donating a birthday, writing a $10,000 check to give an entire community clean water.
I think there’s also just the purity of the business model and the way cash flows and I remember years ago we asked KPMG to come in and actually audit our 100% model and they’ve never been asked to do this before. We wanted to just make sure that everybody knew this was really true so they come in and they test every single donation that we use for overhead and find the paper documentation from these families saying, “You can only use this money for overhead.” So, I think the layers as people peel back the layers of the organization, we’ve only received the highest marks from every charity watchdog group in the history of the organization. It actually gets better as people go deeper and they meet the people here and they understand some of the sacrifices people have made to really use their gifts and their money in the service of others. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s any one thing but we just keep telling the story and we keep inviting everyday people, rich, poor into this community, ask them to make the story their own and just give them the tools to share it.
[01:05:07] Brad: Well, you’re obviously doing an incredible job and what I love is how your success to this point is astronomical and you have this moonshot vision of everyone in the world needs clean water. We’re not even getting started yet. So, I just want to…
[01:05:23] Scott: charity: water is 1% of the problem solved so we need a lot more resources. We need to go a lot faster. I’d love to see this done before I die and I really think we can.
[01:05:34] Brad: All right, Scott. If you’re up for it, we’ll wrap up a few questions. This has been an incredible conversation.
[01:05:40] Scott: Let’s do it.
[01:05:40] Brad: All right. So, I have to ask you this one. With your story and the different twists and turns that it’s taken along the way, if you could go back and at what age would you say was the height of your nightclub promotion days? How old were you?
[01:05:56] Scott: Probably 25.
[01:05:58] Brad: Twenty-five. And you’re how old now?
[01:06:00] Scott: Forty-one.
[01:06:01] Brad: Forty-one. So, if 41-year-old Scott could go back and just pull 25-year-old Scott aside and say, “Hey, buddy. Let’s have a chat,” what would that conversation sound like right now?
[01:06:13] Scott: I think I would just beat the crap out of him. Leave him bloody on the side of the road and say, “Go get a real job, bro.” I think it would be something along the lines of just, “You’re wasting your talents.” I mean, in a way that parable of the talents, it was worse than burying it. I mean, I was polluting people for a living and I probably would’ve tried to talk about legacy or values or, “Bro, do you want to be known for getting a million people drunk? Do you want to be known for wrecking marriages because you gave 45-year-old bankers access to 20-year-old girls? Is that what you want your life to stand for? Is that how you want to take your gifts?” I don’t know that I would’ve listened at that point. I think we all have to go through our own journey. I’m glad I got out at 28. I used to travel years ago and have more regrets about the decade or what if I started this organization at 20 or 22 and what if I skipped that whole phase?
I do think it would be a different organization. I learned things then that I’ve been able to redeem and use for good. Some of the relationships, some of the storytelling just being a little older and wiser there’s no allure in that. I mean, I have such an extreme life even today. I’ll go from a five-dollar night hotel in rural Ethiopia to a $45 million home in Pacific Heights in San Francisco in 24 hours and I’ve been able to do that without judging a family who might live in a $40 million home. I’m just encouraging them to be generous and watching them find the joy of giving but I don’t know, I think in a way having done it all, that’s not alluring. I’m not driven by money and there’s no allure in drugs or girls or any of the stuff that I used to chase anymore. The values have really shifted for me.
[01:08:12] Brad: So much in that answer. I’ve got a friend that I’ve been in some Mastermind groups with, Darren Hardy, that wrote a book called The Compound Effect. And you embody the compound effect.
[01:08:23] Scott: Okay.
[01:08:24] Brad: And that’s a good thing. The compound effect is incremental little things done over time so compound interest, right? They add up over time and just your answer there when you started out in life as a younger guy you have the compound effect going. It was just in the wrong direction not only for you but everybody that hung out with you. You’re compounding bad decisions and ending marriages and everything else that comes along with that world and you flipped. You turned the 180 and now that compound effect, Rachel’s story, that’s a compound effect in motion. And you are taking that and just compounding it for good. So, it’s so cool to hear that answer from my side. All right. Let’s go to this one. When you hear the word successful, who’s the first person you think of and why?
[01:09:11] Scott: Dr. Gary Parker. He was the chief medical officer on that ship. He was a very accomplished surgeon in Orange County, California and he signed up for three months and he’s still there 20 years later. He’s never went back and I’ve never met anyone like that before and he was really a mentor of mine. He has, I can’t even tell you how many people he would’ve given sight to over almost three decades, how many lives saved, how many people are walking because of him, how many people have range of motion back as he’s released their burns and contractures. That’s what success would be. He lives in about I think 300 square feet with his kids in a cabin on the ship.
[01:10:00] Brad: I remember a piece of his story. He brought his whole entire family with him to live on the ship, right?
[01:10:04] Scott: Yep. They grew up going to school on the ship and sailing around Africa and being exposed to it. I’m hoping to hire his daughter to intern one day.
[01:10:13] Brad: Very cool.
[01:10:14] Scott: She just went off to college.
[01:10:15] Brad: That’s cool to see that story come full circle for you.
[01:10:18] Scott: Yeah.
[01:10:18] Brad: It has to be rewarding I would think.
[01:10:20] Scott: Yeah. Amazing guy.
[01:10:22] Brad: All right. Two questions. You good for two more?
[01:10:24] Scott: Yep.
[01:10:25] Brad: What’s the favorite book you’ve ever read and how has it impacted your life?
[01:10:30] Scott: I probably have to go with the Bible here. It was rediscovering the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the way that he lived his life was really important for me. I remember kind of discovering the message translation which just made a lot more today, a lot more now and I’ve read that a bunch over the years but that’s probably the thing that would be the moral compass. The organization is not a faith-based organization. I never wanted to start something with any strings. I would’ve built a very big tent and it’s been super exciting watching Muslims and Jews and atheists and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness and Hindus really one of the most diverse groups of supporters but for me it’s really been birth out of an experience that I had of Christian faith to Christian values that I just try to live out personally every day and invite everybody else along for the ride when it comes to the organization.
My favorite verse is the book in James. There’s a verse in the book of James that was really transformative and it said, “True religion is this, to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep from being polluted by the world.” So, I was in for two. I’ve done nothing for the poor and nothing for widows and orphans and I was the most polluted person that I knew. So, the simplicity of that life poured out in service to others and personal integrity and values and a pure unpolluted life and going back to that a lot.
[01:12:05] Brad: Okay. Last question. What is the one piece of advice you can share with our audience that’s led to your success?
[01:12:11] Scott: I think the more you give and however you give, the more joy you find, the more freedom you find, freeing yourself of maybe of a love of possessions or a love of money or a love of investments or numbers and ownership. It’s exhilarating and I’ve seen people go through that process and really find the joy in generosity, the joy in giving and I remember years ago my wife and I switched all of our personal giving which was limited because we were on two nonprofits salaries. Now we’re on one. We switched also to overhead. So, any organization we would give to we would say, “We want to pay for this stuff no one else wants to. Take that extra flight home to see your family, go pay for the phone bill, go fix the roof. We want the most awful overhead cost because we believe you and we want to support you.” So, I found even that was a lot of fun. I don’t want the orphan to write me every month. That’s easy. Give that to some cynic. I want to support you and your family in a meaningful way so that you don’t burn out and you could help doing this work.
So, my ambition really around money is to write a million-dollar check personally to a charity and I don’t know if that will ever be possible. Someone did it for me once and I’d love to return the favor. So, ambitions are not around the house in the Hamptons or driving a Tesla or fancy vacations. It’s really being able to give of our money and it’s great. I realize I’m giving time and I’ve raised a quarter of a billion dollars for the poor, all of that is great, but there’s something about giving your own money away that I wish I could do at a greater level. I have to give my wife a two-bedroom first because I got two kids in a one-bedroom at the moment in New York City.
[01:13:59] Brad: Yeah. For your sanity and for your marriage. That’s good. Well, Scott, I just want to say from my standpoint, thank you. It’s incredible. This podcast has taught me a lot but one of the biggest lessons it’s taught me is great people are surrounded by other great people and I’m overwhelmed by guys like John that continue to introduce me to guys like yourself that are out there doing big things, changing the world and some people say that metaphorically, you’re literally doing it. And the cool thing is you’ve helped save millions of lives and I’m inspired by this conversation because I just get this impression you feel like you’re just getting started and I just love to see the vision, the hunger, the passion behind that. So, I just want to say thank you for myself, for all our Blueprint listeners here and I just want to leave you with one ask, how can the listeners help? Where can we go to strengthen the cause?
[01:14:49] Scott: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for that. We love for people to get involved. They could just go to CharityWater.org. You can donate your birthday. Some people might have the ability to sponsor an entire community. My wife and I do at least one every year. There are a lot of things that cost $10,000 in the world and giving clean water for 300 people I’d argue is one of the best values for that and we’ve done many personally over the years as we’ve been able. And then the last thing is, you briefly touched on it, but we just launched a new giving community to start our 11th year called The Spring where we’re really asking people just to partner with us every month. It’s difficult starting at zero every January 1 that you really worked really hard and you tell a bunch of stories and make a lot of speeches. People are moved, they give.
But we’re really trying to build a community of people in the second decade who can give $30 a month to give one person clean water. Some people might be able to give $100 a month, give a few people clean water. And actually, get to know the organization month in, month out, get to see the impact of those dollars transforming lives. So, that’s called The Spring. And we just launched a new film that you were referring to. It’s just if you go to CharityWater.org/TheSpringFilm and you can see some of the images that I was referring to, see what Dr. Gary Parker looks like and Rachel’s story is in that as well. So, that’s just a great way to share our story with others. There’s not a marketing budget at the organization. It’s all word-of-mouth and we really rely on people just to learn more about us to get involved and then tell their friends.
[01:16:21] Brad: All right, Scott. Well, I appreciate the time and thanks for all your doing. It’s been an incredible conversation.
[01:16:26] Scott: Of course. Thanks for having me.
[01:16:28] Brad: All right. Scott, take care, bud.
[01:16:29] Scott: See you, Brad. See you.
[01:16:29] Brad: Bye.
[01:16:33] Brad: Thanks for giving this week’s show a listen, guys. Here’s a review from Josh Coombs. He says, “Elite Advisor Blueprint is top-notch. Let’s face it, there are lots of financial podcasts out there but what differentiates Brad’s Elite Advisor Blueprint is not only his innovation but the caliber of guests that he interviews is second to none.” Thanks, Josh. I mean, that’s an incredible compliment, man, so I appreciate that. From Donald Miller to John Ruhlin, “You won’t run across any better thought leaders with the expertise necessary to take your financial firm to elite status.” Yeah. So, man, super kind words, Josh. I appreciate it. It’s really my goal. I do my very best to keep an incredibly high-caliber of guests for the show so that type of review, those types of comments I absolutely love hearing that feedback and so that means the world. We’re going to try to keep it going, man.
For those out there who haven’t given a review yet, I’d love if you take a quick second to do so at BradleyJohnson.com/iTunes. We’ve made it as easy as possible for you and by the way if you’ve got ideas for future guests we need to have on the show, make sure to include them there as well as we read all the comments and, yeah, I’d love to get some good ideas for future guests there. Thanks for listening to this week, again, with Scott, an amazing conversation and, yeah, until next time we’ll catch on the next show. Take care.
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