Episode 16 Scott Harrison, Charity Water

Scott Harrison, Charity Water
22nd, 2020
Keyhole - Digital Marketing Agency - Joe Dudeck
Joe Dudeck
President + Founder
Categories: Interviews, Podcast
22nd, 2020
Keyhole - Digital Marketing Agency - Joe Dudeck
Joe Dudeck
President + Founder
Categories: Interviews, Podcast
Metaphorically Speaking Ep16: Scott Harrison, Charity Water
"Being able to give a woman eight hours back in her day, give her water that’s clean, that’s not going to injure her children, it’s hard to put a price on that."
Scott Harrison

With the current pandemic situation, we’re presently unable to record and produce new podcast episodes. And so, while we wait for some normalcy to return, we decided to go back into our archive of entrepreneurial interviews and publish some content never before released in this format.

We start this month with Scott Harrison, CEO of charity: water, who I had the privilege of interviewing in 2015 via Skype. At the time, I was promoting a fundraising campaign via my photography business — Joetography — and was crazy enough to ask him for an interview. He was even crazier enough to accept the invitation.

Scott has an amazing story of personal transformation that ultimately led him to found his non-profit that seeks to bring clean water to the world. In our conversation, we don’t journey too deeply into his personal journey, but I encourage you to discover it for yourself in his book, Thirst, or via this video from HubSpot’s 2018 INBOUND Conference.

In these times when health and sanitation are on the forefront of American’s minds, we thought dusting off this timeless conversation would be the best conversation to share. We hope you’ll enjoy the discussion.


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Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.

Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.

Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.

Shannon: Thank you for joining us on this episode of Metaphorically Speaking. It is going to be a little bit of a unique one today. That’s because our world is just in a unique state. We can’t actually sit and meet with entrepreneurs to talk to them face to face, due to this COVID-19 pandemic or coronavirus situation that we’re all dealing with right now.

Joe: Yeah, the world is pretty much shut down right now. We’re all stuck indoors. Shannon’s calling in from St. Louis. I’m in Colorado Springs.

Shannon: Maintaining our six feet distance.

Joe: Yes, definitely six feet apart times 5,000 or whatever I is. I have no idea. But yeah, it’s been obviously an odd time, and things happened so quickly since our last interview. We met with True North Chiropractic. At that point, we could still sit in the same podcast studio, and sit two feet apart, and have a conversation.

Joe: Obviously, we’re all stuck indoors, but we thought there’s still got to be a way to continue to share some content. We’ve been doing these interviews with entrepreneurs for four or five years, and so we thought, let’s just go into the vault and pull out some of those conversations.

Joe: This one, this was from four and a half years ago, with Scott Harrison of Charity Water. They’re a group out of New York that helps build wells in developing countries. He’s got such a unique, such an amazing story. I heard about it, I don’t know, five or six years ago at a HubSpot conference. Super fascinating.

Shannon: You said you were kind of fanboying over him.

Joe: No doubt. I think it was the same event where Seth Godin was, so that whole …

Shannon: Oh gosh, you’ll be a mess.

Joe: I just had a smile. I was either crying or smiling the entire time. I had no idea.

Joe: No. It’s such a great story. I had already worked with their group for a couple years by then. I would raise some money through my photography business every fall for Charity Water. I loved their story. I loved what they were behind. They’re such a progressive nonprofit.

Joe: His whole mission was really, how do we turn the nonprofit world upside down, and be more transparent about where your funds are going, how much … They give 100% of everything that they raise from donors. They raise their other backend costs from other resources. But yeah, it’s a pretty cool setup.

Joe: He doesn’t go into a lot of his own personal story in this conversation. He’s got a great book out, actually, that I’ve read called Thirst that he really goes into his background, how he was raised. He goes into such detail of … He was a club promoter in New York City, had a lot of great connections with celebrities, and was living just a crazy lifestyle that he eventually got worn out by and said, “There’s just got to be more to this life than getting drunk and wasted every night.”

Shannon: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Just wasn’t feeling fulfilled or satisfied by that anymore.

Joe: Exactly. Yeah. Just felt like how do I use these connections for good? Started this charity group. Yeah. It just has a great story. It was fun to talk to him and hear more about this. I thought, especially for this topic, where we are today as a society, a global society, we’re all super concerned, super sensitive to sanitation and keeping things clean …

Shannon: And that’s what defines Charity Water.

Joe: Yeah. He even says a stat in the interview of I think it’s 56% of all diseases in the developing worlds are related to water and sanitation issues. That’s kind of what we’re dealing with today. It’s just kind of new to us in the US of constantly being, what are we putting a mask on, and what are we touching, and what are we cleaning, and who are we around, and how close are we to them? Just this concern of sanitation is kind of new to us, but it’s not new to developing countries.

Joe: They’ve been doing a lot to bring fresh water, clean water, helping developing countries know how to keep things clean, and just give themselves better health through those types of things. I don’t know. Certainly applicable to our world. Even though this interview is four and a half years ago, it just seems like very much the world we’re in today.

Shannon: We hope you guys enjoy listening to it. We look forward to the time that we can actually sit down and interview people in person again.

Joe: For sure. Thanks so much.

Scott Harrison: Joe, how’s it going?

Joe: Scott, I’m doing well. How are you doing?

Scott Harrison: Good, man. Where are you in the world?

Joe: Indianapolis area, just north actually, Carmel.

Scott Harrison: Indianapolis.

Joe: Yeah.

Scott Harrison: My dad was born there.

Joe: Really?

Scott Harrison: I’ve never been, but he lived there. He was either born in Cincinnati and raised in Indianapolis, or born in Indianapolis and raised in Cincinnati. I should know that, but it was many, many years ago, 75 years ago.

Joe: I hear you. Yeah. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be here. I grew up in the northern part of the state, and my wife grew up in the southern part of the state, but we’re talking and more about Colorado. We’ll see if that-

Scott Harrison: Really?

Joe: Yeah.

Scott Harrison: It’s beautiful out there.

Joe: Yeah. My brother-

Scott Harrison: Would you do a city, or would you go remote?

Joe: We were just out there last week. My brother lives up in Breckenridge area, Dillon, Colorado. We were in Denver for a couple of days for a wedding, and then we did a little roaming through the foothills, and then up in the mountains. We were trying to have that … We had the same kind of questions like, “Do we have to be close to a city?” “Are we good with being in a small town US?” We’re still trying to figure that out.

We’re trying to, basically, just wait to see where God’s telling us to go and when we should go. Because I think most of our life was kind of like just we make our own plans, and we do our own stuff. Now we’re trying to be much, much more like just wait for the indications we’re supposed to do something.

Scott Harrison: That’s great. Where do you work?

Joe: I have my own businesses. I have a photography business that I started a few years ago, and I have a content marketing business I started a couple of years ago. Two businesses keep me pretty busy, but-

Scott Harrison: But you can do it anywhere.

Joe: Exactly. Yeah, we’ll figure it out. Yeah. Well, thanks for the time today. I really appreciate it.

Scott Harrison: Of course, man, I’m all yours.

Joe: I think about the water crisis, and I think about this like huge, ginormous beast of a problem. I just was curious. How do you not get overwhelmed by that? How do you get up every day and go, “Okay. This is worth running after, and it’s attainable. It’s something we can actually conquer,” versus, “This is too overwhelming. Why do we even spend our time?”

Scott Harrison: Yeah. I think spending so much time over there, in the countries where we work and communities that have been helped over the last nine years, at a pretty good cadence, has just really kept me hopeful.

I’ve had these moments where you’ll realize how profound the change of clean water, what change it’s brought to a village, what change it’s brought to an individual life. I’ve had these moments saying, “I would’ve worked all these years for this one person, or this one family, or this one village.” If we look back now on nine years, it’s 17,000 villages and 5.5 million people. We can fill up stadiums. It’s now more than small states. So I think …

It was funny. This is a little off topic maybe, but you know that stupid starfish story that everybody talks about?

Joe: Yeah.

Scott Harrison: The kid throwing the starfish in. I heard an interesting take on that last week. I was at Catalyst. I can’t remember who was talking about this, but someone was saying that the thing that always pissed them off about that story was that the guy was alone. If there had been 100 people out there throwing starfish, there’d be no starfish. It was just that …

I think that’s what we’ve tried to do with the org over the last nine years is, yeah, start with my story and the impact I could make. I’ve done a couple of birthdays. I’m just one person telling a story, but now almost a million people have added their story to the Charity Water story.

You’ve got six-year-old girls out there in Vancouver selling lemonade. You’ve got 78-year-olds giving up their birthday. You’ve got guys in Afghanistan writing haikus. You have meditation communities in Australia. People climbing mountains, skydiving, sailing, walking across America. We’ve really tried to make it very invitational, turn it into a platform, and say, “Well, this is my story. I was a prodigal club kid that was given a chance to go and see extreme poverty in West Africa. This was my response to it, but what could you bring to this?” Then just give people a place in the platform to do that.

I think I’m also an optimist. The world is getting better. The glass is half full. I really focus on the people that were able to help, and not the enormity of the problem, which really is true. We’re coming up on 6 million people served of 600 million. So a decade of my life to solve 1% of the problem.

You could argue we made a very small dent, but I know in the lives of 6 million people, it’s made a profound difference. Some of those people were walking eight hours every single day in the hot sun, giving their children water that would eventually kill them, literally just playing Russian roulette with disease water every day. Being able to give a woman eight hours back in her day, give her water that’s clean, that she knows it’s not going to injure her children, it’s hard to put a price on that.

Joe: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. I find … I’ve been doing, I think this is my fourth year doing some campaigns. It’s using the photography business to create some awareness.

First, before I say that, I wanted to thank you for your donation to the campaign. That was awesome. Totally, totally unexpected.

Scott Harrison: Oh, cool.

Joe: You made a comment about way to blow away the goal. Actually, the goal on that was so super attainable. I intentionally did it $350, knowing I’d have that in a day and a half, because I really got overwhelmed this year with the sense of maybe I was driving too much towards the goal, and not celebrating every dollar that somebody was giving. Because I felt like I got so consumed with that we’ve got to reach this, and that’s got to be the thing, and if we don’t then it’s kind of a waste. I was thinking …

In fact, I haven’t even mentioned to anybody throughout the whole thing how much money’s been raised. If I have mentioned it, it’s been how many lives have been changed versus the dollars, because I really wanted to focus more on like, “Your $1 is awesome. Let’s celebrate that a little bit.” That’s a side tangent. I just wanted to thank you so much for your donation towards it.

Scott Harrison: You’re welcome, and thank you for doing four.

Joe: Oh, man.

Scott Harrison: There is something about staying power. I thought about it this year. I’m like, “I’m going to do another campaign.” I think it was my seventh or eighth. Each year there’s another impact, there’s more people to reach, there’s brand new people to get involved. I’m glad I do it every year.

Joe: Yeah. That’s the fun thing is I’ll find somebody who maybe didn’t donate this year, but they started their own campaign. I’m like, “That’s awesome.” If you don’t ever give to mine, lets you get inspired. Even if it’s not to Charity Water, just to get inspired to just do some life change. I think that’s kind of cool.

Scott Harrison: Yeah.

Joe: I heard your story a couple of years ago at HubSpot in Boston, and got a chance to hear like, I didn’t know your backstory. I didn’t know, like you mentioned right now, your club promoter experience. I was curious … I don’t know. As you look back …

I do these columns for interviewing entrepreneurs, like why they started their business. I’m interested in that storyline of where their life turned, the plot twist that happened in their life, like they were going down one path, and then they said, “Hey, I should start this business and do this way.”

So I was curious, when I heard that part of your story about doing the club promotion stuff, and you just said, “Hey man. What am I doing for widows and orphans? I need to make this change.” I was curious though, as you look back on life, do you struggle with those years of life? Do you feel like those are … Do they weigh heavy on you, like those are wasted years, or are they sort of like it was necessary to get to where you are?

Scott Harrison: Sometimes I think, just very pragmatically, had I started earlier, we probably would have gotten a lot more people clean water, but maybe I wouldn’t have started at all.

Joe: Yeah.

Scott Harrison: I think that I really focused on how I’ve been able to really redeem some of the things that I learned over that decade. I was storytelling. I was promoting, I was promoting something very decadent. The story I was telling was come into our club, get wasted, spend lots of money on booze, and your life has meaning, and you’re a good person. Sit with the pretty girls and boys, and you’ve arrived.

I obviously got pretty good at that over the years, creating these environments that people would want to be a part of that just ended with a lot of really drunk, sloppy people at the end of the night and a lot of money in the register.

Being able to promote something very different, something redemptive, something wholesome, something simple, the idea of clean water for everybody, has been really exciting, and building on some of those strengths. Even, I remember our first couple water projects were sold to nightclub owners, people that used to come in and spend money at our clubs. So that was even cool, taking some of those same people that were, they were buying the booze, and saying, “Look. You can help people get clean water.”

So I don’t really lament it that much. I’m glad I started when I did. Sure, I could’ve started earlier, but at least had a foundation for promoting, for storytelling, for creating environments, trying to inspire people.

Joe: I had one question related to what you were just talking about. You’re starting up your seventh campaign. I think one thing I was struggling with this year, this is my fourth one, and I had that same kind of struggle to get energized around it a little bit.

I feel like maybe in a privileged society that we live in, it’s hard to be reminded of how much we’re given. There’s like a guilt associated with that sometimes. How do you associate … How do you process that? Not feeling maybe guilty for the stuff we’ve been given, but maybe feeling like using that feeling to push you to greater things.

Scott Harrison: Yeah. I think a lot about it at Whole Foods. Just the contrast of … Spending a week in the Sahel desert of Niger, where it’s 120 degrees and so hot I literally can’t, everybody just goes under trees and checks out for a few hours. You look around and nothing grows. If the community was, if the people were living on a dollar a day, you have no idea where the dollar would come from. To 11.99 craft beer for a single bottle.

Joe: Exactly.

Scott Harrison: Cheese and fish on sale. I do draw those comparisons at some point.

I think, look, my wife and I have tried to be really generous. We try to just give a lot. I’d say we give 20% of our income at least every year. So I think there’s a sense of just, as long as we keep the money going out … We’re both on nonprofit salaries, we’re not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the world that we’re surrounded by, but in those terms, we really are wealthy. We’re not worried about where food’s going to come from. When my kid gets sick, I have a $50 copay, and I can take him to the hospital.

I think there is a lifestyle of gratitude, and then just trying to make sure that we’re constantly just saying yes to giving as people are asking. We’re looking for opportunities to give to a local homeless shelter, or give to a friend’s birthday campaign, or give to another organization. We love supporting the overheads, even in small ways, of other organizations.

Joe: Yeah, yeah. What are the things that stand out when you think about, okay, I’m going to give to this organization? What are some of the things that you look for? You think about your donors who give to Charity Water, and you’re thinking, “How do we inspire them?”

Scott Harrison: Yeah. It’s so different, because I could care less about the efficiency of an organization really. For someone who’s built a … We’re all about fiscal transparency, and efficiency, and getting the most out of dollars. I just care about people, really. I want to give to support a social entrepreneur, or someone who started a charity because they believe passionately in the cause.

I’m not looking at their 990s before I’m going to write a 500, $1,000 check. I want to encourage them with a gift. I want them to be able to do more work. I hope they’re efficient. I hope they’re being good stewards of the money, but that’s not where I start. It really starts with a place of just, “I love what you’re doing. Here’s $100. Here’s $500. Here’s $1,000.” Whatever we can give.

Joe: Yeah.

Scott Harrison: “By the way, use this to pay for this stuff that nobody else wants to pay for, because we believe in you.” If you need to go buy a new copier, if you need toner, or if you need to pay your phone bills, I would rather that my money goes for that. I don’t need a kid in an orphanage writing me letters every month. It goes to that idea of someone who doesn’t trust you, and who doesn’t want to serve your mission that same way.

Joe: Yeah. Well, yeah. You feel the pain of the overhead costs. You can relate to that for sure.

Scott Harrison: I’m not a charity skeptic. I think less money needs to be locked up in bank accounts and 401ks and balance sheets, and more money needs to be unlocked so it can actually be put to good.

Joe: One last question, just more of a personal thing. It’s been fun to watch … You and I met like for five seconds in your office earlier this summer. Lindsay and I brought Quinn in there. We were visiting New York and visited Kate. I know you’re a dad now. I’ve changed a lot personally, I think, as a person being a dad. How has fatherhood changed you as a person, in one, and also like business owner? What are some things you’ve seen?

Scott Harrison: I think with respect to the work, I’ve always seen parents react in a more visceral way, I think, than I did even, to some of these images of kids drinking dirty water, and just that thought of what if that was all you had? What if you had to give brown, viscous water with leeches to your child? When you sub in your child for that child, it’s a deeper, more visceral, shocking, horrific response.

You only want the best for your kids. You want to protect them. You want to make sure you do everything you can to keep them healthy, to keep them from falling. My kid’s terrible at this. Every day I come home, he has a different black and blue mark on a different part of his forehead, because he just runs and then bangs into things.

But yeah. I think it’s made me look at the work from the eyes of a father or a mother, you’re a family just living with no options but to basically serve up their kid potential death every day. It’s you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. You can’t not give your kid water. If you give your kid water from the swamp, there’s a good chance they die of diarrhea. 56% of all of the disease throughout the developing world, 56% all water and sanitation related. There’s a slew of stuff that can kill you.

I think I’m working a little less hard, to be quite honest. I’m spending more time at home. It’s been a very long almost a decade, nine years of Charity Water. I’m around. I’m present. We moved really close to the office. I’m nine minutes away by walk, so he’s in here at the new office a lot, and I get to see a lot of him. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a blast. It’s way more fun than I thought it would be.

Joe: I know, I know.

Scott Harrison: Kids are awesome.

Joe: Yeah. He’s how old now? How old is he?

Scott Harrison: He’s 14 months this week.

Joe: Okay. Yeah. Quinn just turned two Saturday. It’s amazing. Yeah. From one to two, so much changed in him personally. It’s amazing. You’ll get to two year old, and you’re like, “Man, he’s so different than he was at one year old.” I’m not talking from vast experience. He’s obviously the only one we have, but … Man, he’s so fun at two. The things he asks already, and just things he does is just hilarious.

Scott Harrison: Yeah. I can’t wait to be walking in the woods at five and seven, and camping out, and chasing bears and all that kind of stuff.

Joe: Yeah, yeah. Are you outdoors, even though you’re living in the city?

Scott Harrison: I am. It’s tough living in the city, but yeah. We’ll go up to the Catskills on weekends, rent a little cabin or something, or stay with friends. That’s kind of where I prefer being in nature. I’m a woods and mountains guy over the beach.

Joe: Yeah. So am I, which puts us at odds sometimes. My wife and me, she’s definitely more of a beach person, but I’ll get burnt.

Scott Harrison: My wife doesn’t like to hike.

Joe: Okay, yeah.

Scott Harrison: I’m always trying to entice her with some destination at the end of the hike, but she’s not a hiker. I love it.

Joe: Yeah, yeah. Hey, I really appreciate the time, Scott. I don’t want to hold you up from your day.

Scott Harrison: You saw our new office or old office?

Joe: Your old office. Yeah. I’ve been to your old office a couple times.

Scott Harrison: Let us know the next time you’re here.

Joe: Yeah. You were just relocating. That was Quinn’s first take in of New York, so that was kind of exciting to watch him. He’s just so wide eyed, and just taking in all the sights and sounds.

Scott Harrison: Awesome.

Joe: Cool. Thanks so much again, Scott.

Scott Harrison: Cool, man. God bless. Love to your family.

Joe: Thanks so much.

Scott Harrison: Let me know the next time you’re here.

Joe: I appreciate it. I will do.

Joe: You’ve been listening to Metaphorically Speaking. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please rate us on iTunes and subscribe on your favorite podcast app.

For more information and to check out our full library of entrepreneurial interviews, visit keyholemarketing.us. Also feel free to send us an email anytime at hi@keyholemarketing.us.

Thank you for listening.


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