How To Change The Lives Of Millions with Scott Harrison
Hey everybody, how's it going? I'm Chase Jarvis, welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on Creative Live. You know this show, this show's where I sit down with the top creators, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. And I do my very best to unpack actionable and valuable insights with the primary goal of helping you live your dreams and career in hobby and in life. My guest today is the founder of Charity Water, one of the top charities that I have ever experienced in my life. Game changing, he's a personal friend, he's a certifiable bad ass. And his name is Mr. Scott Harrison.
What's up dude?
What's up?! (upbeat percussion and guitar music) (audience applauds)
They love you!
Good to see you, good to be back.
It's so, this is a--
Thanks for having me.
This is a pretty long circle. I mean you were on one of the very first purely live, this is like 2000--
2000 and like maybe nine, 10, something like that?
Did we have iPhones back then? ...
I don't know, I don't know! I'm so happy you're here. Thank you for coming back.
It's great to be here, great to catch up. A lot's happened, well I know a lot's happened with both of us, since then.
Yes, um, last time I think we were together was in London on a bus at a conference or something like that.
Good things happen on those buses.
So true, you're sitting next to, you know cool, interesting people. But to have you here on the show, it was, I truly mean every breath that I said. I don't think I know anyone who's created a charity that A, has had the, I don't know a human who has decided to shift their attention to something and has had as dramatic an impact as quickly as you and what you do with Charity Water.
That's great, 'cause I think we've done much less than we should have at this point. (laughs)
Come on, man.
I think that.
That's kind, thanks.
You know the audience, it's an audience of creators and entrepreneurs and people who are working to sort of track to their dreams. I think it's fair to say that you chased one dream for awhile and then you realized that you wanted something different for yourself. I know the story well, but for anyone at home who doesn't, give us the story about how Charity Water got started.
Well I'll start at the beginning. You know it really has a lot to do with childhood and the weird, bizarre childhood that I kind of experienced. I was born into a middle class family in Philadelphia. My dad was a electrical engineer, a business guy. My mom was a writer. And when I was four we moved from the city to the suburbs to get closer to his work. And we moved into a house that had a carbon monoxide gas leak. Now you got to remember this is almost 40 years ago, the carbon monoxide detector, you couldn't buy them at Home Depot. So we didn't know and our whole family starts to die. As we're breathing in these invisible fumes. My mom on New Year's Day, shortly after moving into the house, collapses unconscious on the floor. We rush her to the hospital. Lots of blood tests later, and we find these massive amount of carbon monoxide in her bloodstream. My dad I start getting a little sick, but we were only sleeping in the house at night. She was fixing up the house and sleeping at night. Long story short, she doesn't die, but her immune system dies. And she's irreparably damaged from this point. So anything chemical from this point on makes her sick. Car fumes, perfume, cologne, soap. The ink from books would make her sick.
So I remember as a child baking her books in the oven 'cause the print, the ink would make her sick if she smelled it. (Chase sighs heavily) So we would bake her books, we would try to out gas them. And then I would take them up to her, she lived in a bathroom at this point, which was almost a containment room, covered in aluminum foil, on a cot that had been washed in baking soda 20 times. So everything was just weird. And then she would wear cotton gloves, take the charred book that I would hand to her and read. With a mask on, charcoal mask on. So family planning stopped, I went into a caregiver role early on, my parents were deep, they had a deep Christian faith. They decided because of that not to sue the gas company for negligence. They didn't want to become bitter, they didn't want to be attacking. But nothing was really ever the same again. So I grew up kind of that perfect, Christian kid playing piano in church. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, I didn't have sex, I didn't do drugs. I did the cooking and the cleaning and I helped mom. You know I prepared her meals and I just did all that stuff.
So, I kind of played by all the rules until 18. And then completely lost the pot. So I grow my hair down to my, I had that moment of, "Now it's my turn!"
You know, I'd served others. Now it's time to go out and explore the world. I grew my hair down to my shoulders, which (laughs) if a terrible idea. (Chase laughs) I saw some old photos recently. I look like a mop.
I had the same hairdo.
Dude, like we had rubber bands and stuff like, what were we,
what were we thinking? Moved to New York City and the band was actually good, we started playing CBGB's and Wetlands and all these legendary clubs. And we were chasing a record deal. And then we just broke up because we hated each other. So this happened months later. And I learned that if you wanted to rebel in style, you could become a night club promoter and you could achieve this. And that there was actually this job here in New York City where you could get paid to drink alcohol. And you would drink for free and all your friends would drink for free. That if you got the right people inside the right clubs, you could charge people $1,000 for a bottle of champagne and it costs $50. You know, $20, $25 for a cocktail that you could make for pennies. So at 18 I started promoting clubs and I spent the next 10 years really climbing up the social ladder. Probably got to top eight. You know there were kind of four groups of us running the trendy, model, celebrity, fashion parties in the city. All on different nights. And I had really walked away from every single foundational value, or you know spirituality that I had been brought up. A picture of my life 10 years later. I smoked two packs a day for 10 years, sometimes three. So I had this coughing problem. You know I just like, clyum. I was like yellow basically. (laughs) (Chase laughs) I had a drinking problem. I had a serious cocaine, MDMA, ecstasy, pornography, strip club problem, gambling problem, everything short of heroin.
But our lives looked awesome, 'cause we were jumping in the back of
If there were Instagram
you know fancy cars
at that time.
With oh my gosh, right?
It would have been great.
It's models and it's Paris for Fashion Week and Milan. I find myself really at the 10 year mark in Punta del Este, Uruguay. So I'm on this jet set vacation, my girlfriend is on the cover of Elle Magazine at the time. I have a Rolex, I have a BMW, I have a grand piano in my New York apartment and I have a lab, like a Labrador Retriever. So I had ticked the boxes for the things I thought I wanted. And I realize on this hedonistic vacation where we'd rented a compound with servants and horses and we'd spent $1,000 on fireworks and there were magnums of Dom everywhere. I realized that somehow I had truly become the worst person I knew. And I was emotional bankrupt, I was spiritually bankrupt. And the legacy, you know if I continued down this path that I was leaving, you know my tombstone might read one day, here lies Scott Harrison, a man who has gotten 10 million people wasted. And I would get paid to do that. And I kind of, you know we all have those moments maybe where like the veil is lifted a little bit and you kind of see things for what they are.
You get a peek.
I saw the that people buying bottles, they were miserable. The people playing $10,000 hands of Baccarat they were miserable. And they were dating girls younger than their daughters. You know their wives had left them. It was really unhealthy.
To say the, that's--
To say the least.
You know I, I tried to find my way back to a very lost faith, I start reading the bible in deep theology, but I'm partying like crazy at night. So this kind of weird push pull of you know, where did I come from and, could I find my way back, but my lifestyle and my habits are so different
so I struggle with this for a few months and six months into the next year I have this moment. Something happened at one of the clubs. It was just a great excuse to kind of jump in a car and take a few weeks off. I rent a cobalt blue Ford Mustang.
On open-ended lease. Not that it was a cool car, but it was (Chase laughs) a fast car I guess. And I just headed north with a bible and a bottle of Dewar's and my cigarettes. And I just kind of explore what was next. You know I'm trying to pray again, I'm trying to quit smoking (laughs) and quite drinking, 'cause I'm drinking on the road. And I wind up in Maine in Moosehead Lake. And I make this decision that I'm going to liquidate my life, I'm gonna sell everything I own and I'm gonna try to become the opposite person. So what would the 180 degree opposite of Scott Harrison's life look like? This sick hedonistic (coughs) life, excuse me, night club promoter. From this internet cafe, dial up internet cafe on Moosehead Lake in Maine, I start applying to the famous humanitarian organizations of the world, to volunteer a year of my time. I thought it would be kind of a tithe, a 10% of the 10 selfish years. I go back to New York, I sell everything I own, I put 2,000 DVDS up on Ebay, as a single lot when they were actually worth something. And then I wait for all the acceptance letters to come in. Surely all these organizations will be thrilled to have me, right? (laughs)
Something. People are smarter than that. So I'm denied by every organization because they're serious humanitarians, I get people drunk, you know standing outside a velvet rope, the skills don't port. How would I in any way be useful to their missions? So now I've left New York in faith. I was actually at a friend's kind of forest cabin in the south of France just, you know on this kind of spiritual seeking. And finally one organization, the only one that hadn't rejected me I guess, writes me and says, "If you're willing to pay us $500, "you can volunteer. "Oh and you have to go to Liberia. And I'd never heard of Liberia (Chase laughs) before, but I obviously
Not without a map.
did some quick searching. You know it's the poorest country in the world at the time, Charles Taylor had destroyed the country after a 14 year civil war. And there was no electricity, no running water, no sewage and no mail in the country. So I say, "Here are my credit card details, I'm in!" (laughs) And it happened that quickly, weeks later, I joined this medical humanitarian mission in West Africa and just had my world rocked. Everything in my life changed. I joined a group called Mercy Ships that was operating from a 500 foot converted yacht, that they had gutted and turned into a state of the art hospital. 350 volunteer crew from 41 nations. And really the most amazing idea, get doctors and surgeons to donate their vacation time. And instead of going to the Maldives or the Caribbean, to come and operate for free on their off time, their down time, on people who couldn't afford medical care. And you can imagine what kind of people you would meet there. And I quit everything before I joined the mission. I went out with a bang. You know there was this day where I would walk up the gangway and the gangway would be pulled up and then the ship would sail to Africa. And I went out with a bang, I probably had eight beers the night before, smoked three packs of cigarettes. And then just quit. And never, and never smoked again, never touched coke, never gambled again, never looked at porn again. I mean I really quit all the vices to try to open up a new story, or try to walk in a very different direction.
That transition, (snaps fingers) with the snap of a finger. Was it?
No it was a struggle, but it was in a moment.
It was the struggle leading up to the moment. I had tried to quit smoking 20 times before I knew it was bad for me. I mean I knew all those things were really unhealthy. But I think there was something almost prophetic or symbolic walking up
the ship and knowing that I could sail away into my new life. (laughs)
I mean like with a group of 350 humanitarians all paying every month to give their best. To give their time and their talent and their money to the poor. It was a very safe space.
So that's a game changing moment for you, that's the pivot. You're on this ship. You see things that you'd never thought you'd see. You feel things you'd never thought you'd feel or maybe feeling again. Do you feel like you went back to a place that you had been before? Where you were like a sensitive, empathetic, understanding, kind person before, or did you go somewhere new? (Scott sighs heavily)
That's a great question. I was an empathetic kid. I felt really bad for my mom. And I remember, you know if I saw the injured bird, I would probably be the one that would try to go and, you know fix the bird's wing. That was not my life, though for 10 years. You know I was a guy who would berate the seamless web delivery man for not having a pen and then asking me to sign something. You know and I would launch into some, you know egotistical errand, getting tyrant on, "Why couldn't he just do his job?" So I wasn't giving money, I wasn't giving time. I really, I'd turned into a horrible person. I had really rotted, with the direction of my life, the things I was chasing and you know just all the pollution.
You thought you were--
So, it just broke my heart, it was quick. There was, it was really a moment of grace. And I think maybe it took the, like the obedience on my part of or the all in nature of walking the other direction. It wasn't kind of like a turn. It was just, "I'm gonna turn around and go that way. "And see where that path takes me." My third day on the mission I had this, well I met a mentor really early on, a guy named Gary Parker, who was the chief medical officer. And he was a California surgeon that had signed up to do a three month stint on the ship.
So he said you know, "I'm gonna leave my practice," or shut it down or hand it off to somebody, "and do three months on the ship." And that was 30 years ago. He never left. And that was not his plan. So I immediately, meet a man who is all in. 'Cause I was giving a year at that time. So I looked what it would, I saw what, and it looked really good on him. And he had a beautiful family and they'd grown up on this hospital ship. You know he poured out three decades of his life. He was paying! He was raising his money from kind other people to just pay for his room and board.
Oh man, incredible.
So my third day on the mission, I forgot to mention my job on the ship, the job that I was paying to do, was to be a photojournalist. I was a photographer, I liked taking pictures, I liked writing, I was writing for the newspaper when I was 15 or 16.
I remember that.
I'd gotten a degree at NYU that I'd never used, because I didn't need it in night life. So, I was gonna be the chief storyteller for the medical mission. And the cool thing was that I had 15,000 people in my club list. In a moment, the same 15,000 people that were getting emails to come and get drunk, I brought them on this very new experience. So my third day, you know I had another huge moment where we were gonna screen patients. So I knew that over the course of the whole mission we had 1,500 available surgery slots. So we could bring--
How do you decide who to--
How do you decide? And my question's like, "Are there 1,
"sick people in this country "that need surgery?" My third day with our patients screening. And I should have known this when the government donated the football arena, the soccer stadium to see the patients. So it's five in the morning, I put on my scrubs, I jump into a Land Rover convey with the doctors and the nurses and surgeons to all move towards the stadium, where we'll open up the doors and start screening patients and scheduling them. And as we turn the corner, I see 7,000 people standing outside. And this is dark still.
It's five in the morning.
And I know, I realize in that moment, "Holy crap, we're gonna turn away 5,000 people. "These people have come with hope to be well, "to see a doctor." Some of them we learned later had walked for more than a month! With their kids from neighboring countries. And they were too far back of the line, we didn't have enough doctors, we didn't have enough resources. So I just remember weeping. I broke down. It was an incredibly difficult moment. And then I had to photograph the 1,500 people we were scheduling. And I'd never seen such sickness or suffering.
You probably remember some of those photos.
And I'm photographing people with volleyball sized tumors.
People who are choking to death on their face.
Because they never had a surgical intervention. 65 year old women who you know would drink this glass of water and the water spills out on the floor, because they have a cleft lip. And it's 65 years, it was never repaired. So food and water spilled out of their, we saw people with missing faces, missing arms who had been hacked by the rebels during the war. Kids who have been burned with oil by the rebels, who are all fused together. We would do these contracture surgeries and give them motion back. It was so intense.
And this is three days?
Three days in, yeah it's just (claps hands) it's just like
Welcome to the job.
sailing in, there's a welcome party on the dock. Three days later you know at five in the morning you're in it. And these people have been waiting, they knew we were coming. For months, I mean the word had spread. So I really, I'm an optimist. I learned to focus on the positive and the 1,500 people we were helping. And my job was to document all of them before and after surgery. So I basically got to know 1,500 life stories. And I'm sending these, they're graphic images I mean graphic!
I've these pictures.
I'm emailing the 15,000 people I got drunk for 10 years.
You're sending these pictures to them.
The whole list, I'm like Alfred is 14 and suffocating to death on a pink, fleshy ameloblastoma tumor. See how this story ends. And I would tell Alfred's story. Oh by the way his parents thought he was cursed and they took him to witch doctors, who cut him with sticks and knives. And put pastes on his tumor. He needed a surgery. And then I would email the after of Alfred recovering, you know this handsome boy, his jaw reconstructed. I would send video clips of the moment when we would take these patients home often. And they'd be surrounded by hundreds of people who had written him off for dead.
Yeah, the village.
And they're looking at them like, I can't. You know your faced is changed. I've seen a 65 year old woman's cleft lip repaired, she was a queen, she looked beautiful. She didn't look like this kind of monster that the people in the villages would throw rocks at her and try and stone her, 'cause they thought she was cursed. So it was an intense, amazing year of doing that.
My list got a little smaller, (chuckles)
and then kind of bigger. So some said unsubscribe. But I remember a woman from Chanel writing me saying, everyone here at the company wonders what's going on 'cause I have tears streaming down my face, connecting with these stories and these people. I didn't know that this happened. How can I help, how can I give money? How can I give time? So I learned really that there was, not only could I redeem some of the relationships, maybe used for less than good in the 10 years. But I can tell stories that mattered and would move people towards greater empathy and compassion and generosity. Encouraging them to give of their time and their money.
And, this is phase one, (laughs) I mean this is, this is you realizing and starting to do work. But there's a leap then that happens, and I don't know over what time period, but you realize after being aboard the ship for some time that you're gonna strike out on your own.
Help, so and this is--
I did another year, so in the gap there, I finished the first year.
For entrepreneurs also, all right, as an entrepreneurial sort of moment here, that I think a lot of people, there are so many folks that are at home are listening. Like, "What is the time where I make my jump "to do the thing that I'm supposed to do?" And you know they're curious right now and they're trying to figure that out. Again I know your story well.
Yeah, I know your story well, but what was the thought process between experiencing and giving the year and then deciding that you had to do your own thing?
There were just all these little things that I would try and say, "Wow, that worked." And they just built on each other. So the year, what I learned that first year was, I could tell stories, people would read them, they would care about a woman or a child in Liberia that looked very different than them across 3,000 miles. And that those stories could provoke positive action and positive change. That was kind of like, put that away.
I come back, so the ship would do an eight month mission and then it would sail around the coast of Africa to go to dry dock and basically repair itself, 'cause it was 50 years old. It was not a luxury liner. (Chase chuckles) I'm getting that.
I killed 20 cockroaches in the first month in our little tiny 150 square foot cabin. We actually caught on fire which is another story out at sea, which we all thought we were gonna die. Another story for another day, but during that time I thought, "Well that would be a bad use "of my time to go to South Africa. "As much as I'd love to go there and just sit around "while they work on the ship. "Why don't I take my photos back to New York City, "back to my night club community "and put on an exhibition?" So I had never put an exhibition on before. I remember Googling how high to hang the art I think I got it off the Smithsonian's website. And I printed 108 photos, going and asking for donations from the vendors, and the framing companies. I got the gallery donated in Chelsea. And then I invited my friends to come and look at 108 photos. We designed the whole thing like a hospital, so it was all white with sheets up. And then at the end of the exhibition as people went through they read the stories, they looked through the photos, I asked them to give money. We raised $96,000. So now kind of number two, "Okay, I can raise money! "I can use the stories not just to move people in a," oh that's nice, way,
In a fake way, yeah.
"But I can raise money." So gave 100% of the $96,000 to Mercy Ships. And then as I was talking to people in the gallery I realized that there was this skepticism when it came to giving and charity. And you know, "Is this money really gonna go "to more surgeries?"
You're a night club promoter. Where's it? (laughs)
I'm in, oh come on, like I'm low on credibility, from a resume standpoint.
Right, ah. (laughs) So I actually, my second tour, so I went back my second tour was really driven by a desire to follow the money. And to restore their faith. I had now just taken $96,000, not put in my pocket, you know giving it to the organization. So I went back really to say, "Hey guys, the ship hasn't turned into a yacht. "My crappy Land Cruiser doesn't have gold rims now. (Chase laughs) "Nor air conditioning. "And these are more surgeries that are happening." So I did a full nother year, again really restoring, so now I had people's money, they had an even deeper vested interest in seeing where it went. On that second tour I discovered water. So I got off the ship, bought a motorcycle, just to give me a little bit of freedom. An old, crappy Honda 550 for $200 or something. And I start just exploring rural Liberia. And as I explore these villages I am shocked by the kind of water that people are drinking in the country.
It's brown, it's viscous it's green. You're actually looking at bugs in it. I mean it's water that we wouldn't let our dogs walk in, let alone drink. I mean if your dog got near some of these sources, you would yank the chain so far and say, "No, no that would kill you." So this the drinking water for 50% of the country. So I'm taking pictures and I'm coming back and I'm scrubbed up in surgery every couple days, talking to the medical officers, 'cause I'm documenting the surgeries. And I'm saying, "You guys should see what "it's like out there! "You know no wonder freaking 7,000 people are standing outside a football stadium.
It's what they're putting in their bodies.
And they're washing in it! And people are going blind with trachoma. So I started learning about the diseases associated with bad water. And by the way all the doctors are like, "Yeah, we know! "Go work on that, kid!"
I mean there's a real encouragement. If you're passionate about water, you'd make our lives easier. You might take 7,000 people standing outside to 4,000 and to 2,000. If everybody had clean water maybe there's 500 people standing outside. And the tumors weren't necessarily directly correlated, although some of the diseases, cankerous flesh eating disease that we saw, trachoma were, were direct water borne diseases. The stat I learned was that 52% of all disease throughout the developing world, throughout what some people might have heard of as a third world, you know these countries living some sort of poverty. Half of the disease is water borne. Caused by bad water and sanitation. Sanitation is important too. So half the sick people didn't need to be sick or have things growing on their face if they just had the basic need. So now I have discovered you know, the question behind the question. It was really cool raising money for surgeries that cost four or $500. But we could only have 1,500 people a year. So there were a billion people at the time without clean water. And as I came back, the two years was ended, I was 30 years old. I was kind of putting all these these together saying, "What if I could tell the story of water "using images to do it, "somehow raise money in an efficient way "and restore people's faith in charity." The cynic the skeptic. And in a way I wanted them to share in my redemption process. I had lived the life of pure selfishness. I had found an unbelievable freedom when I turn my attention to serving others and giving them my time and talent and money. And I wanted to share, I wanted people to share in that. Mine, you know kind of had a religious tone to it personally, but I wanted to do it in a way that would bring in everyone, regardless of what they believed, 'cause I just believed in generosity and I believed in compassion and these values.
You're looking at that point what strikes me as you, what can I do with what I have? It's sort of like I got this, a knife, a stick--
Yeah, what's in your hand?
So you've got a camera, you've got passion, you understand enough about--
I was living on a closet floor in SoHo.
A closet floor.
Walk in closet.
But you have, you're equipped with skills that you've learned, this knowledge about water. And again this is another resident message that whether you're thinking about you know it's not just social entrepreneurism, but it's whatever. It's like what can you do with what you have? And you've learned enough to be dangerous now. And, you flip into action.
And I had the photos and they were powerful. And I had the credibility. You know there's something about eye witness.
You can't take someone's experience away from them. So I wasn't kind of third party advocating, and like, "Oh I was there, this is her name. "I tested this water. "I put it under a microscope. "If you want to see what it looks like? "Do you want see the video of this water and what's in it?" So there was a real power I think of having gone through that experience that gave it credibility. Which might have been difficult for a former night club promoter. And by the way I'm not drinking and I'm not smoking and I'm not partying. So you know my life just looked and felt very different. I just started and you know I don't talk about, it's great that we have a little time to hack some of this. You know most people think Charity Water is just after any water crisis. And that is our mission, the stated mission is to see a day on Earth, when everyone has clean water to drink. It's a very simple thing. The mission is accomplished when zero people drink dirty water that can kill them.
But the vision was actually bigger. And I wanted to, it's softer stuff and it's even hard 10 years later to articulate, but I wanted to reinvent charity. I wanted to, explore the true meaning of love. I actually was interested in that word. From the Latin it's caritas, it means to help your neighbor in need, getting nothing back. It's a virtue. It's about unselfishness and generosity and compassion. And just thought we needed more of that in the world.
Regardless of what you believe or your politics or your religion, like, we need more people caring for each other, opening up their hearts to serve. So as I came across the cynics and the skeptics I wanted them in. I wasn't after the people who were giving to Doctors without
Oh yeah all that in.
Borders or the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. I was after people like me, people hanging out in night clubs, people who would never give a dollar to the United Way, or don't know what the March of Dimes does. And just have this like, "Oh no, no, no. "I'm sure so little of it would actually "reach the people and I'm sure there are "a bunch of crooks running it." So the bigger picture was really to create a different business model and almost look at the charitable sector and do the opposite of so many things. From a business model there were three pillars early on, kind of a, there were a lot of things.
Can we characterize like, charities that were existing at the time that you wanted to reinvent, to create a little contrast here? Ones that where they didn't know what was going on?
The black hole.
Yeah, the black hole of money. And didn't know how much, there was no transparency into the kinds of A, services that were being provided, B, how much were being spent on them, C, is there actual transformation happening? Are we making a difference? Is there anything else that was?
Shame and guilt, for years.
So charities will use shame and guilt to drive people. It goes back to those, do you remember those TV commercials?
I was just gonna say.
Oh, I remember.
Kids in slow motion. You know the flies landing on their face and then look up at the camera and they lock eyes and the 800 number comes. And I wanted to do Nike, or Apple or Tesla or you know Virgin. I wanted to build an optimistic, hopeful, inspirational brand that invited people to be a part of something amazing. Not because I shamed or guilted them into it. So that was actually a big one. We didn't even talk about that at the time, it was just intuitive.
Yeah, this is what we're doing, yeah.
So there are all these problems we were trying to solve. And I was just asking people, you know I was just doing market research, by saying, "Why don't you give to charity? "What would the perfect charity look like?" And you might say, "If I knew every penny I gave "would go straight to people that needed it." Say, "Oh really?"
Okay, file that away.
And well, "If I could actually see the impact "my dollars had," okay, file that away. So it was really just talking to people and you know the three pillars were 100%, and we've never wavered on this. And I could tell stories of how hard it was, but we opened up two bank accounts with $100 each and said, "100% of every dollar we ever raise from the public "will directly fund water projects of varying kinds "to help people get clean water. "Somehow, "bank account number two we're gonna figure out "how to pay for overhead. "And an office and staff and flights one day." But you can not use the excuse with us that you don't know how much of your money will go. 'Cause the answer will be the same all the time. I even had a vision of being so extreme at the beginning of paying back credit card fees. So if someone donated $100 on our website, I wish I got $100, but if they use their AmEx I get $97. We would make up the difference somehow. And we would send $100 to the field, money we didn't even get. So that was kind of pillar number one. And again we can talk about (laughs) the,
How hard that is.
the how (laughs) was.
Sounds great on paper. And it actually didn't, so most people are saying, "That's a stupid idea dude. "Like you can't, you can't run a business "where you can't use any of the cash "that you raise to run the business." I just believed it. It was like I saw it--
But the clarity of the ability to answer so crisply is so powerful. I know as someone who is involved briefly with what you're doing. That to me is actually very meaningful.
And then backing it up.
70% of Americans think charities waste money. It was actually waste or badly waste, was in the seventh. So I was after that group. Second thing was, then the revelation again, as you just piece these things together. Well if we had two separate bank accounts and money was not fungible, couldn't we track these donations and couldn't we actually tag dollars and show the countries that they went to? 'Cause they always move forward as whole dollars. So if Chase gave $100, couldn't I tag it and say, "That's Chase's that went to India," that went to Malawi, that went to Ethiopia, that went to Guatemala. So the proof kind of became this pillar too. By all means necessary use technology to show donors where their money went, where 100% of their money went. And lots of different manifestations. At its earliest, we said, "Let's just from day one put every water point "we would ever fund around the world, "up on Google Earth and Google maps." And again luck with timing, Charity Water and Google Earth started the same year. And I met the founder at a conference and I realized he created a free place to be hyper transparent. To make a bet on hyper transparency. Other people said, Chase, "Why would you tell your donors where their wells are? "What if they turned up on them and they were broken?" We're like, "We'd want to freaking know they're broken "so we can fix them! "Like why do you think we're doing this?!"
But it's very hard. That's the stigma that you've had to overcome. And that's why doing something different--
Opacity was the norm, right?
Donors are stupid, they're often talked down to, they're a means to an end. We're like, "No, we're gonna help people. "We're gonna give them an amazing, redemptive, "joyful experience, as they follow their dollars to impact." Because they didn't have to give their dollars, right? Your money belongs to you, it's my job to inspire you and invite you to be a part of something amazing. Once I have your money, whether it's $100, or $100,000 or 100 million, then I have an opportunity to just either send you a thank you, or keep asking you for more money, or take you on a journey and try to connect you to the people that were helped. If I do that well, then there's a virtual cycle.
The rest takes over.
And you're not only gonna give potentially more to us, but you're gonna give other things. Your world of giving could open. So that was the second one, proof. And then the third thing was just building an awesome brand. You know I met Simon Sinek early on and I was just a big fan of the kind of the why of Charity Water, again would be around reinventing charity, the movement, the soft stuff. The what would be water, clean water to the world.
The how would be, you know a bunch of different things, solution agnostic 24 countries now, from digital to birthdays to all the different stuff we've tried. But you know I love Nike, Nike was probably the brand that inspired me the most, because you know if the charity way was, "Hey Chase, you make too much money, bro. "Your shoes are too nice. "I saw what you spent on that bottle of wine. "You should be giving more to the poor." If that was the old way, it would be like someone trying to sell, you know Nike gear by saying, "You're so fat and lazy. "Turn the TV off. "Stop eating junk food and go out for a run." And that's not what they do.
That's not what they do at all.
They say there's greatness within you, right? There is greatness, you can run farther than you ever thought possible. You know you have a disability, you can run a marathon. You can achieve so much more. And then they happen to sell you shoes and shirts across the categories.
It's a much more emotional connection of power and positive of course.
It really was. So that was kind of the inspiration of being,
The brand part.
the Nike or the Apple of charity, there's greatness. There's great generosity and empathy and compassion within you. We want to be the guide. We want to be the steward, we don't want to be the hero. You're actually the hero in the story. The local partner that gets that money and drills the well, they're the hero. We're just the guide. So that was it, give away 100%, prove it, build a beautiful, inspirational, imaginative, creative brand. And then work through local partners. I didn't want to do the work ourselves. I wasn't a hydrologist. Africa didn't need any white guys like me running around trying to dig wells. So our job would be identifying and scaling local organizations who could use the money that we would raise to effectively and sustainably serve their communities. So there was this idea of local heroes. They would be flying the flag,
they would be getting the credit.
You would provide--
And that was it, that was the whole model!
So not only--
That was actually unique, 'cause you say that today and it just sounds that's like how a charity should,
or could run.
So that was the best telling of night club to having the charity that you have today. Can you give us like, the folks at home a little bit of a picture of what it looks like now. Because you started that, you've fulfilled those promises, the 100% thing has stayed true. Which again, I have personally am over the moon, I think that's incredible.
It's so hard.
I tell everybody, "Don't do it!"
(laughs) Don't do it. And I know some of those stories and I'm at the risk of avoiding those to cover other ground. I know those stories are hard about how to actually divide that. But I want to start getting into some of the actions,
some of the what's possible, I want to know a little bit more about social entrepreneurship. But before we go give us a couple of, take a snapshot of Charity Water today. It's, you're 10 years, right?
10 years old, we just celebrated 10 years. We have raised a quarter of a billion dollars. We've helped seven million people get water. The water crisis now 660 million. So a lot of awareness has been raised, a lot of people got access to water over the decade. So I guess we're now 1% of the current problem solved. We have about 80 people in New York and we support 1,500 locals around the world. And that's really the idea is to grow the locals. I don't want to have a huge team here. We want to try and raise as much money efficiently as possible. And we've got over a million donors. So it's really been a grass roots effort. And we never wavered once in the 23,000 wells now around the world. We've now developed a sensor, so to get transparency even one step farther. We've dropped 3,500 real time sensors. So we're getting billions and billions of liters of real time data in New York of how our wells are functioning, five years later, seven years later. So we're now no longer content to just say, "We built it, we dropped it there, "here's your picture."
Here's your Google.
We want to know that it's sustainable and functioning and so. It's been quite a journey. People, it's funny most people say, "Did you ever think "you'd be, you know that successful after 10 years?" And really I thought we'd be 10x by now.
The real and I'm sure there's entrepreneurs that just,
Oh yeah, I polled the site.
as seven million people is great, but we've only raised 250 million dollars? Did it with a guy in Seattle a couple months ago who sold his gaming company for 750.
No you don't need to name names, it's probably not appropriate. But.
I get it, I totally know.
You know what I mean? And worked on it for a few years and created like some really games that people played. So I kind of feel like it's my inept, like it's actually, anyway. We're not like dropping the mic, and like "Whoa, we have seven million people, "a quarter of a billion dollars!" We think it should have been a couple billion dollars, we should be at 50 million people. We should be growing faster, it's water! It's 100%.
Yeah and that's another thing, your approach to the solution has been inspirational to so many because it's not like the technology doesn't exist. It's application of what we already know and providing resources to do it.
We know how to give everyone right now on Earth clean water. There's no one in a lab
That's why it's so
looking for a cure.
solvable, right. That's just so solvable, it's not cancer.
We don't have the will to do it, we haven't created the resources to do it, but we know how to do it. I mean every human being alive is drinking water, it's just not clean for 663 million people. And some of them are walking eight hours, or some people are even walking days to get it. So you're not alive unless you're drinking water and we know how to clean it.
All right, so I'm gonna do a little summary. You've got, now Charity Water is, 80 people, all the stats that you just gave. It's operational, it's working and right now. If I'm sitting in my car commuting and listening to this podcast right now I'm like, this is just like my actual experience when I first met you is like, "Holy shit, I got to get involved." I immediately built a couple of wells. And maybe we can--
That'd be cool, was I'll see if they have a sensor on them that would be great.
Yeah that would be fun for me. More importantly is I want to help you connect with other people who are listening here. And it's not about giving 100 million dollars or a million dollars or even $100. It's about doing something instead of nothing. And I think most importantly that you have created what I think are some of the most ingenious vehicles for making it possible for the people to get involved. And so maybe we can take a second and, like that's part of the platform and what you've done is this sort of platform of charity. You created an entirely new model and you built a platform around it. So what is the, maybe you can talk about birthdays for example I think that's so powerful.
The foundational idea is giving our story away. It's really, I can't say enough about this whole. Most organizations make themselves the hero and they say, "Look at us, look at us, look at us, "look how great we are." We really try to celebrate our community and all of our different constituents, our beneficiaries, our local partners, our volunteers, our donors and say, "You guys are the hero." And, continue to just invite people to be a part of the story. So you mentioned the birthday idea. Again we just luck into these things, there was no business plan,
there was no mastermind. Day one of Charity Water, I just threw a party at a night club, gave my friends open bar and asked them to donate $20 on the way in, for my 31st birthday. And we raised $15,000 that night. And we took all the money to Northern Uganda, we sunk our first few wells. We then sent the photos and GPS back to the 700 people that attended and they were blown away. They threw $20 at a night club! Like something actually happened, they can see video of people drinking clean water. Because of them. So that was kind of, on the one year anniversary, it was just the evolution of well, night clubs don't scale. I don't want to do my 32nd birthday party in a night club and I guess I could get $30 and get 1,000 to turn up, but it wasn't gonna be,
Wasn't scaling, wasn't--
it wasn't a step, right? So I thought, "Well I don't need a freaking party anyway?" And I don't need any gifts, I don't need a belt, a tie, a wallet, you know Amazon gift card, iTunes, Crate and Barrel, whatever people were giving back then. I thought well, "People don't even have clean water. "So what if I could use my birthday in service of them." And kind of just turn the birthday idea around on its head. It's always about us, our gifts, our parties. Look at us, what if we can make our birthdays about others. So I just said, "Let me try it." I thought the sticky marketing idea might be the aging dollars. And I love the 32 as a messy number. So I got the idea to ask everyone I knew for a $32 donation for my birthday where 100% of the money would go to water projects in Kenya. And if I raise enough money I would fly out on my birthday and drill the first well live via satellite, so everybody could see where their $32 dollars went.
Action. (snaps fingers)
It worked, I raised $59,000 with a Paypal button
With a Paypal button.
I was writing HTML at the time. (Chase laughs) The website was, I picked up HTML for Dummies. We had a creative director who was helping, but it was just, it was not sophisticated at all. So that then turned into, "Wow, well if it worked "for my 32nd, kids could do it, "middle aged people could do it, "elderly people could do it." And a seven year old kid in Austin that same month, started knocking on doors asking for $7.00 donations. And he raised $22,000. He lived in a nice neighborhood, right? And an 89 year old that same month donated her 89th birthday and she wrote this beautiful mission statement, meaning she sent it to us by email and we hand coded it on her page.
(laughs) It was really primitive. And she said, "I'm turning 89 and I'd like "to make that possible for more people." And we realized this is a nuance, beautiful idea that you know a 90 year old who'd lived double the life expectancy in these places where we worked. Simpy because of the privilege she was born into. If her birthday of her life, her legacy could help other people reach the age of five and not die from diarrhea or dysentery, or a water borne disease. Our birthday is for their birthdays. So then you just kind of you unravel the thing and you tease it out and that's now led to, you know tens of thousands of people and over 50 million dollars has been raised.
Just on birthdays.
Birthdays and then other people selling lemonade and climbing mountains. A lot of people then said, "My birthday's a year from now, "what can I do now? "Right, I'm inspired." So people have tried to climb mountains raising a dollar a foot. We had someone swim naked from Alcatraz to San Francisco if she raised $30,000. Her friends made sure she did. (Chase laughs)
We've had people, you know, gosh--
What about the woman in Seattle, right?
That was a crazy story.
So, that's a sad, that's a sad story. There was a nine year old girl that had heard me speak and for years I would challenge every audience that I could get in front of to donate their birthday. 'Cause people are used to being hit up for money all the time and it was different. And she was about to turn nine. So she donates her birthday. And she sets a goal of $300. And she only raises $220. Now she's bummed.
She tells her mom, "You know I'll try harder next year." She actually feels like she's let people down having not accepted any gifts and canceling her birthday party. So I was in Central African Republic. I hadn't met her or heard about her at this time. I had landed, and my phone wasn't working in the CAR, I'd landed back in New York turned it on and I get all these messages. And one was from her pastor saying, "Rachel was killed in a car crash." "This girl that was fundraising for you, "there was a 20 car pile up." You probably know the interstate, but she was the only fatality. And a tractor trailer had lost control and just killed her in an instant. And he said, "You this little girl in my congregation "her last wish was to help kids "around the world get clean water to drink." So he said, "I'm gonna have everybody "in my church donate $9.00." So this think just starts spreading around the world. First in his church, then in Seattle, then around America, then to Europe. Then in Africa, people in Africa started donating $9. to this little girl that cared about what was happening 3,000 miles away. She goes from $220 to 1.3 million dollars.
On the one year anniversary of her death I had the honor of taking her, her single mom and her grandparents to Ethiopia, village to village to village to meet thousands and thousands of the people that had clean water because of Rachel. And it was one of the most impactful, moving, I mean we were in tears for the week. Women in the Ethiopian villages would, everybody knew the story. 'Cause she'd impacted a whole region. The women would walk up and throw themselves at the feet of Rachel's mom, weeping. And say through translators, "You know we know your pain "we've lost children too. "But your daughter's death has brought our children life." It was an unbelievable story. Five years later, we're now five years on from this.
Gosh, has it really
What's even more amazing-- been five years, oh my gosh.
I know man. Is we looked at the donors, so 37,000 strangers gave to her campaign. And so many of them were inspired by her to give up their birthdays, they raised another two million. So her impact now is over three million dollars from a $220 seed. She's helped over 100,000 people, get clean water. That's telling those stories is just, it moves people, I mean we need more of that in the world. We need more nine year old kids considering others more important than all the toys that they've been conditioned by our society to need.
Let's talk about how people can get involved.
There are so many people who are listening--
Everybody can donate their birthday. (Chase laughs)
You've done it.
I've done eight.
Eight, it's so powerful.
It's fun, it's really fun. The average person raises $1,000. So you just think about that.
Tell them about the platform.
The platform, so we built something called My Charity Water, which tracks these donations. You know after you did your birthday and a bunch of people gave, I remember you raised more than that. But people could actually see the photos and the GPS and the accounting for every donation. And it takes awhile actually it takes about 12 to 18 months because the dollar only moves forward. We're not like, "Oh here, your well's done." No, the money goes to the field, work starts, there's rainy seasons that we take the photos, we audit and then send it back. So this kind of complete integrity in the process. We have so many great stories about birthdays, so many great stories. So people can do that, you just go to charitywater.org/birthdays. And you can pledge in five seconds, even if your birthday's a year from now. It's as simple as emailing everyone you know. Doesn't work great on social, because people can ignore it. But, you know people will send out one email and say, "Oh my gosh, I just raised $6,211!"
From an email.
From an email! Because people don't want to get us crap anyway.
They don't want to necessarily come to another birthday party.
To me that's a really important part of the lever that you've created. Is people generally are good, they want to give, they want to support and the mechanism isn't always there. And the birthday, if I say, "It's my birthday, "you want to come by?" You some bring a bottle of wine, or some flowers or something. And if you can channel that energy, that effort, those dollars into doing some good, not only is it helping the world, you know there's feel goods, but you're sending a message of hope. I feel like there's this start of a fly wheel, because for every person who now has done this before. And then when you realize that you can give to someone else's birthday. To me it's the network effect that what you've created has, an amazing impact. And for an organization with a marketing budget of effectively zero, 'cause we don't buy TV ads or billboards or that stuff, ads in magazines. That stuff just doesn't work. It's amazing the average person brings in 15 people. So you know you and I have some friend crossover for sure. When you did your birthday you touched a whole group of people that have never heard of Charity Water and have never heard of me or met me. And you know when a kid in Lincoln, Nebraska donates his birthday, I've been to Omaha, not Lincoln. Like there's just no awareness. Now you have this little pocket, this little hub and spoke, you know, you have an ambassador. So it's hugely valuable for the organization. The second thing that we talked about, and this is kind of a business learning. So you take that snapshot to 10 years later and a quarter of a billion dollars. One of my deepest regrets and failures as an entrepreneur is that I built a one time donation business really. And the birthday is great. And if anybody does it they'll have a great experience, but you do want for Charity Water. People go and do their birthdays for other organizations and say, "Like cool I'm gonna do education next year, "or health, or a justice issue." But you don't kind of keep coming back and doing birthdays for Charity Water. Same thing with the donations, you know people are giving once and every year, January 1, we'd start at zero. We'd start all over again. So you know I'd make, before my first child was born I did 100, 96 flights in a year, made 150 speeches, like we're out there telling the story, we're working as hard as we can. And you raise all the money and you send it all out in the field, and then you start all over again.
On January 1.
On January 1 and you're like, "I don't think I can work any harder. "I don't know that I make more speeches."
So it took me way too long, but on our 10th anniversary we just started looking at subscriptions and said, "Look, the average person now has 11 subscriptions." Between Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, your newspapers, your Dropbox or box, iTunes, right all this stuff. What if we could create a subscription program for good where 100% of the benefit is passed onto others? So we're not consuming the content. But 100% is passed onto others. And we didn't have to start at zero. What if we could get a bunch of people who would just stand by us month in, month out. And the donation amount would actually be less important than building the community. So we said, "People could give as little as $5 a month." And some people are giving $100 a month. And for every $30 someone can give, one person gets clean water. So we just launched that in pilot, it's called the Spring. We have 8,100 members, giving an average of $31 a month. And that is what we're so passionate about, about growing now. Because that means January 1, you know, there's 8,100 people that are with us. Some giving five, some giving 30, some giving 100. But they're, we're able to educate them, we're able to take them deep in the issue, talk about water and health, talk about water and education. We're able to tell them stories of impact. So those are kind of the two things, people could learn about The Spring, that's charitywater.org/thespring and then birthdays. Huge help.
Sure. This is gonna get a little bit esoteric, but I feel compelled because I know, see earlier part of the conversation where you're talking about how hard it is to get people to run a charity where 100% of what you give goes to the organization. There are some people, some people that are in my network that were brought to you and, there are people that are in your network you've cultivated. Do you ever talk about the well, publicly at all? Or you trying something--
Yeah, no, no for sure. Well I'll tell the story about how it happened. So we almost went bankrupt, you know a year and half in, maybe that's not surprising people. (chuckles) We raised, so the 100% side was working really well, that obviously resonated.
And we'd raised a few million dollars, you know just for the closet floor to scratch and we'd moved into a crappy office. There was an old printing press and it was covered in grease and there were now windows. One window. No where near where my area was (laughs). (Chase laughs) And, we hit this moment where I was about to run out of cash to make payroll. And I'm sure so many businesses,
Yeah, so yeah big and small all along,
We've all been there.
But yet, I had nine months of burn that I couldn't touch, $881, sitting in the water account that was on its way out. So the advice I was getting from people was, "Hey, go borrow from that money. "Like pay it back," of course, write the little IOU, but just make the transfer, you know you'd. And I remember being so angry at just the idea of that. If we took one penny, if we ever borrowed from the public's money, our integrity would be compromised, there'd be a crack at the foundation. We might as well all hang our heads in shame and,
quit. So I was gonna shut down the organization. So I looked at how do you wind down a charity? We can send the $881,000 out to our partners, get as many water projects as possible, and then say, "Hey that didn't work. "Everybody was right, the critics were right." I was praying a lot of that time with very little faith. (Chase laughs) For some sort of crazy miracle and, right before we, you know, kind of ran out of money, a couple of weeks before, a complete stranger walks in the office, a tech entrepreneur who had sold his company. A guy named Michael Birch and sat with me for two hours. I remember thinking he didn't like me. And just kind of listening, but a little cynical, "I don't give to charities. "I don't really trust charities." And I'm like, "Yeah, I know I did this thing for you! "It's for people like you, "there's so many of you out there." He left the meeting and he wired a million dollars in the overhead account. So we went from bankrupt to 13 months of funding, 12 or 13 months. And used that extra time to build what's now a pretty amazing, sophisticated, multi-year, multi-tier program called the well. And the way that we do it now, for all of the people who are like, "Well how do they actually, how they raise "a quarter of a billion dollars?" There are 117 families that pay for our overhead. They give between $60,000 a year to a million a year. And it's the founders of Facebook, Twitter, Square, Spotify, it's senior execs at Apple and Samsung and it's football quarterbacks and rock stars and actors, and every day people who own car shops and car part manufacturers. It's 117 generous families that have paved the way for a million people to give. They all sign three year terms and then we do our best to steward that relationship over three years, so they sign the next three year term. So that actually doesn't start at zero.
When you said, pro football quarterbacks I couldn't help (Scott laughs) but remember, is it fair to do names?
Yeah, totally yeah.
We did an event where Scott came to speak, spoke at Creative Live, the original Creative Live studios in Seattle, invited some of my peer group and folks in Seattle, people who are movers and shakers. And the quarterback at the time, was a guy named Matt Hasselbeck.
Who is a large man.
Yeah, he's like 6'4", he's a big guy, bald totally. And he, you know we just heard there was a chance that he could come, it was like yeah great. And that was a Sunday night I think he'd had a game.
We'd gone to the game.
And he broke his hand in the game.
So we were pretty sure he wasn't gonna come, and as we were making the guest list. And my wife Kate is gonna kill me for (laughing) telling this story. Go get her, go get her Chase.
Matt shows up the, I love you to death, Kate, you're incredible. (Scott laughs) The part where you know Matt's a little bit late. I get a text from someone that's like, someone who wants into the gathering and is not on the guest list. And so I go to Kate is, she's amazing, she's a super producer. She's standing there with the iPad and she's like, "Oh yeah," and I'm like, "Oh, (hand thumps) "Kate yeah"--
Almost turned him away. I mean he almost like got back in the car. (Chase laughs) Broken hand.
And just played a game.
Yeah, just played a game. And I'm like, "Kate this is, this is Matt, "he's the quarterback for the Seahawks." (Chase laughs)
Yeah. Kate it's just a story.
Yeah, so sweet, so.
There is an amazing group of families. And actually my belief around that is that people are open to a lot of different value propositions.
They just want to know where their money goes. If I told, you know the people listening right now that our greatest need was a broken glass door in a conference room and there was a jagged edge, but we didn't have the money to fix it, like people would pay for that. Or a broken copier. People want to meet needs.
So those 117 families, they want to pay for the software engineer. They want to pay for the flights and the insurance and the dental, because they want to come a support an organization and pave the way for people to have a pure experience. So, but the two bank accounts are audited separately, like they know what they get. A lot of them at the end of the year say, "Hey, I want to build a bunch of water projects "for a coworker, or for my wife," they'll jump to the other back account and give on both sides, but it's clear.
Yeah, it's beautiful. Yeah, I think the way you've set it up is completely extraordinary. I would like to shift gears on more time before we circle back, I'm trying to be sensitive of our time here. I think a lot of folks listening there's been so much symbolism, so much by extension that people can connect with your personal story of struggle and perseverance it's very much the hero's journey. And there's also--
And I just gambled. (laughs)
Yeah, there's also a bunch of folks who are, it's not necessarily about charity, but it's about finding their own way. And for you it was creating Charity Water and you've done an amazing job. Let's talk a little bit about, you know, some of your biggest learnings, what it'd take to make the jump. Give us just hypothesize or philosophize a little bit around, inspiring the people who are listening to this. 'Cause it doesn't just have to be about charity, I think to me that's the most important thing.
And if you're listening I would love for you to give your birthday or give to The Spring. Like let's help people who are stuck in the position of where they're not happy, they're you as a night club promoter.
Is there any, advice is risky but--
For me it wasn't job, it was all, it was all about values. So I would start there. I was rotten at the core and I was pursuing all the wrong things. And I see this out there, I see people just pursuing money. Keeping up with the Joneses. And they have a number, they hit the number they raise the number. They hit that number they raise the number. You know they're never gonna find, it's always obvious to us, right, that they're never gonna find happiness.
I mean you just say it and it's obvious and yet we see the pursuit of that, and rather than pursuing--
It's a huge group of people. Someone's always gonna have a nicer car, a better house, you know a bigger plane, like a better watch, whatever you're chasing. So for me it was, like I had to go and rediscover who I was at the core. There was a faith transformation for me, but I think other people, you could find that through service, through unselfishness. It was just a positional shift. You know I really believe like so much more important than what you do is how you do it. And the core values and being intentional about integrity and honor and respect and like, all the stuff that I had just lost, it was in my heritage.
I was fortunate at least to be given that foundation by my parents. I kind of lived out the like the prodigal son story, if anything, you know I'd taken my heritage, you know I'd squandered it away on the proverbial prostitutes and drugs.
And then kind of said, "What am I doing?" And I was welcomed back. So I guess I would say it's never too late to change. The amazing thing was, and you could struggle too, right. It doesn't have to be, like you have to quit everything in one go.
It's not linear.
If you don't, you say, "Oh I wasn't successful." It's just, you know I think it's wanting to change.
It's important also recognize that it's not linear. Like you tried to quit all those things five times.
Totally it's a struggle.
And some point you did. And people are trying to, yeah.
Our integrity, I mean there are so many times over the last 10 years that we could have cut corners and taken the easy way. But being clear about the values. At Charity Water it's integrity above all else and knowing, just knowing what you really care about. So many people have never written values down for their companies. It's one of my favorite interview questions as I'm bringing someone onto the company. Tell me the values that you live and work by. Some people can't answer that question.
They get paralyzed by it, I've asked people that.
They're paralyzed by it. So Charity Water for me is a values play of, and that's where it started for me. So, you know I don't think everyone needs to go quit their job and become a humanitarian. I believe very much in generosity. Like I am, I want to be the advocate for giving radically, giving until it hurts. Giving way more than you think you should. I mean I sit with billionaires who might be giving one thousandth of a percent. I mean I've sat with billionaires who will give $100 check make it feel like it's a lot. And you're just--
You know so wealth does not equate with generosity. Some of the most generous people are the poorest people that we know, so I would say--
I think the personal value part is that it's a huge, huge takeaway.
Know what they are, explore, you know explore generosity. The more you give the more you give. The old expression is the more you give, the more you get. It's actually, me I see you get something out of it, but you kind of become addicted to giving and you want to give. And in that you find a new path. You really find the freedom in not serving yourself, but looking for ways to serve others, whether it's here, whether it's 3,000 miles away, whether it's through our organization, whether it's through others. And I'm surprised at how many people just don't do that at all. It's all about them.
It's all like, you're literally obsessed with, you know your joy, your happiness, your money, your work schedule. And it's just toxic. You see it just eat people away.
And so short sighted. The goal keeps moving, I've never, or not never, I very rarely see someone who is going after a financial goal they get, like I want to sell--
It's the heart condition. It's, I don't want to use the word greed, but for some people it is.
But it's also there's cultural things, and that's one of the reasons I definitely, that's one of the reason I wanted to have you on the show. Because there's a cultural, I think we're on the cusp of a cultural transformation. I do feel a new level of empathy entering our culture. I feel the rise of the feminine in a world that's been, you know really dominated by men and the masculine story. And yours so elegantly captures that. I do see a rise in the social entrepreneurism, I don't it to be a trend, I want it to be a lasting, I don't know path and pattern in human behavior. Is there any advice that you would give to people who, like does the world need more charities? Or should people go to work at, like what's the best way? Or it is just--
We talk about this, I find it's just so hard to prescribe to people, you know where they should be.
Is it fair just to say passion? Like actually follow things you love and if you are for doing that--
Passion and integrity. Passion with core values that are virtuous. And you know, I think you know the core of who you are and the things that you're pursuing and why. Like really thinking through that stuff. An exercise we did that I started to talk about a little more now. I can even give you for the show notes is, we did our core values early. But then we did something in the company called -isms. I think Enron had a value of integrity, right like respect. (laughs) Right.
So they could just be empty. So we have all these -isms at Charity Water which is you know you're living out your values through these examples. So we actually have a zero tolerance for profanity at the organization, which is super interesting. And we tie that to a value of respect. We don't ever want to offend a donor and risk someone not getting clean water, because we're dropping the f-bomb, you know in front of someone who might be conservative.
And people come out of like tech, and we're hiring a lot of people from, you know some of the biggest tech companies. You know they're like "Whoa!" And then it feels great! I just had a new exec say, "I'm like a better dad now. "Because like I always was swearing around "my kid a little too much." That's one, we don't pirate software is another one. Just because we're a small charity doesn't mean we think we're entitled to 10 copies of Final Cut Pro for the price of one. We're gonna buy 10 copies, as expensive and painful as that is, to spend our donor money on that, we would buy 10. We license music. You know opportunity not guilt. We design everything, we have a no typos policy. Like excellence. So you just kind of think of the things that are important to you. If you fast forward, what does the place feel like? I want Charity Water to feel like this warm environment where you meet people that are kind and generous and respectful. We have one where I expect my employees to give money away. And a lot of people say, "No, no. "Me serving at your organization is my gift." I'm like, "No you also have to give money." Because we're not in the volunteer business, we're in the business of asking people to give. So I believe all of us, all 80 of us need to eat our own dog food. My wife and I give 20% of our net income away. I feel like I need to out give my givers.
Like if I'm out there asking people to donate their birthday or to join The Spring, or you know, asking someone to join the well, like it better be on my tax return. You know and I better be able to say the same thing. So I think just being intentional, so many people don't think about that, what do you stand for? What are you known for? What values do you want to put forth in the world? And on a spectrum of pick any of the virtues.
It's also beautiful the way you've approached that I feel like and I do see more of this, but just the, it is a process. And people getting from, a different place in their life to giving, it's a process and learning a lot. That's one of the, again, reasons I wanted to have you on the show is, there's so much to learn from you and going through your process. The folks at home who are looking to give. If there are people who can't, you know are paycheck to paycheck, can't actually get out of their own way right now. It's the hope that this has inspired a few folks. You're an absolute role model, not just in the charity world, but as a human. So I wanted to say thanks, personally. And, is there any, I feel like we've touched a lot on, we've covered a lot ground from (laughs) basically the last 20 years of your life. (Scott laughs) Is there anything else that you feel like I'm not asking that would make a better show? It's important to me that you feel like you've shared something on this show that you haven't shared somewhere else. And I know you're a professional in every aspect of the word.
But what can you tell us?
I think one of the lessons I learned at the 10 year mark is, I almost burned out and for years and years people were telling me, "Oh dude you're going too hard. "You can't take that many flights, "you can't work that hard." You know you can't, whatever, hustle that hard. And like, it is my passion, I just loved it. And loved it, and loved it, and loved it. Got married, started having kids. And then like the new, it just, they were right, they became right, almost in an instant. They were wrong and wrong and I was delighted to say I'm still here! You like prophesied my downfall and burnout and I have more energy than ever. And what was interesting was the burnout was tied to revenue, donation numbers. So I had my first down year. So we had eight years of consecutive growth and I had so much of my identity as a leader and as an entrepreneur into, this charity always goes up and to the right. Okay, we're gonna grow infinitely, because growing infinitely means more people get clean water. My paycheck doesn't change. Like whether we raise 40 million dollars this year or $400 like, I'm living in my one bedroom apartment in 950 square feet with my two kids. It's not like corporate America. It almost makes like we're chasing growth and it's even more pure, because the growth isn't for us. The growth is for others who need freaking water.
Yeah to be clear.
So our, we had an amazing year, our eighth year everything went right. Twitter, IPO, a bunch of people were very generous. I had spoken to the company when they were 28 employees so people remembered. And you know when they were able, we're like, "Hey, we can throw down now." A huge company that had been with us for a bunch of years dropped five million dollars this one time. A guy in Virginia drops three million dollars and it's just like, things are, amazing things are happening. The next year, so we raised 45 million dollars, we help a million people get clean water in that year. It's an average of 2,700 people every day. One person every 30 seconds. And we look back and say, "Like 2,700 people a day!" That's including Saturdays and Sundays. (Chase laughs)
That's bonkers man.
The next year, the company that gave us five million, announced they were laying off 10,000 employees. They go from five to zero that year. The donor in Virginia stock tanks 40%, he goes from three to zero. And we're eight million in the hole starting the year. Remember, the year at the start at zero is like negative eight, to get back to that same number. And long story short, we just didn't replace those gifts and we ended down about that much. And I thought, "Well it's all my fault." I hit my ceiling. Time to bring on a real leader, time to bring on a real professional. And I'm burned out and, so I'll just be transparent about the process. I called my board up and I have a great small board, it's a governance board. Our big givers in the well and these people just kind of do the grunt work. And I said, "I think it's time to bring on a CEO, I'll stay. "But I'll work on innovation, or I'll work on fundraising." Then I told my exec team, and this was going into the fourth quarter. And they're like, "Get your butt back to work. "What is this nonsense? "You're not opening up a seat. "Dude, just finish the year, you're burned out. "Take a month off. "And see how you feel." So I did, I took a month off in January. And I went to, I went with my family up in the mountains in California. It rained the entire month. It hailed, it was miserable where we were. Found out we were pregnant with our second. And I basically got so bored. And was just thinking about how I could fix all the problems in the business and start recurring donation revenue and go build a subscription program. I made it three and a half weeks. (Chase laughs) It was basically like under four weeks. I needed to get back.
And finish the 10 years. And I said to myself, "At least, "I got to like finish the decade." And then last year was just so awesome. We grew again, but we grew in a healthy and responsible way. And you know, what are we now in May? And I'm kind of never more excited about it. So what I learned though--
There was a respite in there and I think there were--
There was month off. I think I would recommend people take three months. By the way nothing bad happened, in fact, the team probably performed better without me running around, you know with crazy ideas. The thing I learned there was that my identity was in the numbers. And as I talked to my dad, you now who was just a middle class businessman for many years, he said, "You have good years, "you have bad years. "Did you compromise any of your integrity or values?" I'm like, "No." "Did you do anything you weren't proud of?" I'm like, "Outside of not going "and raising extra money, no." He said, "Okay well then, start the next year "and go work hard." So it was, it seemed so simple, but I just needed to keep going and try and take those learnings. And remove the identity, my self worth,
The ego, yeah.
in like how much money we raised in a calendar year. You know in some ways like we'd only become as good as our last quarter and that mentality. That's just not healthy and it's not sustainable. And we had a great year and we helped 800,000 people get water instead of a million. But you know had we quit we would have helped zero people get clean water. So if anyone's experienced burn out take the time off and you know just really, again I did some soul searching. And realized it was really unhealthy to have my identity only in the performance of the organization. And some factors beyond my control, like we worked hard!
I didn't like I didn't come off the gas that year,
The economy changed.
it just didn't, yeah we didn't have, we couldn't repeat the success of the former.
Wow. I need to put a bow on this thing, but absolutely incredible to hear your story, so inspirational. I know we've inspired some people on the other end of these cameras and microphones. I'm so grateful that you took the time to tell your story. And it's the beginning, the second beginning, 'cause we already did this once. (Scott laughs)
You're gonna be a regular,
Good we'll do it every
on the show.
few years, we'll do it.
Awesome, awesome. Thank you so much buddy.
Thanks for having me.
I really appreciate it.
God bless, brother. (wavy digital music and percussion)