Burning Platforms

Water Changes Everything.

One of my favorite nonprofits, charity: water, came out with this slogan a few years ago in an infographic video explaining their work with water projects in developing countries. There’s been a lot written about nonprofit storytelling, but I think this slogan is one of the most underrated components of their success.

Water Changes Everything.

One of my mentors, Jess Rimington, taught me the concept of the “burning platform.” Imagine this:

You’re laboring on an oil rig with a few colleagues, when a fire suddenly bursts out. Normally, you would never voluntarily jump into the freezing water around and below the platform, but this is a particularly urgent situation: there’s a flame on the platform and the rest of the rig is about to explode in spectacular fashion. Suddenly, jumping into the water is a pretty obvious choice.

We hate to think of the nonprofit industry as a “competitive landscape,” but I can tell you that I’ve heard more than a few nonprofit staff members acknowledge that it’s often about fighting for share of wallet against other organizations (it sucks, but it’s true). So then: before we get to the feedback loops, before we get to the design, what is most important for an organization to communicate clearly?

The burning platform.

It’s about convincing people that the cause is the most relevant, the most urgent, the most deserving of everyone’s money and support, now. Relevancy is king.

charity: water Ad

Charity: water is competing not only against other water aid organizations, but also against all nonprofits. As a matter of fact, since they’re leading the way in their particular cause, it’s likely that they get most of the donations when one settles on “water aid.” So they need to convince everyone that water aid is the “it” cause.

“Water Changes Everything” is a killer line because it positions charity: water’s cause as the most important and fundamental — without clean water, there is no health and life. Without health and life, you can’t even begin to think about things like education and economic prosperity. For them (and hopefully for donors), it’s the “burningest” of the burning platforms.

The VC Mark Suster writes a brilliant post about the same topic here as it applies to sales at startups.