Tyler Riewer is Creative Director of charity: water, a New York-based, international nonprofit organization that brings clean and safe drinking water to vulnerable populations in developing countries, primarily by building wells in remote areas. After construction, the organization remains committed to monitoring, evaluation, and maintenance to ensure that charity: water-sponsored projects are sustained for years to come. Their work impacts issues of health, education, and women’s empowerment.

Having worked for several years in commercial advertising, Tyler knows first-hand the power of storytelling. He has an innovative message for nonprofit professionals about how we can harness the power of story to benefit the people and causes we serve.

Tyler, the theme of the conference is “Big World, Big Ideas.” What is one “big idea” that you’d like to share with ADRP Conference attendees?

I think one of the best ways to stand out is by turning your beneficiaries and supporters into heroes. It's easy to make it about ourselves. Even to accidentally say "with your help" instead of "because of you." But it shouldn't be about us! Our work is all about people—people serving others and people being served. Those are the groups that we should be celebrating. You want your stories to stand out? Give the world someone to cheer for.

What are the correlations between nonprofits and the kinds of commercial “brands” you’ve worked with previously?

At the end of the day, our jobs are the same—it's about telling stories and inspiring action. But I think for-profits often better understand that the storytelling shouldn't be focused on the products we sell, but the way those products benefit the people who use them!

charity: water's product is clean water. But donors don't give because of the clean water. They give because access to clean water restores health for families. It gives kids more time to go to school. Creates new opportunities. Builds better futures.

For nonprofits and for-profits, stories are our opportunity to highlight the impact and value of our work.

How can we get more creative about marketing our nonprofits to our various constituents?

Despite the fact that the opportunity is the same, the marketing funnel looks very different for the nonprofit community because we don't have a physical product to sell! Our "customers" don't get something in return. We're asking them to freely give away their money. So, we need to think of our customer journey as much more human, more emotional. It's about countering things like distrust and apathy. I think the biggest opportunity for us to get creative in our marketing is in finding ways to build empathy and make our audience feel truly powerful in creating change.

Reflecting on the “Big World” theme, how do you work with local constituents around the globe as you seek to implement charity: water’s mission in their region?

charity: water is really a fundraising organization. We work hard to find local partners around the world who are experts in providing sustainable solutions, and then we grant money to those organizations. I think that's a really important part of how we work. We're giving our supporters a chance to empower local leaders to serve their own people.

How has charity: water’s role in the nonprofit sector evolved since your beginnings in 2006 to becoming the more mature organization you are today?

The early days of charity: water were about proving that charity could look different from the guilt-provoking, black-and-white footage of kids with flies on their faces that many of us grew up with. It was about radical transparency and experiential galas and visualizing impact. All of that is still true today, but I think our role has grown beyond inspiring supporters to think differently to inspiring the sector to think differently. Today, we're developing sensor technology that can alert us when a well breaks. It's about integrity, and knowing that any community that gets access to clean water will have clean water for years to come.