Customer Story

Blood:Water and Classy: How Responsible Storytelling Built a Community

Blood:Water started when co-founder Dan Haseltine saw that another crisis was making HIV/AIDS even deadlier in African communities. “I was there to learn about HIV/AIDS and all of a sudden this water crisis comes into the picture,” he says. Unsafe and unreliable water sources were at the root of many disease and sanitation issues, but combined with HIV, which weakens immune systems, the risk and death toll skyrocketed. Haseltine knew the huge stigma attached to HIV/AIDS made it difficult to get people involved, but anyone could understand and empathize with the need for clean water. He thought showing people how the two were linked could move people to action. Dan teamed up with Jena Lee Nardella, a passionate young college student to make this vision a reality.

Today, Blood:Water partners with local leaders in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Zambia to provide clean water, improve sanitation, and care for people living with HIV.

With only 11 staff members, how has Blood:Water raised $28 million for locally-led programs?

How One NPO Told Stories to Spark a Movement

The connection between HIV suffering and lack of clean water revealed an entirely new side to the problem that Haseltine had traveled to learn about. After meeting individuals in these communities, he also gained a new perspective on how to portray the cause.

Growing up, the founders saw charities use melodrama and pity to appeal to the public. Having met the people affected by the HIV and water crises, Blood:Water committed to showing them as the intelligent, creative, tenacious individuals they are. The team understood that these real stories were powerful on their own, and that they could convert that power to action by saying, “But here are ways that you can come in and change the story for people.”

We were somewhat surprised by what people did. They began to stir this movement and mostly it was around water. I think people understood that there was a lot we could do to make a difference on that side.”

Dan Haseltine Photo

Dan Haseltine

Co-Founder & Artist Relations, Blood:Water

Beginning with those informal meetings on college campuses, the group collected donations and began funding water and HIV programs in African communities. But when Blood:Water was founded in 2004, online fundraising was in its infancy. “Our first year when we had that big influx of dollars come in, that was a huge mailbox full of envelopes,” says Aaron Sands, director of operations and interim executive director. Over the years, Blood:Water has carefully adopted the technology and tools to amplify its impact. “I’ve seen that as we’ve grown, we’ve had to address ‘How do we manage relationships?’ ‘How do we help?’ ‘How do we get insight into the giving pattern of someone’—not so that we can try to get as much out of them…but because they want to engage,” says Sands.


How Blood:Water Stands Out in a Crowded Sector

Blood:Water’s organizational culture is built on their core values of community, responsibility, integrity, dignity, and teachability. These values support their focus on meaningful storytelling that not only introduces the people Blood:Water serves with dignity and integrity, but aims to teach its audience about the realities of the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa.

Blood:Water’s commitment to its core values helps strengthen trust with supporters and builds a distinct brand in a crowded field of water organizations. “Having a strong brand that allows people to look and go ‘okay, you know, we can trust them,’ plays against that kind of cynicism that would keep somebody from doing something good,” explains Haseltine.

Supporters can see how Blood:Water upholds its value of responsibility when the organization invests in resources that will advance the mission and stay true to the brand. Sands says that Classy makes it easier to make fundraising pages that fit the Blood:Water brand and aesthetic. “How the [donation] forms are designed, what we can put in the background, and how you add certain content points—that is what is important to us, but we don’t need to know how to program all of that and all the coding involved.” With an all-in-one fundraising platform that highlights the user's brand, Blood: Water's team can devote their time and effort to supporting the best partners and programs.

How They Built a Community, One Person at a Time

Blood:Water may have begun with a band touring the country and mobilizing college students, but email, social media, and online fundraising now connect the organization with widespread donors and beneficiaries. Compelling stories help donors and fundraisers understand the crises, and with Classy, they can create peer-to-peer fundraising pages to reach out to their network and expand Blood:Water’s impact.

Part of what makes Blood:Water such a strong, engaged community is that supporters have the power to put their personal stamp on the cause. “Everybody has an individual brand,” says Haseltine. “A person can customize and create a page for fundraising that is an extension of who they are.” A supporter can not only tap into Blood:Water’s defined purpose and values, they can also bring their own point of view to the table.


It’s vital for Blood:Water’s staff to stay connected with the communities they serve as well. “Having an ocean separating you from your work is hard because you have to be really strategic about how you find a connection on a daily basis,” says engagement coordinator Kristin Flow. This is why Blood:Water is in continuous communication with its partners, finding out which programs are working in each region.

How to Empower Communities to End the HIV/AIDS and Water Crises

$28 Million
HIV/AIDS patients served
1 Million
People with access to water

When Blood: Water first started working to end the HIV/AIDS and water crises, the co-founders set what seemed like a ridiculous goal: 1,000 wells. “We didn’t think we’d ever complete it,” says Sands. “It felt like 1,000 would be something way beyond what we could ever do.”

But what seemed impossible was really only the beginning. Blood:Water completed the 1,000 Wells Project in its first six years. The organization has now provided water for over 1 million people and are looking to the next million. “We’re also focused on Project Zero, which is a way to just say it’s important to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” says Sands. Since beginning their mother-to-child transmission prevention program, Blood:Water’s partner, the New Life Medical Center in Uganda, has prevented transmission in every new baby born. HIV testing and counseling reduces fatalities, discrimination, and the spread of the disease while water, sanitation, and hygiene programs protect the health of entire communities.


Blood:Water succeeds because it…

  • Tells individual stories with dignity.
  • Creates a pathway for any individual to take action.
  • Empowers community leaders to institute life-saving programs.
  • Maintains a strong brand and culture based on its core values.

One of the organization’s greatest strengths is being confident in its identity and goals. By investing in fundraising software that makes building and running campaigns simple and intuitive, Blood:Water’s 11-person team can mobilize millions of donors to help end the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa.