Several years ago, Scott Harrison had the sudden realization that his life up to that point had been a sham.
This is where Harrison began his story, as he took the stage at the Inc. 500|5000 Conference. Both his personal story and the story of what his non-profit organization charity:water does (bring clean water to the developing world) was one of the most moving talks of the conference so far and had many entrepreneurs in the audience tearful.
That feeling he described, he told the room, was the result of spending years working in the New York City club scene as a promoter.
"Budweiser paid me $2,000 a month to drink Bud," he said. "Bacardi, the same. I was paid to drink. I did drugs and gambled. I realized on that beach that I was the most emotionally, spiritually, and morally bankrupt person I knew."
What'd he do about it?
"While I was hungover during the day, I started reading the Bible. That was an interesting push and pull," he said, laughing.
It was through this spiritual awaking that Harrison decided to clean up his act. He signed up to volunteer with doctors going to Africa to provide free surgeries to underprivileged people with deformities . A year into this volunteering journey, he found the one underlying issue for so many of these deformities that he could do something about: dirty water. This was the birth of charity:water.
Harrison's visual presentation showed graphic, moving images of the devastation caused by dirty, disease-filled water. Children drinking muddy water from bottles. Mothers struggling to carry huge jugs of water. And even though the message was serious, Harrison had a knack for lightening his serious message with a joke here and there.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, he had an early guiding principle.
"I knew from the beginning that this couldn't be about guilt. You can't guilt people to give," he said. "It had to be about opportunity. I had to find a way to get real people, selfish people like me, to invest in this cause."
Harrison revealed to the crowd the three things he set out to do with this charity--all of which, he says, most charities lack.
1. Find a way to give 100 percent of the profits to the actual cause.
2. Proof: Make it completely transparent where the money goes.
3. Build a brand.
Today, having met those three objectives, the organization has funded 4,200 water projects with over $40 million in donations. He's convinced not only everyday people to donate money, but huge brands like Saks Fifth Avenue to help out in some way. For more information about how you can donate (which Harrison encouraged the crowd to do), check out their website.