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Erica Hanna

Erica Hanna

"Charity: Water" Using Social Media to Spread Awareness

Erica Hanna ’02 has always been surrounded by an attitude of giving back. Her mother has fostered a service minded attitude all of Erica’s life. In fact for Christmas 2009, Erica’s grandmother suggested everyone in the family donate to a chosen charity instead of giving gifts. So it was no surprise when Erica took on what she initially thought would be “a fun little project.” What was most surprising though, was to Erica herself. It was no “fun little project” but instead a mind-blowing and life changing experience for Erica, some 500 people in 3rd world countries and thousands of Facebook friends, Twitter followers and donors.

After a Google search and some research, Erica chose charity: water, an organization that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. It has funded over 2,321 projects in over 16 nations and has helped over one million people. Erica’s 29th birthday was approaching and she knew she didn’t need anything, especially when she saw such a basic need deprived of individuals. She decided to launch “Birthday Campaign”—almost exclusively through social media outlets.

At midnight, she launched her “fun little project” on Twitter. She was floored when donations started within the first hour. Other night owls from all over the country started to respond to Erica’s campaign. Some of the donations came from individuals who had never met Erica in person but rather networked with her through social media sites. As she began her endeavors, she applied her marketing background to the project. She fully understood Charity: Water was her passion—not a passion of everyone around her. How could Erica receive donations and still give donors something that they felt was worth value? Erica had helped out several colleagues by taking headshots for their web pages. Several people had suggested Erica start a side-business. Feeling like she didn’t have enough experience under her belt to start a business, she thought a photo shoot in exchange for a $50 donation would be a win-win situation. Not only did Erica’s donations come pouring in but she also got a ton of experience photographing over 40 individuals and families.

She also used her Twitter and Facebook pages to educate her friends and followers about the organization with links and messages. On Mother’s Day she posted “my mom is my hero, and so are these women” with a link to stories of women walking 3-4 hours a day carrying 40+ pounds of dirty water home to their families. Twitter and Facebook also allowed for her to market her  the campaign several bloggers took notice of Erica’s efforts and featured her in blogs. Maikel Van De Mortel, co-founder of Element Six Media, did an entire case study of the campaign while Simon Mainwaring, a former “creative” for NIKE, posted Erica’s case as an example of a successful Return on Investment on Twitter to his tens of thousands of followers. Cindy Janovitz featured Erica as a guest blogger. Erica did a podcast for Geek Girls Guide and has spoken at many functions, including Minneapolis’ Unsummit. In August, 2010 she was named one of Pollen’s “Top Under the Radar Leaders of the Twin Cities.”

When I visit Erica’s Facebook or Twitter pages, I find not only information about the charities she’s working with but also a massive amount of inspirational quotes and links to educational vlogs or blogs. To be honest, I’ve started to regularly check out what she’s doing so I can watch the inspirational YouTube videos or TED talks offered on One can tell Erica is a positive person by her many uplifting quotes she has posted.

When the campaign wrapped up, Erica had raised over $11,000! A total of 555 people would directly benefit from safe drinking water. Erica had 202 donors—165 of them whom she had never met/interacted with except through social media. Erica’s efforts will provide wells in two different villages.

I asked Erica how she felt about everything she accomplished. She said, “I’m by no means an amazing person, but everyone is capable of doing amazing things.” She also encourages everyone to change his or her own vocabulary from “wish” to “will.” She “will” do great things with her “fun little projects.”

Erica Hanna graduated from Forest City High School in 1999 and Waldorf College in 2002. Her mother is Teresa Hanna, Waldorf cheerleading coach. Erica currently lives in Minneapolis where she is a producer, director, and photographer at WCCO-TV. She has also recently started a side business, Puke Rainbow Photography. “When life gives you rain…just puke a rainbow!”

This article by Nicole Blaser-Lovik’06 originally ran in the fall 2010 Alumni Dream Catcher, a Forest City Dollars for Education publication. Nicole Lovik-Blaser serves as Director of Forest City Dollars for Education.

Update: Erica Hanna and her work with Charity: Water

Since the above article on Erica Hanna was written, she was named the second most influential person in the Twin Cities on Twitter, and also won the national “Klout for Good” award – noting the influence she had in social media was used for the most good.

This year charity: water is planning on giving away a trip to Ethiopia to whoever raises the most money for Will and Jada Smith’s “Give up Your Birthday” campaign.

Erica plans on participating, and trying to be competitive in that arena. She hasn’t been told exactly where her wells are going in, but she is 90% sure they will be built in Ethiopia. The chance to meet the people of that nation would be extremely meaningful to her. She plans to launch the campaign in late July/early August. Stay tuned to her social media outlets for more information on that effort.

Also, since the last article, she spearheaded another, smaller charity: water campaign which raised $500. The focus of this campaign was to raise awareness for the lack of food in nations like Ethiopia. Erica took her cause to the extreme and actually adhered to the same strict diet/calorie amount of those living in poverty for three months. “It wasn’t fun,” she said. “I was lightheaded a lot, and physically ill. I lost 45 pounds in just 90 days. Proof, that our lifestyle in America is nothing like that of most of the world,” she continued.

The Pioneer Press in the Twin Cities picked up Erica’s story and published it in their Sunday edition. Erica professes, “I believe that campaign accomplished what it set out simply raise awareness. In the end the message I wanted it to send to everyone was this: ‘Helping others isn’t’s necessary.’”

You can find Erica and follow her campaign on and Facebook. For more information on charity: water, visit their website at