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Just For Nonprofits: Fresh Water & Fresh Approaches - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Fresh Water & Fresh Approaches

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Fresh Water & Fresh Approaches

“There is a huge distrust for charities out there,” explains Scott Harrison on a recent episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast, “despite an amazing heritage of generosity” in this country. Harrison gets it--his Charity:Water organization, by the end of the year, will have brought fresh, clean water to seven million people who previously didn’t have it, solving one percent of the global problem. Harrison says his early attempts to raise money for the cause ran into this problem because too many potential donors felt betrayed by nonprofit organizations who paid their CEOs enormous salaries or whose donations, after expenses and administrative costs, were a disappointing fraction of their contributions.

Harrison’s response, in the very infancy of his organization, was to promise all donors that one hundred percent of their donations would go directly to providing clean water to people who needed it. He would somehow find a way to cover the rest. This meant that when a $10,000 donation by credit card arrived, Harrison paid the credit card company’s fee, making up the $250 shortfall with his own money, so that the amount donated was the amount applied to the work. Within a year and a half, Charity:Water had $800,000 in its donations account, but not enough in its overhead account to make the next payroll. Everyday people had responded to the need, but not enough had stepped forward to cover administrative costs.

At the charity’s bleakest moment, a private donor heard Harrison’s story, donated a million dollars toward overhead, and said, “You just need more time.” Now that he had it, he was able to find corporate support for overheadl (including donations for office needs) while holding fast to his commitment that every penny received by donors at events or through the website went directly to fresh water provision. Now, 110 families specifically cover the payroll so that fundraising efforts can stick to the one hundred percent claim.

It might sound like just another way to frame an old photo, but Charity:Water’s approach resonates with donors. From the beginning, the organization has communicated with donors so they could see exactly where their money was going, and how that money was being used. “In the age of social media,” he says, they’ve “adapted technology tools to connect photos and GPS coordinates to donors from specific events so they can see the projects and people.” Harrison claims his group was the first charity to use Instagram, and it’s continued this connectivity with donors through Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

Early efforts met young donors where they were: in several cities, fundraising events held in nightclubs were organized, publicized, and reported on through Twitter: a young, tech-savvy audience in venues that would draw them in, responding to updates making use of the technology they built their daily lives around. Today, the reach has shifted a bit, with a new emphasis on caring citizens donating their birthdays to the clean water cause.

Each day, the efforts of Charity:Water and the generosity of its donors brings clean water to 2,700 people who didn’t have it the day before. In just ten years, the group has tapped into a donor base whose faith in giving has been restored. Is it doing anything new, or is it doing familiar things in a new way? Whatever the case, it has struck a nerve somehow, activating a concerned citizenry and keeping it connected with its work.


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Just For Nonprofits: Fresh Water & Fresh Approaches - Executive Leadership Articles

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