Redefining Charity By: Gabriella Martinez

No Ordinary Non-Profit

charity: water is no ordinary non-profit. With their 100% model and unique marketing tactics, it is no wonder the organization has received praise from outlets such as TIME, Forbes, and The Wallstreet Journal. The company has raised more than 100 million dollars in donations to bring safe, clean drinking water to developing nations since its start in 2006 by CEO Scott Harrison.  Not only are they slowly bringing an end to the water crisis, charity: water is also setting a new standard for charities which range from how they inspire their donor base to the handling of donations.

“What differentiates us from a lot of non-profits, not just water non-profits, are two things: our 100% model and we prove every dollar,” said Christine Choe, Senior Manager of Strategy & Business Operations. “So the 100% model means 100% of every dollar donated that the public gives goes directly to the field to fund water projects. Even if you donate $10 dollars, all of that goes to a water project. We even reimburse credit card fees if you give by credit card.”

To clarify, the organization manages two pools of money: public donations which fund water projects and “The Well”—a membership program where donors give a set amount towards their operating expenses each year. The Well usually consists of private donors, foundations, and sponsors. 

With 100% of public funds going towards water projects and an incredible knack for story-telling, charity: water is inspiring donors (or campaigners, as the organization likes to call them) to fundraise with contagious enthusiasm. To date, more than 20,000 donors have held birthday campaigns, created videos, etc. all to raise funds for the company’s main mission: bringing people in developing countries clean water. “People have been really creative: [campaigners] give up birthdays and weddings for us. [They do things] like polar plunges. So we have an amazing group of supporters that way… They campaign for us and we use their network to help fund for water,” Choe explains. 

The Water Crisis

charity: water is working tirelessly to educate the world on the water crisis our world is currently suffering from. Their website emphasizes while the water crisis begins with water, it affects far more than that—education, health, poverty, and women and children.  

Currently, 1 in 9 people lack access to safe drinking water. While that may seem far-fetched to most people, given that 70 percent of our world is covered in water, only 2.5 percent of the water on earth is fresh. Of that 2.5 percent, only 1 percent is easily accessed by the world’s approximately 6.8 billion people. Therefore, the water crisis affects everyone, but those in developing areas of Africa and Southeast Asia are particularly affected.

According to the World Health Organization over 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented by simply improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Feeding our world takes up to 90% of our freshwater withdrawals, and in most rural communities, women and young girls are responsible for walking to collect water for their families, filling up time that would otherwise be used to pursue an education or earn extra income. 

Due Diligence and Good Stewardship.

charity: water continuously strives to be good stewards of fundraising efforts and donor funds. They take several steps to ensure money is utilized in the way it was intended. “We have two separate bank accounts, one is for operational and the other is for water—you cannot touch one or the other for different reasons,” Choe said. “So every single dollar we get from the public goes to our accounts for water and ever single dollar from “The Well” goes towards our operations.” 

Since its inception, charity: water has provided a way for donors to track every completed water project on Google Maps, along with photos of the project. Now, charity: water’s program Dollars to Projects, takes that one step further by showing the water project impact, dollar by dollar.

How the program works is this: when you donate, charity: water sends your money to local partners in the field (who build and implement the water projects). Once the water project is completed, local partners gather final photos and log GPS coordinates of each community and a final report is delivered to charity: water. Once the information is verified as correct by charity: water, they use a custom built assignment tool to match the money raised by donors with the projects they helped fund. Then a Project Detail Report is created, which shows donor dollars tied to that specific project, GPS coordinates, photos, and other details about the community helped. “You can see the actual project and where it is on [Google Maps], photos of that water solution, whether it’s a well or sand filter. So, you can track where your dollar went,” Choe said.  


According to charity: water, the average well is pumped an average of 13,698 every day—approximately 5 million times a year. With such extensive use, major repairs are an inevitable reality. While the organization has always trained local communities to make simple repairs to their own water projects, their newest project, Pipeline, hopes to “keep water flowing” and help when complex repairs beyond their capabilities arise.  This newest project helps implement the use of remote sensors; helping charity: water monitor the status of their current water projects.  How it works is this: The sensor in the well detects when something is wrong and alerts a team of local mechanics trained by charity: water, which then goes out and fixes the issues, usually having water flowing within a few days.  
This is how they see the future: a system of local leaders, innovative technology and trained mechanics working together with communities to keep water flowing for thousands of people around the world.

The future

charity: water operates in a way most other non-profits don’t— their investment in content, a focus on opportunity (how water changes everything), and a high level of transparency—is how they have been able to cut through the clutter and impassion donors. “We are great story-tellers,” explains Choe. “That helps mobilize a diverse group of supporters.”  However, they don’t just stop there though. The organization’s Dollars to projects program, gives donors a complete experience—they can see the impact their fundraising efforts and dollars are making—inspiring them to continually give. 
To date, charity: water has served 5.2 million people through over 16,000 projects—totaling about 100 million dollars. In 2014 alone, they served over one million people.  The organization’s main goal is to continue this upward trend. “There are still 748 million people without access to clean drinking water, so that is a huge number, but it is tangible. We hope to bring that number down. In a longer term approach, our approach is to reinvent charity, so we’re trying new things…We are trying to figure out how to best inspire and motivate our donors in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Choe said. “So not only do we hope to bring water to the 748 million people that currently don’t have access to clean water, but also redefine and reimagine what charity actually means and how it looks.”

Gabriella A. Martinez

Gabriella was formerly the Social Media & Marketing Coordinator here at Westminster Consulting. Her key responsibilities included being the liaison between our company and media outlets as well as expanding our presence within social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. She currently...

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