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Unconventional Charity: Water aims to raise $2 billion for clean water

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP/File

(Read caption) Girls fill plastic basins at a free water tap operated by a charity in a neighborhood of Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, where houses rarely receive water. Water supplies are insufficient to meet even the capital city's needs, and contaminated drinking water leads to epidemics. Scott Harrison's Charity:Water hopes to raise $2 billion to get clean water to 100 million more people.

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Scott Harrison, who founded Charity: Water, has been seeking a director of development for two years. But every applicant fails to meet his ambitious plans, he told the Association of Fundraising Professionals annual meeting on Sunday [April 1].

Mr. Harrison says the conversation always goes something like this, with him starting out by asking, “How much money did you raise last year?” The answer is usually something like “$10 million.” “How many people are on your staff?” “10.” “That just doesn’t work for us,” he says.

Mr. Harrison, whose organization employs only two fundraisers, is looking for someone who can generate a much higher return.

IN PICTURES: World Water Day 2011

Doing things differently has been Mr. Harrison’s goal since he started his nonprofit. Mr. Harrison, a former nightclub promoter, decided at age 28 he wanted a career in working for humanitarian organizations. None accepted his applications except Mercy Ships, which hired him as a photographer. What he saw on his two trips to Africa inspired him to found Charity: Water, a group that digs wells and provides other aid to help people in poor countries access to clean water.

Since the charity was founded in 2006, it has been held up as a prime example of a modern organization, achieving much of its popularity by raising money online with video, social media, and celebrity endorsements.

Mr. Harrison’s shared these secrets to his organization’s success:

• Demonstrate results. Since his first fundraising event, Mr. Harrison said he has been dedicated to showing donors where their money is going through photo documentation and GPS coordinates. Today, donors and volunteer fundraisers for the group can see exactly which water projects their money has supported.

• Good design and branding. Mr. Harrison wanted his charity’s image to focus on its mission to provide clean water to people in poor countries. He believed that he didn’t need much money to do this, just “good taste.”

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