Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Mother's Day Card from Charity:Water

It's always fun to open up the email box on Mother's Day morning and see what's there. This year in addition to the expected there was a lovely surprise from one of my students. Dave had sent me a card announcing a donation of $20 in my name to Charity:Water. Not only was it a nice gesture; it was viral, encouraging me to send another card. When I clicked through I found that I could designate my donation for any one of three countries. If I didn't care to make a designation in the time allotted, the choice would be made by Charity:Water. I didn't send the ecard, but I did match Dave's donation, so the single card actually raised $40.

On the donation page (and throughout the site) there's a statement of Charity:Water's uinique value proposition--100% of the donation goes to a fresh water project. How do they do it? They have separate channels for donations to support the running of the organization and they seem to get numerous in-kind service donations also. The focal point of their fund-raising is actually a $20 bottle of fresh water, which we in developed economies take for granted, but according to the site, 1.1 billion worldwide do not. A man who used to sell $350 bottles of vodka to nightclubbers though he could sell $20 bottles of water for a cause, and he was right!

Charity:Water is the creation of Scott Harrison. As the story goes Scott came to New York as member of a rock band and soon became a successful fixture on the New York nightclub scene. Tiring of that, he looked for a greater purpose. His first step was to volunteer on one of the Mercy Ships. He returned to found Charity:Water. It's clearly a charity of the Internet age. They have found multiple ways to engage visitors in the work they are doing, providing a great deal of rich content and giving an opportunity to select a project in a specific location. Look at the projects page to see ways in which they keep donors up to date on projects they've sponsored, including using Google Earth to pinpoint the location of wells they have provided.

There are two important non-profit strategy issues here. First is the business model, in which all publicly-solicited donations go to the work of the cause, not to a blotted, overpaid administrative structure, which we've seen too often in recent years. Second is the way in which they use the web, not just to solicit donations but to keep donors informed in a very personal way. Not all organizations are going to be able to copy the business model. All non-profits should look at the way Charity:Water uses the web today and watch for continuing developments as this organization grows. It is clearly an organization to watch--both for the good work they do and for the exceptionally effective way in which they do it.

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