I’ve recently learned about Charity: Water, a small New York-based charity that works to provide clean, safe water for people who do not have enough. Charity: Water was founded in 2006, only five years ago. It has a private group of supporters that funds all of its administrative expenses, so 100% of public donations go to providing water for people who need it. It even pays PayPal and credit card transfer fees for the money donated to it, ensuring that the full amount of donations goes to those who need it.
Charity: Water’s philosophy and communications share in the simplicity of its vision: they are clean, straightforward, direct, honest. The web page is a model of clarity, and communications on social networking sites such as Facebook and (especially) Twitter (@charitywater) get right to the work that they do. The founder, Scott Harrison, is a marketing professional and a contrarian in today’s overhyped, overheated, overly colorful, busy, manipulative, celebrity-obsessed and stimulation-soaked sales and marketing world. He has built a charity that makes innovative and effective use of the Internet and especially social networking media to spread the word and raise money, using sometimes astonishing ideas (“Give up your birthday” campaign, anyone?) that, on second thought, should have been obvious. So why didn’t somebody else think of them and use them first? I’m trying to figure that one out. :-)
Before I donate to a new charity, I normally would check it out with Charity Navigator, an organization that rates charities based on how much money goes to their work and how effective they are. Charity Navigator has not yet reviewed Charity: Water, however, so I was forced to do the footwork myself.
Fortunately it was easy, largely because Charity: Water makes it easy for people to find information. Their mission, history, founders, list of board members, and financial information are all easily found and clearly marked. Annual reports and audit reports are posted as compressed PDFs. The annual reports are attractive, well written, informative, and well-organized, and non-accountants can read the audit reports without severe brain strain, which is impressive. ;) In 2009, the charity also added a survey of average salaries in New York charitable organizations to the list, allowing people to look at how the salaries paid to their employees compare to those paid to others at charities of similar sizes in the same area.
A Google search turned up quite a bit of additional information about Charity: Water, none of it bad or troubling. The first page of results were mostly of Charity: Water web pages and social media locations. There’s an August 2009 article by Katie Couric on the CBS News site. There are articles on Bloomberg, CNet, Discovery, the New York Times, TechCrunch, Technorati, and plenty of other news sites and blogs. Just today Lee Schneider posted an article about the group on Huffington Post, which has a number of earlier articles on it as well. Businesses post about Charity: Water on their own web sites. See what Apple Computers, in particular, has to say about the organization’s use of Apple technology. Although Charity Navigator is lagging, a number of other non-profit sites and non-profit rating groups have posted about it as well.
The Wikipedia article on Charity: Water is one of the few less-than-stellar items on the list. At the top of the article a big note appears indicating that Wikipedia believes that a “major contributor” to the article has a “close association” with Charity: Water. The article itself reads as if it was written by somebody at the charity. If that’s true, Charity: Water should ‘fess up and get rid of the thing already, okay? :-) But it’s not at all unlikely that the culprit was an overzealous supporter rather than an official representative; Charity: Water has plenty of zealous supporters.
My conclusion: this charity is doing work that deserves my support and that of other people. I’ve added it to the list of charities in my bill pay service, and it will receive monthly donations.
Although I am impressed with Charity: Water, however, I didn’t write this blog primarily to promote it. I wrote it to encourage everybody to PLAN YOUR GIVING instead of simply dropping donations in a Salvation Army Christmas barrel and “giving at the office” via some large charity aggregator like United Way. Taking the time to plan how you donate pays back in how effective your donations are, how much enjoyment you get out of donating, and how much more likely you are to support innovative groups that are doing genuinely useful, cool stuff, like Charity: Water and like so many others innovative and committed small charities.