Innovative Charity: Water Partners With Companies That Care

Barbara Kieker

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Millennials want to work for companies that have a purpose beyond just making money, according to the latest Millennial Survey by Deloitte.  Companies that are working to make the world a better place can have a significant advantage in attracting and retaining young talent.

“It needs to be authentic.  Young employees can tell if a company really cares,” said Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, a nonprofit organization focused on bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. 

“It starts at the top with leaders who genuinely care about a cause.  We’ve been fortunate to partner with dozens of innovative companies, and the most successful campaigns are always about more than raising money.”

In the eight years since its founding, charity: water has created corporate partnerships and innovative campaigns that engage employees, customers and vendors. “A great example is our partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue,” Harrison said. 

“Together we created a campaign in their stores that educated customers while offering related merchandise for sale.  The campaign also included employee-giving, and in total raised more that $700,000 to fund water projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa.” 

Harrison will be a featured speaker at the 2015 Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum presented by The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University. The forum will be held at the Columbus Georgia Convention and Trade Center on Aug. 24-25, 2015. 

Addressing a fundamental need: water

Almost 700 million people worldwide lack access to clean water.  Forty billion hours are spent collecting water each year – time that could otherwise be spent on education and productive work.  Scott Harrison created charity: water to address this fundamental need.  And he created a model for a fundamentally different kind of charity organization. 

“We were one of the first charities to embrace social media, the first to reach one million Twitter followers and one of the first to use Instagram.  We’ve never done a direct mail campaign,” Harrison said. 

“We achieved an average of 90 percent year-over-year growth in our first years when charitable giving in America over that time was net-negative.”

Since its founding, charity: water has raised more than $180 million from more than one million supporters.  It has funded 16,000 water projects in 24 different countries and helped more than 5.2 million people get clean water for the first time. 

Creating a different kind of charity

Harrison was 30 years old when he founded charity: water. With no previous experience in the charity sector, he was able to tackle the issues that many people have with nonprofits and build a different kind of charity. 

“When I talked to people my age, I found that they didn’t trust charities.  They saw them as black holes that provided no connection to the people served,” Harrison said. 

“We tried to meet these objections head-on in the way we structured charity: water.” 

A concern common to most charities is how much of the money raised actually reaches people in need. Harrison eliminated this concern by creating a separate giving program to fund his nonprofit’s operations.  

“We have a team of committed and influential donors who participate in a private three-year giving program called The Well, which funds charity: water operations.  Members include the Chief Marketing Officer of American Express, the founders of Twitter and Spotify, the co-founder of Facebook as well as athletes and celebrities,” Harrison said. 

“They make it possible for other donors to give in a pure way so 100 percent of their gifts go directly to water projects.” 

Harrison also used technology from the start to connect donors with projects.  For example, each of the 16,000 water projects charity: water has funded can be seen on Google Maps.  Crowd-sourcing programs are used to fund specific water-well drilling rigs, which are outfitted with cameras and have their own Twitter accounts. 

“By being transparent and showing people the impact of their giving, it creates a virtuous cycle that makes them want to give more,” Harrison said.

The nonprofit consciously works with indigenous organizations on its water projects rather than bringing in Westerners to do the work.  This helps ensure the projects are sustainable.  According to Harrison, the nonprofit helps grow the capacity of local organizations by helping them acquire the tools and expertise they need.

More information on charity: water is available at  For information on getting your company involved with charity: water, send an email to [email protected].

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.