As it was international day of charity on Thursday, I thought I would dedicate a post to charitable giving. The other night I couldn’t sleep, which is rather standard for me, so I decided to read my dissertation. Sounds like a sleep winner but I didn’t read it to send me to sleep, rather I was keen to revisit the research to understand the motivations behind donating (says a lot about me!) I had chosen charitable giving as my topic almost 5 years ago, with a focus on ‘charity: water’, a New York based charity who are on a mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
Since I can remember I have been fascinated with the charity sector and admired ‘charity: water’ so much that throughout university they became the focus of every report. Even my first job was in the marketing department at Birmingham Children’s Hospital (a charity) which I got by doing a presentation on a key charity at my interview (3 guesses as to which one I chose!) After studying ‘charity: water’ for years and hounding the staff on LinkedIn, it was incredible to hear they had finally started up in the UK, and even more so to become a UK volunteer ambassador.
This Summer I was lucky enough to be part of their Spring Members event at the Barbican in London, which was hosted as a thank you to their UK donors and supporters. The experiential event featured a real life water walk enabling people to fully grasp how heavy it is to carry the jerry cans, along with an immersive virtual reality video that follows the journey of a 13 year old girl, showing what a difference clean water has made to her daily life and education.
It was honestly a highlight of my year meeting the founder, Scott Harrison, and listening to his admirable talk about the charity, including stories of real people and communities they had helped. It reminded me of why I was so passionate about them in the first place and I left feeling inspired, charged up and beamed about them to everyone I spoke to. Scott was also incredibly down to earth and didn’t seem to mind that I held him back to take extra photos (there was a 5% chance of death and a 20% chance of something life altering happening to me the following week, so I wasn’t settling for a blurry photo with one of my hero’s!)
After reading my dissertation the other night it appeared that the main reason people are so reluctant to donate to charities is due to the lack of trust in where the money is going to. People are also skeptical of charities because there is little focus on the positive difference the fundraising makes. It was argued that most of the time charities focus on the negatives of needing donations and help in the first place, rather than the benefits they can achieve with support. I knew that ‘charity: water’ would have an answer to the main donor issues which is why I chose them as a case study years ago; I also realised I was guilty of the first part too.
I continuously support Brainstrust since experiencing first-hand where the fundraising is spent. Since being diagnosed with a brain tumour I have found myself on the receiving end of their support and resources and because of this I do now have that real evidence of impact. But my scepticism has kept me from giving more freely to incredible charities before now and I’m not the only one.
‘Charity: water’ have overcome the trust issues with their 100% model which basically means that all of the money donated is sent straight to the field to build water wells for people in need because their overheads are covered by private donors. Their GPS tracking systems also enable donors to see exactly where their money has been sent to and notifies them if a water well is no longer working.
Scott admitted during his talk that it isn’t sustainable for small charities to achieve a 100% model and nor should they try to. I imagine as they continue to grow that it has been hard for ‘charity: water’ to maintain. But Scott also added that charities should offer donors more transparency about where the money is spent, including operating costs. It’s also worth noting that ‘charity: water’ are incredibly optimistic and focus on the positive impact that the money raised has made to communities, showing happy and healthy individuals as a result.
I can’t help but think about ‘charity: water’ whenever I soak in a bath with my music, run a long hot shower, or help myself to filtered water from my tap. How incredible is it to be able to do these things and yet not everyone is as fortunate? It’s amazing that in this day and age people still walk miles and miles to collect dirty water.
Young people, especially little girls, sacrifice an education as a result and millions are dying of ill health, 43% of which are children under five (charity: water 2019). Clean water should be accessible to everyone as a necessity; it’s the simplest medicine to everything and one of our best blessings but not everyone is able to say the same. Because of this, ‘charity: water’ continuously break the mould to improve this and have so far funded 38,113 water projects for 9.3 million people around the world.
Although I gratefully don’t have a personal connection to ‘charity: water’, which I discovered is another main motivator for donating, they will forever inspire the marketer within me because of how innovative and creative they are.
I am so honoured and proud to be a UK volunteer ambassador and cannot wait until I’m back on my feet and supporting the next event. Also, a huge thank you to the girls who work for ‘charity: water’ UK for their thoughtful gift and card after my operation. 💛