What Can The Church Learn From Charity: Water

Posted by Craig Borlase on 4 September 2015

Everybody knows charity: water, right? Well, if you don’t, you should. Why? Because they’re going to change the world for the better. And not just through bringing clean, safe drinking water to communities that don’t have it. They’re reinventing charity in the process.

Founder and CEO Scott Harrison knows precisely why charity needs reinventing.

Having grown up in church, his later teenage years were a blur of New York city living: in high-end nightclubs and Caribbean islands reached by private jets. It was, he admits, ‘painfully cliche’.

‘After 10 years I had a moment of introspection. I was dating a model, owned a Rolex watch, a BMW, a grand piano and a golden retriever. I had ticked the boxes of success... and there was a hole, an emptiness.’

Eventually he saw his life for what it was: ‘I saw that I would never find happiness, purpose or fulfilment in the things that I was chasing. There would never be enough girls, never be enough money, never be enough fame or status. I looked at people who had more of all of that - more money, more girls, more status - and they were miserable.’

So he signed up to be a photojournalist on a hospital ship off the coast of West Africa. What he saw there - the depth of poverty and the relative ease with which a life could be transformed - made him think. When he returned to New York, he decided to raise some money and start doing some good.

‘My friends weren’t giving,’ says Scott. ‘Many of them claimed that charities were broken, that they were inefficient. They disliked the lack of transparency and felt there was no connection to the people that were being helped.’

So charity: water was born, challenging the charity sector in three dramatic ways. First up; finance. 100% of  donations goes to the field (even the 4% credit card fee that the bank will take out of your donation). All other costs - from wages to marketing, printer toner to that 4% credit card fee - are funded by a group of private donors, foundations and companies.

It goes deeper than that, with each new water project being GPS tagged and the data uploaded onto Google maps on the charity: water website. Forget the idea of an appeal raising money for a general fund: with this system donors can know to within 10 feet where on the planet their money has been put to use.

And then there’s the brand. “If we were to build a charity to solve the global water crisis we would need to build an epic brand - a brand to rival Nike and Apple and Coca Cola.’

More than any of these three dramatic changes, charity: water has done something remarkable for the very people that Scott first wanted to re-engage when he returned from Africa. It has made it possible for everyday people do get passionate, to get equipped and get active in their desire to do something good for others.

‘We’ve found that if we can inspire others to catch the vision they can take personal ownership. We just give them very simple tools so that they can be effective in fundraising - they’re the ones that do it.’

It’s a simple enough idea - giving supporters the tools to get out and share the story for themselves - but what if it had the power to do transform more than charity? What if church took the same approach?

What would church look like if we tried to build around the needs of those on the outside, rather than the preferences of those on the inside?

Banner photograph: Faces Helped By Charity:Water by Sacca, on Flickr.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

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