twitter youtube

The Edward and Beth Honig Family Foundation

The New Age of Charity and Online Giving

Donations and Charity: Water

Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison

In this day and age, the young generation are not only spending their money, but also giving it away. They aren’t just donating their hard earned money in conventional ways either. The millennials are making their business to change the way people donate money, forever.

Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water, is a standout example of making a difference in the charity community. Harrison’s story began when he worked as a top promoter for nightclubs and fashion based events in New York’. Harrison wanted something more as he faced what he called “spiritual bankruptcy,” so he decided to lend his helping hand to parts of West Africa.

Harrison spent the next two years in West Africa. Upon reaching Liberia was the terrible condition of drinking water and how much of a crisis it had become. Watching children drink unfiltered water the same color as the dirt roads, didn’t sit well with him needless to say.

Unsafe drinking water seemed to be the leading cause of many of the childhood diseases Harrison came in contact with or learned about. This appeared to be the turning point for him. He got inspired to start raising money for clean water when he returned to the United States, but his friends weren’t fully onboard.

Many people Harrison knew didnt give to charities for personal reasons and were not prepared to shell out a lot of money. People he knew saw charities as black holes where money goes and nothing comes out. “I don’t even know how much money would actually go to the people who I’m trying to help,’ ” Harrison claimed.

The venture split into two: He started Charity: Water. Under this organization, they would dig wells to bring clean drinking water to the nearly 800 million people without access to it around the globe. In the same vein, Harrison wanted to set a precedent with the way the organization did its work.

“We’re also really trying to reinvent charity, reinvent the way people think about giving, the way that they give,” he says.

This is where todays millenials come into the mix. With such a large amount of millenials around, knowing how they spend their money on charities and other causes is critical for nonprofits. It is an interesting and stressful process as the children and young adults of today are not spending the same as their parents.

“Our culture is changing pretty dramatically,” says Amy Webb, who forecasts digital trends for nonprofit and for-profit companies. “That sense of ‘I need to give out of obligation’ — I don’t know that it’s going to be around 20 years from now.” One of the major takeaways from an interview with Webb was changing the term “donate” to something different, like “investment.” The reason for the change is that young donors want to feel a part of the organization they are donating to and not feel like it is a black hole. Changing the way people think about donations is a key implementation for the success of any non-profit.

“It may seem something simple. It’s just semantics: donation vs. investment. But I think to a millennial, who’s grown up in a very different world, one that’s more participatory because of the digital tools that we have, to them they want to feel like they’re making an investment. Not just that they’re investing their capital, but they’re investing emotionally,” Webb says.

The Tech Aspect:

Amy Webb says any philanthropy without a smart digital platform — not just for donations but for empowering a community of givers — will be left behind.

At Charity: Water, designers spend most their time finding ways to save their donors time, trimming as much lag time or obstacles to giving online as possible.

“There are a lot of people who are more willing to be generous with 20, 30 and 50 dollars, but their time is actually worth something. And the thought of pulling out their credit card and fighting through a two- and three- and four-page form is just too much,” Harrison says.

On the site, giving one of the more simple forms to fill out. Charity: Water’s big tactical success, the approach for which it’s earned notoriety, is getting young people to call on their own social networks.

“One of the big ideas that the millennials embraced,” Harrison says, “is this idea that we sorta stumbled into, when we asked people to give up their birthday for clean water. So I went around asking everyone I knew to give $32 for my 32nd birthday.”

Soon, tech CEOs were raising tens of thousands of dollars per campaign by giving up their birthdays for water. This past spring, Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor joined the movement. And the generation that comes after millennials, today’s children, are getting more involved, too.

“We had 7-year-olds in Austin, Texas, go door to door asking for $7 donations. We had 16-year-olds in Indiana asking for $16 donations,” Harrison says.

The group’s focus on social networks and simple design means 4 million more people, in 22 countries, now have access to clean drinking water.

Charity: Water’s latest technological improvement is quite sophisticated as they are installing remote sensors on wells. What do these sensors record you may ask? The sensors are for donors so they can check-in on their investment and see just how they have affected the global water crisis.

Harrison is confident in the progress and success of his company as he claims, “We think this is just going to be game changing.”