By Mina Margaret Ogbanga, Ford Foundation/ARNOVA Fellow
The last thing you want to do after four days of an 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. series of lectures is to have ANOTHER lecture! So, in no small part, I simply was just ready to get home and have a free evening.
Then came the reminder. The Fellows needed to be at the Lake Lecture. The rest they say is history, as rather than walking home, we simply ran with some speed to ensure we didn’t miss the bus headed to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, where we were welcomed to a night of reinventing charity.
Mixed thoughts as to what one could learn from this charity: water experience went through our minds. Incidentally, it turned out to be a most exhilarating experience. Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of charity: water, moved you from story to story with effortless energy and unveiled innovative fundraising steps that would help just about any nonprofit towards achieving success with their fundraising.
This blog seeks to do a comparative analysis of the fundraising strategy from the lecture and those practiced in African settings and importantly sieve the lessons for readers to understand the importance, uses, and strategies to deploying best practice and innovative fundraising steps benchmarked against the 13 key steps of the fundraising cycle. Finally, it highlights contrasting views and recommendations.
The experience; the journey to finding the case statement
The presentation started with a story of the personal journey of the Philadelphia-born Harrison. His mission to Liberia aboard the 500-foot medical ship was to document the work done by the medical personnel. They traveled to locations where one doctor had to support 50,000 people. He spoke of the pain of war, the challenge of cleft lips and facial distortions. Documenting these transformations— capturing those moments of medical transformation from being cursed to being beautiful—were strategic stories that set the tone for the entire night. Harrison also discovered through that experience the power of stories. The project opened him up to the realization that over 600 million people have no water from Liberia to Honduras.
Examining the case and the point of self-discovery
Harrison quoted the World Health Organization that 52 percent of diseases are spread through water from ecoli to leeches, some of which stuck to the throat of the citizens. Half of the schools didn’t have water. Social pressure due to this has made many girls leave school.
Harrison has traveled to over 68 countries from Bangladesh to eastern Kenya and has never seen a man fetch water due to the cultural belief that plays out. In some cases, many refuse to fetch from the cleaner water as they were infested with crocodiles and threats of hyenas. Fortunately, he saw the water issues as a solvable problem and commenced the deployment of 11 different technologies to drill water. After spending 10 years in New York as a club promoter, he realized early on that he had betrayed the values and spirituality of his childhood; fast cars and fast living led him to liquidating more than 2000 of his DVDs on eBay and simply moving away from it all.
Analyzing market requirement and preparing needs statement
The captured moment of kids screaming and jumping for water remains memorable for Harrison, cementing his desire to provide water. This was especially true as water turned out to be the most transformative way to move people from poverty, as it not only improved health but gave women in the communities the much needed time back to utilize for other activities. It was strange to discover that women spent over 40 million hours seeking water. The new availability of the water gave them the opportunity to spend time with family, become entrepreneurs, and do other strategic activities.
Defining objectives and breaking away from the status quo
Harrison believes that “everyone can stand for clean water.” It was interesting to hear him state that people not trusting charities was the backdrop for his stance to transform the sector. He mentioned that money given to charities was considered wasted money. So he was spurred to design a functional business model that would overcome inefficiency and ineffectiveness. His strategic model is to dedicate 100 percent of money to water provision. He also ensured donors were clearly updated about their donations. Thus his business model was basically a) 100 percent of the funding dedicated to the project, b) proof of utilization, and c) developing a good brand rather than simply using guilt and shame.
Involving volunteers, innovative steps and validating needs statement
The key focus for Harrison was on ways that didn’t remove the “fun” in fundraising and involving active volunteers.
He expressed the strong need for nonprofits and all service providers to move from lame marketing to marketing with good taste. He encouraged the mainstreaming of local expertise and partners so that the work will be sustainable. He stated that he wasn’t or didn’t want to look like a religious charity and so he encouraged a local team. Working towards ensuring his work on providing clean water and sanitation brought together people of all faiths.
Harrison’s model in Bobi, Uganda, where people were invited to attend a party and donate an entry fee of $20, received a strong mention as an innovative fundraising drive. People came, ate as much as they wished, and afterward all 700 of the participants received feedback on the support that their donations provided. The water story changed and the media buzz helped strongly to propel the cause.
Evaluating the gift market and selecting a fundraising vehicle
The surprise of the evening was the fact that Harrison said he had NEVER sent a direct mail but rather committed to utilizing the internet maximally. All the projects were about people; both online and off-line! He celebrated people and communities who were part of the project. He deployed strategic media branding like showcasing dirty water in a feeding bottle, which went viral as a PR stunt for water support. He didn’t at any time undermine the power of videos (more storytelling) through Instagram and innovations, specifically donating on days like Valentine’s Day.
Identifying potential giving sources and designing a unique fundraising plan
Harrison put a cost to every support. For example, he knew he could get a team to drill water for a community for $5,000. He set out from designer shops to retail cans and raised $700,000. He commenced a world tour and was able to raise $605,000. The use of calendars, posters and related IEC materials were used as part of the information materials.
The uniqueness of birthdays was highlighted in getting people to “donate” their birthdays for a particular year as a giving moment in support of water. Crosscutting fundraising figures were raised from $23,000 to $30,000. Jack Dorsey and Angela Ahrends both donated $100,000. Other celebrities like Will Smith and Jada Pickett Smith donated $200,000 and even had a chance to visit the project. Uniquely, Nora Wein donated her 89th birthday and was determined to make water possible for others through helping them access clean water.
Preparing a communications plan
As the organization grew, Harrison deployed other models like utilizing groups such as Netflix, Spotify, etc., to reach even wider audiences, and reminding us that we “do not need to be afraid of work that has no end.” He showed great skills in the use of charts, tables, etc. The use of stories, photos, and videos all jointly used as tools raised $200 million.
Sustainability was at the heart of his initiative, “going beyond the now.” The strategic use of history, feedback, and sharing plans for next steps gave hope to many who felt more comfortable to donate even more.
Soliciting the gift
One innovation led to another, an example being “the well,” which set off a growth of support for wells and was a strategic ASK. There were numerous clear giving levels from the tiniest of opportunities to capital giving, which were all well planned out. At the heart of all Harrison’s programs was a desire to end the numerous sufferings of the masses, giving him the strength to connect with all sorts of donors, especially the millennials. Then, he shared stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things. But the stories weren’t all of joy; the pain of his mother, the loss of one of his youngest donors, and the unreached and vulnerable all formed part of what shaped various aspects of Harrison’s initiatives and strengthened them even more. His cost analysis was on point. His scientific view of handwashing as a tool to addressing clean water matters helped.
Demonstrating stewardship and renewing the gift
These steps set the tone for Harrison’s huge success in the field of philanthropy. At the question and answer session, he mentioned his low capacity to work across the developed world, stating clearly that he had no expertise in navigating political waters but preferred his work in rural communities.
Harrison stated that he received funds from a cross section of donors, even atheists. His vision of turning time to wealth matched with a great and informative website and commitment to quality delivery, worked well.
His passion for transparency and accountability is second to none, and specifically the use of KPMG as his auditors showed a deliberateness at getting it right with finances. Getting continued high ratings has proven how seriously Harrison takes stewardship. He acknowledged the power of storytelling and capturing strategic moments.
On the 100 percent model, many refer to Harrison’s business model as an unfair advantage. Running on zero balance as a pre-start for 11 years is to many a huge commitment. To succeed through the tough phases, you must be willing to work in the service of others and be willing to make key sacrifices.
Harrison’s overriding vision is simply to reinvent charity and his mission is water. He often talked entrepreneurs into the 100 percent model, stating that the ability for people to know where their money went meant a lot to many.
His passion also extends to generational inspiration where he loves speaking in schools. Transparency is charity: water’s culture. Utilizing podcasts is a key strength he brings and it has yielded a high measurable success rate.
Another twist to his response was the possible use of Block chain, including Bitcoin, to enhance transparency. Harrison is inspired by continued originality, inspiration, and imagination, and he encourages partnerships with creative talents from the social entrepreneurs eco space.
He concluded by saying he has turned down several jobs due to his passion. He encouraged everyone to always remember that you are responsible for the design of the impact you make or want to make, and ensure the institutional memory is sustained by telling children about this legacy. Who knows … they could turn out to do it better!
In my view, Harrison has come a long way with tested tools that have worked. This is followed by a consistency that simply helps in dotting all I’s and crossing T’s. His firm belief in the ability to provide solutions gives him tireless energy. Many may see his actions as messianic, a semblance to being the deliverer from the West and to be worshipped and honored. Others may not have come to terms with the 100 percent model as workable, but I recall he started off by saying he had TWO accounts; one for projects and one for overheads, both supported primarily by the intrinsic interest of the donor.
A colleague is of the view that Harrison’s approach needs to be more integrated, incorporating other core parts of water and sanitation and stakeholders for an even stronger sense of sustainability, while another attendee at the talk called it a very “colorful” presentation.
Whatever the views, one takeaway is that whatever the heart desires it can actually achieve following strategic and consistent steps and if one can reach the other, the cascading effect of impact will surely change the world and make it an even better place to live.
So was I inspired to give to a WELL? I guess so.
Mina Margaret Ogbanga is an experienced community development specialist who is the founder and CEO of the Center for Development Support Initiatives (CEDSI Nigeria), an institution that promotes good governance and sustainable development in rural communities. She is one of 10 senior NGO leaders from Southern and West Africa spending the spring 2018 semester in Indianapolis engaging with faculty in philanthropic studies and nonprofit management as well as civically engaged Hoosiers.