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Charity: water launches in the UK

Howard Lake | 21 June 2016 | News

US nonprofit charity: water is expanding its fundraising by launching in the UK, its first move outside the USA. The charity’s founder Scott Harrison announced the move in London last week, and introduced its first UK employee, fundraiser Angharad McKenzie.

In the 10 years since it was founded, charity: water now has one million supporters, who have funded over 19,000 water projects providing 6.1 million people with clean water. Most of the people the have helped live in rural villages and have had to walk miles to reach water supplies. Often these are shared with animals.

Charity: water has developed an international reputation for its extensive use of digital fundraising and simple but effective fundraising campaigns that can be adopted easily. For example, Harrison ‘gave away’ his birthday ten years ago, asking people to make a donation to help provide clean water instead. Thousands of other people have ‘donated their birthday’ since then in the same way.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

It is also committed to demonstrating its impact to donors and uses technology to bring video, maps, reports and statistics to its supporters to show them precisely how and where their money is being used.

Harrison secured the support of UK technology businessman Michael Birch who, with his wife Xochi, created social networking site Bebo, and sold it to AOL in 2008 for $850m. Birch helped develop mycharitywater.org, the online fundraising engine of the nonprofit’s digital presence. The couple have also donated over $20m to the organisation.


Charity: water in the UK

Angharad McKenzie is the sole employee of charity: water in the UK at the moment. Indeed, the organisation is not yet formally established as a charity here. McKenzie previously worked at WaterAid for eight years where she was Head of Supporter Development.

At charity: water she is Head of Key Relationships. This indicates charity: water’s prime focus in setting up in the UK: it aims to replicate its approach in the US in which it works with high net worth individuals who contribute to cover all of the nonprofit’s costs of ‘overheads’. Consequently, the organisation can then promise that 100% of all other donations are used for charitable purposes.

The two bank-account approach was developed from the outset, following Harrison’s experience of talking to friends and contacts, many of whom argued that they did not support charity because they did not know how their money would be spent.

Harrison is so committed to this approach that the nonprofit will even ensure that its major donors cover the card transaction costs of online donations by others.

In the UK this approach has been referred to as the ‘Golden Pound’, whereby charities secure the administration costs of a campaign from an individual or corporate donor. The approach can certainly be popular with donors but some fundraisers argue that it puts charities without access to major donors at a disadvantage as they do have to tell donors that their gifts cover all a charity’s activities, including the necessary office and infrastructure costs.

McKenzie has been working with charity: water in the UK since last year, supporting the existing members of ‘The Well’, the overheads funders, several of whom live or work in the UK, and expanding the network. In addition, the UK is also charity: water’s European base so McKenzie is in contact with European major donors.

Video: Howard Lake


Virtual reality film

Harrison also used the launch event to let attendees experience charity: water’s virtual reality film ‘The Source’, which it launched in the US last year. It has already been used successfully there at a major donor gala dinner at which it managed to enable over 400 supporters to don VR headsets and headphones at the same time and then watch it simultaneously.

Harrison describes VR as “an empathy machine”.

‘The Source’ is the story of 13-year-old Selam in Northern Ethiopia, who used to walk miles each day to bring water to her family, which meant it was hard or her to make time for her schoolwork too. The film shows the the transformation of her  community as a well bearing fresh water is dug for the first time.

The story of charity: water

At the UK launch Scott Harrison told how charity: water came about and why he is driven to ensure it has even greater impact.


Video: Howard Lake