Charity:water believes donors have more to give than dollars – if you ask
The Nguyen family has always approached their philanthropy in a traditional way. Xuan and Hoa, immigrants from Vietnam, and their children, Alicia, Nicholas and Justin, have been generous with cash donations, often giving to organizations working in their home country and helping Vietnamese immigrants in the United States.
Today, however, the Nguyens are leading a campaign to bring clean water to 1 million people around the world by 2030. How do you do that? Convince some 10,000 people to become monthly donors to charity wateran international development group that builds wells and drinking water systems.
The Nguyens have a huge passion for this project as well as a giant reach: they lead Global System Builder, a Bay Area company founded by Xuan. It provides financial education to individuals and families through more than 20,000 licensed agents in the United States and Canada, each of whom is recruited by the company for the project. Clients are also featured on Charity:water. Nearly two years into the effort, World System Builder has recruited more than 2,000 new Charity:water supporters. Donations total more than $1.1 million, including more than $800,000 from monthly donors, whose contributions will increase over the decade.
The Nguyens expanded their philanthropy because Charity:water long ago found ways for people to express their generosity in all kinds of ways beyond cash donations. The group very intentionally encourages supporters to give in their own way – with money, of course, but also using their talents and social connections.
Founded in 2006 by former nightclub promoter Scott Harrison, the organization pioneered digital birthday fundraisers, campaigns in which individuals solicit donations for charity on social media. Other Charity:water fundraising strategies have upended the nonprofit world or drawn criticism – such as the acceptance of shares of private companies this leads to bonuses for staff when the company goes public – but he is known for the creative ways he invites the public to show their support.
Let your imagination run wild, the group urges supporters who wish to fundraise for the group, offering photos, branded materials and digital donation platforms. A group of teenagers promised to perform a song on Instagram dedicated to a donor for each gift; three adventurers crossed India in a rickshaw. The group celebrates children who raise money as little heroes and publishes the fundraising guide “World Changers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Empowering Kind Kids.”
“We realize some people might write a check for $2,000,” says Ben Greene, director of development. “Other people say, ‘I want to go out and raise $2,000.’ We want to provide them with resources and equip them with the tools to do so.
Two years ago, Charity:water created a “lifetime impact” measure – the original idea from then-newly hired Product Manager Chris Danner – to highlight the importance of supporters who put their drive, creativity and social networks to work for the organization. It’s a tally of the dollars they give plus the contributions of those they connect to the organization. When individuals bring a new monthly donor to the organization, their impact metric increases with each contribution from that person.
“Our hope is that this inspires people to continue and deepen their engagement with us,” says Greene. Since the measure was launched, the number of Charity:water supporters who have recruited others to join the monthly donor program has increased from 167 to 532.
by Daniel Olson impact measurement amounts to over $12,000, only about $800 of which he himself donated. When Olson first met Charity:water in 2017, he says he was “blown away” by her work and Harrison. “I decided this was an organization I didn’t just want to support; I want to get to know these people as humans,” he says.
Videographer and photographer Daniel Olson created this video to promote his participation in the New York Marathon, which he ran for Charity:water.
Olson broadcasts a creation agency based in Boise, Idaho, his hometown, and New York. He volunteered for Charity Photography: Aquatic Events. Last year, when he decided to run the New York Marathon to raise support, he threw himself into promoting his fundraiser. “I asked myself, ‘How can I leverage my skills and my personality and create something new to share what I do with my network and beyond?’ he says.
After flying from Boise to New York, he filmed a promotional video as he walked through Central Park. He shared the video with his social media network, which numbers in the thousands, eventually raising over $11,000. “Love and water – that’s all the world needs,” two friends wrote with their gift.
The Nguyens met Harrison when they invited him to speak at a virtual “Convention for Cause” meeting of their team of financial advisers. Impressed, they donated but also felt inspired to do more. Their personal finance training, they decided, lacked a fundamental lesson in how charity work can help people feel part of something bigger than themselves.
“What could be more powerful than teaching people this?” said Alicia Nguyen.
In his work, World System Builder aims to provide financial education to 30 million people by 2030. Xuan Nguyen has set a parallel Charity:water goal of providing safe drinking water to one million people and l announced at a meeting of all its members. The Nguyens showcase the project in newsletters and team calls, refocusing Charity:water’s monthly impact statements on wells constructed in various communities around the world. They also celebrate donors at company meetings and by posting their names on its website.
Alicia Nguyen says the project has helped bring together the community of World System Builder professionals, who work all over the world. “Clean water is something very universal, no matter where you come from or where you live,” says Nguyen. “It resonates with everyone.”