A decade ago, a rare, world-changing charity was launched by a former club promoter. Founded on the values of transparency, compelling storytelling and the singular mission to provide clean water where it’s needed, charity: water has since provided clean water for more than 6.3 million people. As the organization celebrates its 10-year anniversary in September, we asked Harrison to reflect on the journey.
How is charity: water different?
charity: water is different than most, in that 100 percent of all donations go directly to fund water projects—from day one. We also prove every project on Google Earth [by placing GPS trackers on wells] and highly value innovation.
What makes charity: water what it is today?
We love telling stories. I mean, we really love telling stories. Optimism and hope are such big parts of our culture and brand. We want to invite people into these incredible stories, invite them to bring the best parts of themselves to charity: water.
Was there a point in the last 10 years where you thought your work wouldn’t last, it was over?
A year and a half into charity: water back in 2008, we’d raised millions for clean drinking water as the 100 percent model was resonating so deeply with people, but we couldn’t raise the overhead money fast enough. At that moment, I had a meeting with a complete stranger who, after learning more about where we were at, went home and wired $1M into our overhead account. Since then, we never looked back.
What would you do differently?
I wish we’d started building a monthly subscription program earlier. We never really encouraged monthly giving. Over one million generous people have now supported the organization, but most of them gave once.
What have you learned over the 10 years that you wouldn’t have known otherwise?
Getting people to care about issues that they don’t personally face is hard.
What aspect of charity:water’s work are you most proud of?
Our vibrant, compassionate and generous community. charity: water is not about me, or our team, and it’s never been. It’s about the incredible group of more than 1 million supporters around the world that have decided it’s not OK for 663 million people to drink dirty water.
What part does your faith play in your work?
I feel like I get to live out my faith through my work every day. James 1:27 has been a core verse for me for a decade. “To look after orphans and widows, and keep myself from being polluted by the world.”
Ten years ago, when I was running around getting drunk in nightclubs, I was zero for two. But after leaving that destructive lifestyle and starting charity: water, I get to do No. 1 through my work, and No. 2—well that’s something I strive for every day.
A lot of people want to do the kind of work you do. any advice for them?
First, find out if someone else is doing it, and if you can, work with them. But if you feel your vision is unique, then get ready for a struggle. It’s not easy, and I’ve found it only gets harder. But it also gets more rewarding as you’re able to make a greater and greater impact on people’s lives.
How have you grown personally during these 10 years?
I’ve been stretched in so many ways over the past decade, both personally and professionally. Personally, as a husband and father (both happened in the last 10 years), and professionally, learning how to lead an organization and manage growth and change in uncertain times.
What about the next 10 years?
We want to make a much bigger impact. With 6.4 million people served and 663 million people still waiting, our ambition continues to exceed our ability to raise more awareness and money.