Good Cause of the Month: The Water Project

A major clean water nonprofit is based right here in NH



A scene from one of The Water Project's completed rain tanks in Kenya.

Photo courtesy of TheWaterProject.org

Throughout 2017, we've been alerting you to events and causes worthy of your time and philanthropic treasure in our Good Cause of the Month series. Keep an eye out for a Good Cause every month here at NHMagazine.com, from charitable events to volunteer opportunities to nonprofits you should get to know — and, by the end of the year, your do-gooder cred will be off the charts.

For this month's Good Cause, we'd like to introduce you to The Water Project. This remarkable nonprofit works with donors across the country to raise funds that go directly to well-building projects in Africa. By conservative estimates, their wells provide clean water to upwards of 300,000 people, and their innovative fundraising style is popular across the US with both individual donors and church and school groups — such as the University of Notre Dame, where the author of this very piece chaired a Water Project event clear back in 2011. Despite their major global reach, though, they aren't based in a major city like New York or even Boston. Their office is right here in Concord.


What They Do

At its most basic, The Water Project's mission is to provide clean water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. As Water Project president and founder Peter Chasse explains, this simple tool is the key to achieving many other types of aid on the continent. Education can't improve if children are exhausted at school after walking two hours every morning to gather water. You can't easily introduce new pills for HIV/AIDS if you hand the pill to a patient with a glass of dirty water to take it with. As Chasse says, "Breaking the cycle of poverty was about giving the community the first stepping stone."

Though The Water Project's work is, in theory, simple, their methods are groundbreaking. At each step of the process, the organization focuses on engagement. Donors' funds go directly to an individual project, like, say, a well in Bwola, Uganda. Even if you only donate $10, you can see exactly where your donation goes — and keep up with it. Because The Water Project doesn't just build wells; they keep them working.

"At any given time," says Chasse, "up to a third of the wells in the developing world installed by well-intentioned nonprofits like ours aren't working. That was true for a lot of our projects. So we decided early on that reliability was going to be our #1 metric."

So, while their sheer numbers are impressive — they aim to complete around 230 projects this year, and their decade of work so far has brought water to 1,200 communities and engaged 50,000 donors — they take particular pride in their ongoing monitoring and upkeep of their wells. Today, more than 850 Water Project wells are actively functioning, bringing water to 300,000 people — numbers that may reach far higher, given that data isn't available for some of their early projects. When you donate, you're told what project your money is going to, and, thanks to email updates, the map and individual project reports on The Water Project's website, and their new Impact Snapshot app, you can track and even see photos and videos of the project you helped to fund.

"We want you as the donor to stay connected too," Chasse says. "You can check in on your project literally every single day to see if water’s flowing, even if you only donated $10. We're going to show you where the money went."

In a world where donating to African causes often means sending a check to an anonymous catchall fund, that personal connection is a surefire way to make you feel good about your impact — especially when you can track it years later. Case in point? My college Water Project event was six years ago, and I just found our project page. The well still works.


photo courtesy of thewaterproject.org

How You Can Help

This one's easy: you can donate. Monetary donations are welcomed at any time online in any amount. Research has shown that a gift of $34 is enough to fund one person's water needs, but donors are welcome to give below or above that threshold, clear up to underwriting an entire project on your own. If you want to get creative and crowdsource-y, you can also start a fundraiser. 

Fundraisers have taken all kinds of forms in The Water Project's 10-year history. It can be as simple as telling your friends to donate in place of buying you a birthday gift, or as complicated as organizing an event and donating the pledges to The Water Project. Chasse has seen a fundraiser where the leader ran 100 miles in 24 hours, one attached to a bike ride across Africa, and quirky projects like a 24-hour seesaw marathon. (Full disclosure: That last one is the event my college dorm organizes.) Your group can also opt to take the Water Challenge. For two weeks, every time you'd normally reach for a Coke or grab a Dunkin latte, you drink water instead. At the end of the challenge, you take all the money you would have spent on drinks other than water and donate it to The Water Project. Voila — you've had a healthier two weeks, and money you would have spent anyway is now going to a charity project you can keep up with online any time you want. 


Why New Hampshire?

You may be wondering how such a group — with clientele served spanning the African continent and donors coming from all over the map — came to find a home in New Hampshire. Chasse and his wife are both New England natives, and when they were searching for a home for their organization (The Water Project first came about when they were living in New Brunswick, Canada), New Hampshire was the perfect fit. Our low tax burden and low cost of living made it easy for the group to hire top talent on a nonprofit's thin budget without worrying about their employees having to afford life in a major city, and our proximity to Logan Airport made it easy to get to project sites across the developing world.

After a few years in short-term office spaces in the Concord area, the Water Project moved into an office above Cheers in downtown Concord two years ago, and they're currently looking to expand their engagement with the community.

"For eight years, we really were just an international organization," Chasse says, but "the fun thing about having an office here is that we can reach out locally."

The group has recently started donating Water Project-branded hot drink sleeves to coffeeshops around the state — look for the phrase "A good cup of coffee starts with clean water" splashed on the side of your cup — and they're inviting curious New Hampshirites to come pay them a visit. The office is open Monday to Thursday, and the public can stop by and say hello anytime. 


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