Thursday, July 30, 2009

News You Can Use

A Roadmap to Inspiration

The Sunday New York Times on July 26, 2009 ran a great op-ed piece from Nicholas Kristol. Kristol, a columnist since 2001, has shown himself to be a true humanitarian, traveling personally to Darfur and writing tremendously gritty pieces to shed light on the deplorable situation there.

In another tour de force he describe the improbable and inspiring story of Scott Harrison. A successful club promoter in New York, Harrison had a moment of insight and inspiration at 33 when he took stock of his decadent lifestyle and reinvented himself.

A stint of volunteer service with Mercy Ships, a charity that performs free surgical proceedures for impoverished people in developing countries left him changed. In Kristol's words:

“The first person I [Harrison] photographed was a 14-year-old boy named Alfred, choking on a four-pound benign tumor in his mouth, filling up his whole mouth,” Mr. Harrison recalled. “He was suffocating on his own face. I just went into the corner and sobbed.”

A few weeks later, Mr. Harrison took Alfred — with the tumor now removed — back to his village in the West African country of Benin. “I saw everybody celebrating, because a few doctors had given up their vacation time,” he said.
Harrison was filled with passion. As a result he founded charity:water to bring potable to world's poorest people. The program has been successful, with $10,000,000 being raised in just its first 3 years. Kristol outlines his steps to success:

First, ensure that every penny from new donors will go to projects in the field. He accomplishes this by cajoling his 500 most committed donors to cover all administrative costs.

Second, show donors the specific impact of their contributions. Mr. Harrison grants naming rights to wells. He posts photos and G.P.S. coordinates so donors can look up their wells on Google Earth. And in September, Mr. Harrison is going to roll out a new Web site that will match even the smallest donation to a particular project that can be tracked online.

Third, leap into new media and social networks. This spring, charity: water raised $250,000 through a "Twestival" — a series of meetings among followers on Twitter. Last year, it raised $965,000 by asking people with September birthdays to forgo presents and instead solicit cash to build wells in Ethiopia. The campaign went viral on the Web, partly because Mr. Harrison invests in clever, often sassy videos.

I urge you to read the entire op-ed.

So what can we take away from this inspiring story? First, never underestimate the power of a compelling story. As Alfred's story so inspired Harrison, so too can the stories of the children in our program. Second, in many ways the charity:water program is set up like our Learning Centers. In our case the overhead is covered by the Supreme Council Benevolent Foundation and sponsor Valleys. We should communicate that more. Third, personalization of the donation forges strong ties with our donors. That is the benefit of Sponsor a Child. Finally communication is a must. The more and more we reach out person to person, the more successful we become.

Check back here next week for an important contest post inspired by this article.


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