Efforts to improve the quality of water, sanitation and hygiene in the developing world are not as glamorous as other charitable endeavors. So why is Water.org featured in the most recent issue of Fast Company magazine? One of the co-founders is actor Matt Damon.
The other co-founder is Gary White, who works out of an office in downtown Kansas City. White had been working in the area of water access for two decades when he and Damon merged their charitable organizations in 2009.
White and Damon make a good team. Water.org is on track to raise $10 million in 2011, up from $4 million in 2010, according to Fast Company.
The primary use of that money is not as a handout to well drillers. Rather, Water.org tends to negotiate deals between microfinance institutions and communities. It might help a village get access to a local banker, who will then lend money to build systems that tap into a well, or a previously inaccessible water or sanitation grid. Water.org may guarantee the loan, but repayment falls to the villagers, who work together to manage the water supply and organize credit payments.In the article, Damon talks about his distaste for star-studded fundraisers as well as the Sally Struthers approach, "where you guilt the shit out of people, and they end up turning the TV off."
In addition to Damon's celebrity, Water.org has used Facebook to raise money. The Zynga game FrontierVille offered players the chance to buy or give a bison that benefited the organization.