Why I Don’t Donate To Charity: Water

Published by Simon Scriver on

waterCharity: Water are amazing.

They’ve funded about 10,000 water projects, providing clean water to about three and a half million people. They’re ambitious, they take risks. They share their successes and their failures. They’re transparent. Their website and their use of social media are cool. They are simple and beautiful and lovable. They are an ongoing joke at fundraising conferences because everyone wishes they could do on-line like Charity: Water do on-line. I love them.

But I will never donate to them. Not as long as they continue the ‘100% model’ where they guarantee that 100% of my donation will go directly to the field.

It’s unnecessary, it’s gratuitous…the Justin Bieber of non-profit marketing. It’s irresponsible, and it’s not sustainable.

Even in the simplest of terms a donation from me would almost certainly incur ‘credit card’ fees. They “reimburse” these. They “find another way” to cover these. But what if they can’t find another way? What if they’re faced with bank and credit card fees that are not allowed to pay because of the restrictions they’ve placed on themselves? It’s unlikely…but if enough people suddenly donated on-line they’d have a debt they couldn’t pay.

And what if they can’t pay their wages? Their rent? Their electricity bill? Supplies? What if they can’t find enough ‘private donors, foundations and sponsors’ to pay these? Does my donation just sit in account, unable to be used because of their own restrictions?

And really, shouldn’t some of my donation be spent on auditing the finances behind my donation? Shouldn’t some be spent on measuring the impact of my donation? Shouldn’t some be spent on assessing how next year’s donation can be used better than this year’s?

As much as I respect Charity: Water I get the sense that perhaps they don’t respect me, the donor. You see, they say their private donors and sponsors are “some of our most dedicated: their investment fuels our long-term mission, our ability to scale as an organization and our mission to continue using 100% of public donations for water projects.” Am I – a member of the public – not capable of understanding these needs?

Most of all, the 100% Model is damaging to nearly every other charity because it gives the public unrealistic expectations. It implies that ‘100% to the field’ is desirable, truthful and even possible. It’s not.

Instead, another charity – a smaller one, that doesn’t have the backing of private donors and sponsors – will have to say that No, sorry, the 100% model is impossible. They will lose donations and lose support through the misconception that anything less than 100% is wasteful.

Charity: Water…please…for the sake of fundraising and charity and everyone’s future…please lose the 100% model.

Simon Scriver

Simon Scriver is a professional fundraising consultant, coach, trainer, and practitioner. Simon has won Fundraising Ireland's 'Small Budget, Big Impact' and ‘Supplier Of The Year’ Awards, Eircom’s Start-up Award, and is a 2019 finalist of Charities Institute Ireland’s Communications Agency of the Year. He is a TEDx speaker and has previously won the Toastmasters UK & Ireland International Speech Contest. He also sits on the Advisory Panel of Rogare, the international fundraising think tank, and is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and the AFP. Simon also offers consultancy to some of the biggest and smallest charities in Ireland and abroad. He offers advice and training to non-profits to make their fundraising more cost-effective, speaking regularly at international conferences. He holds a Diploma in Fundraising and a Certificate in Fundraising.


MarcelinNZ · January 20, 2014 at 18:29

Why I don’t put money into a street’s fundraiser’s bucket but first:
Recently I asked via 101fundraising, what it is they ought to ‘take’ from the charity’s money. In other words ‘how much to charge’ to do the fundraising work. I asked if there were any blogs on this: the answer: No, none as yet.
So, you compare notes, such as World Vision (I dare say a leading, world famous fundraising company, right!?): they don’t hesitate to say out loud that they use 25% for ADMIN. (that would be short for rent, salaries, your electricity bill etc., right?)
A local company vie an ad in the paper offered a job, standing on a street corner with a collection bucket and I’d get 40 cents in the dollar! Say HOW MUCH?..and to think of it that ‘they’ would take their cut, makes you wonder how much goes to that charity. In short: “too much goes nowhere near the charity so I don’t pay into a bucket anymore”.

    Simon Scriver · January 20, 2014 at 21:05

    Yes you should probably never pay in to a bucket, or respond to a TV ad, or sign up to a door-to-door fundraiser. You should pro-actively find out the most cost-effective way to donate to the charity you want.

    Unfortunately the majority of the public won’t do that so we need to spend money to raise money. So is it fair to spend 40 cent to raise €1? Well, if the charity wouldn’t have received that Euro otherwise then I would say yes.

      Heidi Green · April 14, 2014 at 21:15

      I agree the 100 percent pledge is counter productive, but suggest you rethink your statement on canvassers.

      The door-to-door and on-the-street fundraisers often serve a programmatic as well as development function. To my mind 40 percent to these front line staffers seems low. Why? They’re building a list that will be used for outreach, advocacy and fundraising. They’re spreading the story and raising the profile of the issue or organization. They’re toughening up the next generation of fundraisers. And, all the while, they bring in cash. Say “no” to saying “no”!

        Kathryn mcmillan · July 13, 2019 at 09:59

        Well apparently no longer so….fear not…it is quoted that Scott Harrison CEO is currently taking a $220,000 salary, with another employee of the company taking $240,000….this is more than the British Prime minister!! So really, rest assured that the 100% model MAY be dead.

          Jeff · November 24, 2019 at 22:28

          A CEO’s salary is relative. It might seem very high for some, but very low to others. I encourage you to read about the organization’s 100% model here: https://www.charitywater.org/our-approach/100-percent-model/

          Jeremiah · October 9, 2021 at 15:59

          Kathryn I suggest you look into the charity water model in more detail, salaries and other overheads come out of a separate budget which is funded by angel investors. 100% of donor fees go to water projects.

          Simon · October 9, 2021 at 16:23

          Jeremiah – like the way the Government doesn’t spend any of your tax on things you don’t like? (The things you don’t like come from a separate budget that is funded by other tax payers)

    pbillups · August 25, 2019 at 12:55

    As I inderstand it, their financial structure is a “church and state” model. Donations are given 100% to water projects. Then there is an entirely separate bank account for overhead. Brand partners and philanthropists give money to this side of the organization. According to their report, salaries and overhead are not paid for by individual donors giving small amounts of money. They also post their full financials online.

    In your experience, is this a bad idea? If so, why?

    This review is 5 years old. Might you be willing to revisit?

      Marie-Claire · February 10, 2020 at 15:12

      Yeah, this is exactly how they work. They are very clear in their accounting about this. If the author had done research into it he would have found this out for himself. I don’t donate to them as I have other causes closer to my heart but their fundraising structure and impact measurements seem to be legitimate, at least from a layperson’s perspective.

      Julia Bair · September 4, 2020 at 20:01

      Pbillips, That is exactly what I was thinking! It shouldn’t be held against them that they actually donate 100% to the field. Personally I think that should always be the way to do. Work out a deal with business’s to get the cost of the admin side covered. Honestly I feel like there should be a lot more people and companies held accountable on not donating anything. So many are taking in so much money and giving back nothing. That could be a major part of whats wrong in the world today.

    Aditya · July 12, 2020 at 08:12

    After 6 years, how would you re-evaluate your opinion?

      KT · January 13, 2021 at 19:58

      Doesn’t seem like this is being monitored. Too bad. It’s a good and valid discussion. I don’t have a problem with the 100% model since they are upfront about their model. It brings a level or transparency into non-profits that has been lacking. I like the fact that there is a group of core supporters who think highly enough about the organization to pay for ALL the overhead. If friends and family won’t support you, why should others.

    Marie · February 18, 2021 at 11:07

    As far as I knew of bucket collectors, they did it for free, volunteers. Is that correct? Like the Mini Marathon they do it for free..

Stephen Pidgeon · January 20, 2014 at 18:42

I agree Simon, well done and thank you for articulating it so clearly.

Ed Hurrell · January 20, 2014 at 20:39

Hmmm. I see you point Simon but I like what Scott Harrison did. He went to his friends asked them what they wanted to see in a Charity (transparency and 100% going to the ’cause’) and gave it to the world. He broke the mould.

Whether an organisation can achieve the 100% model or not, I think the real issue is transparency. Charities in general need to start being more honest and upfront about how they spend their money, admit they are a business operation like any other and gain more trust from their donors.

    Simon Scriver · January 20, 2014 at 21:05

    If he used the 100% model at the beginning he wouldn’t even have a website.

      Ed Hurrell · January 20, 2014 at 22:04

      What do you mean? I’m sure the website budget wasn’t taken from donations from the public. I’m sure a cool friend did it for free ;-)

        Simon Scriver · January 21, 2014 at 13:55

        ‘A cool friend’ is hardly a business plan.

        We can discuss over our next lunch, but I know I’ll never change your mind. Some good comments here though.

          Ed Hurrell · January 21, 2014 at 14:14

          Clearly Scott had a very good business plan!

          I’d love to debate over lunch, where are you bringing me?

          Melinda Barrett · February 12, 2014 at 17:36

          I have relied on “cool friends” to do websites and run our network. And then “cool friends” move and NO ONE ELSE KNOWS anything about our website or our network. Not a good business model because it is not sustainable long-term.

          David megarry · July 12, 2019 at 23:26

          Just wondering where all their wages come from, 100% is great in theory but not practically possible , I work with several charities and think it is unfair to claim 100% goes to field

        NonProfitWorker · January 23, 2014 at 08:02

        Scott Harrison was an upscale club promoter before he started Charity:Water. His “friends” consisted of celebs and others with deep pockets. That certainly worked to his benefit and helped to grow the organization quickly.

        The reality, though, is that most people who start non-profits are not Scott Harrison. They don’t have the deep connections to deep pockets to repeat the Charity:Water model. And Simon is correct in saying that that this model isn’t sustainable.

          NonProfitWorker · January 23, 2014 at 08:08

          PS – the friend who helped with the website could possibly be Scott Harrison’s wife, Victoria Harrison. She is the org’s Creative Director.

          Maria · January 18, 2020 at 09:57

          You are just a very bitter man! Look at the impact clean water is having on people and stop being a little bitch!

      a magic · March 15, 2015 at 00:06

      The monies for my voluntary / charitable organisation came from my a second part job – that money has made it possible to get us up and running etc so what your saying above doesn’t have to be the case.

        Anthony Greive · September 29, 2020 at 20:53

        I agree with Maria’s assessment of your commentary. If you want to whine because Scott built a better mousetrap then whine away.
        There not much more important to life’s sustenance than clean water. The fact that this alone has been recognized is to be lauded.
        If Scott’s covering the necessary costs of administration and fundraising through other means than through individual donations meant to provide clean water for those without access, then more power to him.
        People who look into the charities to which they choose to give want to know where their dollar is going and Scott appears to be trying to be up front about his methods.
        Why not spend the time you invest in knocking his charity on more constructive things. Like maybe starting your own charity on a “more sustainable” model. From what I’ve read CW had done a lot of good. And regardless of how much we ever do “The poor will always be with you”…(which is obviously not an excuse to do nothing).
        If someone misuses the money I donate in good faith to a charity (after my having done some due diligence re their financials) then that’s on them.
        It’s a greedy world on the whole, so when a well run charity generates funds to help those less fortunate, it should be supported rather than criticized, especially for not being founded and operated in your ideological mold!

        Do better.

      Maria · January 18, 2020 at 09:55

      You are just a very bitter man! Look at the impact clean water is having on people and stop being a little bitch!

      max teurer · October 1, 2021 at 10:19

      That’s not true I am making a website for a charity atm for a charity with some experience a royalty-free subscription from story blocks and some content from the charity and you can set up a decent website for the price of Amazon or Netflix subscription it might not be as good as charity waters at the start but will get there in a few years

      Sojourning_1 · April 2, 2022 at 19:19

      I don’t know if you’ve revisited Charity Water to reassess their model, but it appears they have allowed for expenses at this point in time: https://www.charitynavigator.org/ein/223936753

Sean Triner · January 20, 2014 at 20:51

Hi Simon
Good blog, and so true. I met Scott Harrison (founder of Charity : Water and a truly amazing and wonderful bloke) at a conference, and said the same things to him.
The problem is, they really believe, and get feedback from donors that their offer is what donors want.. Maybe three or four potential donors choose not to donate for the same reasons as you, but Charity : Water thinks thousands more choose to donate because of it.

The biggest problem is that it is a damaging statement to the sector, as you point out. We wish people would understand that admin costs are a good thing – not a bad thing, as you pointed out too.

However, my research shows that whilst donors say that admin costs are really important, how they behave does not reflect that.

You can even prove this within any group of random strangers: ask them who their favourite charity is andwhy. Next to none will say because admin costs are low. Then ask them if admin costs are important to them. They will say yes. Ask them what is the admin cost of their favourite charity. None will know.

    Simon Scriver · January 20, 2014 at 21:08

    Thanks Sean – really appreciate it.

    Yes certainly it’s important for the majority of people, and it will continue to be so until charities show them why it doesn’t make sense.

    If we can’t rely on charities themselves to get that message across then what hope do we have. At the moment many charities perpetuate the problem – if you keep saying how great your low admin costs are then people will keep looking for them.

    Matthew · June 14, 2014 at 05:17

    Without a doubt it hurts the sector, especially small and local NPOs that do not have the connections to land a major sponsor.

Sean Triner · January 20, 2014 at 20:54

PS – except Charity : Water donors because they keep getting told it is 100% to cause!

Sheena · January 20, 2014 at 21:45

This makes me think of organizations that have a sponsor cover the food and room costs of their fundraising gala, so their guests can feel they are giving 100% to the cause. But I recently read that even in this case, the donor still cannot claim 100% of their ticket price as tax-deductible, whether another sponsor claimed food costs or not.

    Simon Scriver · January 21, 2014 at 14:03

    That’s really interesting – is that U.S.A. presumably?

      Amy · January 24, 2014 at 18:20

      Yes this is in the USA and the rationale is that if you pay $100 for a dinner auction and get $60 worth of food and wine, then you should only get a $40 tax benefit.

      I think this is a fair rule. It prevents charities from charging a donor, for example, $10,000 for a superbowl fundraising event where the donor gets superbowl tickets, food, and VIP access to events – all valuing, say $9,000 – and the donor gets to write-off $10,000 on his taxes. In this case, he would only write off $1000. Charities can’t simply charge up their events so that wealthy donors get all the spoils.

drofsopkcin · January 21, 2014 at 05:33

I’d be interested in a little transparency on exactly what 100% actually means, anyway. I’ll admit I haven’t looked in depth at their website (though I did study their beautiful and impressive long page on impact), but does it include the costs of transporting people and equipment to well sites, for example. Does it include accommodation for them? Does it include anything to cover costs of data collection and analysis so that they can put together their beautiful and impressive page on impact?

As it happens, a charity in the UK similar to the one i work for has income of approx £1million per annum and their annual accounts on Charity Commission website claim they spend it all on their charitable activities. How that doesn’t trigger an automatic alarm at Charity Commission HQ, one can only wonder…

    Simon Scriver · January 21, 2014 at 14:05

    That’s very interesting about the UK example. How could any formal body accept that as reality?

    And that’s a fair point about what’s included in ‘the field’. Every charity would have a slightly different definition, and yet they’re all being compared. Is ‘the field’ the field worker? Their transport? The person that organised them? The CEO? Where do you draw the line?

Claire Axelrad · January 21, 2014 at 07:38

Love this comment. I too love Charity: Water, for all the reasons you list. But it’s beyond time to destroy the myth that charities should strive for the lowest possible overhead. Everyone knows you must spend money to make money. If you don’t invest in infrastructure and staff, you simply can’t do an effective job. Thanks so much for raising this important point!

    Simon Scriver · January 21, 2014 at 14:05

    Thanks Claire.

    Pamela Blunt · July 17, 2018 at 05:51

    Love your work supporting non-profits, Claire. Your advice is soooo helpful. I can see the point here AND I will still donate to Charity:Water..

Mark · January 21, 2014 at 13:54

Hey SImon, half of me appreciates your efforts to help the fundraising industry, while the other side of me is disappointed that you would choose to pick off Charity:water. Did you interview their leadership for a rebuttal paragraph? That would have helped your article. There are many orgs that want to know how to be more effective. I am thankful for the CW model. I’d say it’s working well. I look forward to the buzz your article is going to create…which is probably an underlying reason for your efforts here.
Charity:Water, thanks for setting the bar high! Cheers

    Simon Scriver · January 21, 2014 at 14:08

    Sorry to hear you’re disappointed Mark. But I would criticise any other charity that claimed the same, if I was aware of any. It’s damaging to other charities.

    Absolutely would be interested in a Charity: Water rebuttal, but they have been quite clear in their website, videos, etc. on their stance and the thinking behind it.

    I’m curious why you say you are thankful for the CW model?

    Thanks a million for commenting.

      BARRY BURROWS · May 27, 2016 at 00:19

      Does that million come before or after overhead? In your articulated position perhaps you should say thanks four hundred thousand.

Bernard Ross · January 21, 2014 at 14:31

Delighted to hear this sensible analysis. Love the organisation charity:water but think the 100% is just a distraction that avoids real questions about how we make sustainable and scalable change in the world. (Also you need to look at the actual size of charity:water which is not the same as its brand reach.)

There are lots of great organisations in the WATSAN space doing bigger stuff but aware of the need to spend money on management. AND of course since charity:water mostly funds these agencies to deliver its projects the ‘admin’ they deny is simply built into the ‘downstream’ agency’s costs. So it’s not really true the 100%…

Rosarii Ryan · January 21, 2014 at 20:24

I really do see your point Simon however I feel we are fighting a losing battle. Donors want clarity. Answering the eternal question “how much of MY donation goes directly into the work of …..” is impossible to answer simply and honestly. … Church gate collection 95%?? flag day 80% if you take a sticker, 67% if you choose a metal pin?? Run a marathon … ok you got a t-shirt and the postage and the photographer and raised €50 so 75.56%. It’s not good enough to lump all donations together and calculate the costs and come up with a neat 85%. I think what charity : water have hit on is a transparency model that works. Their savvy donors know that there are costs just someone else’s money is covering them … the others, well frankly we aint ever gonna change their doubting minds. I doff my cap to Mr. Harrison. However it’s not the only answer, we just need to come up with another genius solution that offers similar clarity, let’s not knock but learn the lesson, Rosarii

    Richard Radcliffe · January 21, 2014 at 20:49

    Great debate. I test donor feelings about non-charitable expenditure in focus groups. The groups have a legacy focus and it is always interesting to hear donors say they feel that a legacy is an investment and not a donation so they care even more deeply about how money is used.
    When a charity, and there are quite a few in the UK says 100% goes to the cause the commonest reaction is: but surely you have to spend money on administering the charity so I do not believe you.
    What I love about donors is how fickle they are!

John Nolan · January 21, 2014 at 23:47

My own problem with the “100% to the field” statement is that it’s using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit.

It’s telling me that all of “my” money goes to the field, and that all costs and charges are covered from elsewhere. It’s being disingenuous. Don’t tell me what proportion of “my” notional money goes to the field, tell me what proportion of all your funding goes to the field – that’s the only figure that counts.

Personally, I find it tantamount to false advertising.

    Jim Schaffer · January 5, 2015 at 15:34

    This is my issue as well. Talking about overhead misdirects the proper focus away from program impact and total financial management. What about the 90% in-kind charity that spends almost 100% of its cash (philanthropic dollars) on overheard? That said, CW was not the first to use this messaging. The Robin Hood Foundation (think hedge funds) has long used this message.

    Carolyn A Chichester · December 10, 2017 at 18:11

    Excellent. My own thoughts exactly.

      Carolyn A Chichester · December 10, 2017 at 18:12

      Excellent John Nolan. My own thoughts exactly.

Colonel Nagar M Verma,Director General Saritsa Foundation.. · January 22, 2014 at 03:37

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Scott Butler · January 22, 2014 at 05:56

I’m not sure I follow the logic that seems to insinuate that being resourceful and finding a way to cover “admin” costs through private donations is perpetuating the myth that admin costs are evil.

I have always been vocal with friends/family about the fact that these “scores” charities get from “watchdog” sites that are based partly on “% of revenue spent on admin fees” are complete crap. The example I always use is “If American Cancer Society found a way to cure ALL FORMS of cancer next year but in order to do that they had to spend 99.99% of their donations on ‘admin’, would you care?” The point is OUTCOMES/IMPACT, not “% on admin fees”. I get it. And I think we aren’t giving the average person enough credit if we believe we’re the only ones who get that.
So…all that said…if an organization like charity:water CAN deliver on the “100% to field” model NOW (even if it’s not indefinitely sustainable), why shouldn’t they? If they aren’t “shaming” admin costs in the process, what’s wrong w/ the model? Are we really saying that if ALL orgs can’t achieve a particular model then NOBODY should use that model? It’s sad to think that charities should only aspire to whatever their peers are also capable of achieving. That’s not how I want my favorite charities thinking.
Last thought…do we know for a fact that charity:water isn’t doing all the things listed above (auditing, measuring impact, analyzing to improve results, etc.) with “private” donation funds that allow them to deliver on the “100% model” for the public? Unless we KNOW they aren’t, then we shouldn’t insinuate that they aren’t. That’s not very fair.
I am all for calling “BS” on the old-school rhetoric regarding % of spend on programs vs. admin, but I find this a very odd choice of charities to take issue with as a means of destroying that misconception.

    Kim · January 22, 2014 at 17:16

    For me it’s about two things: transparency, and the impact on other charities.

    We know from experience that the media will over-simplify things. If a charity’s admin costs are covered by a donation there will not be any reporting on the ‘how’, the only information that makes the headline is that the charity’s admin costs are 0%. I would say that the average donor does not realize how the 0% is achieved.

    This leads into my second worry, the impact on other charities. In my example above the charity still has administration costs but the average donor will see the 0% and not understand why other charities cannot/choose not function in the same way. They are led to believe that there are no admin costs instead of learning how the admin costs are covered. The public (I speak from a N. American perspective) is trained by media to ask admin %, and nothing more. There is no interest in knowing why the percentages what they are, or the effectiveness of programs, etc. I’m not trying to say that one way is better than the other, only that it leads to confusion amongst donors.

    Good on you Scott for speaking with friends/family about charity scoring sites. That must make for some hard conversations.

    Luke · September 9, 2015 at 02:22

    Perfectly said. I can’t see how anyone can take issue with Charity:water delivering on a 100% model through creativity. Not all donors have the same criteria for what makes them donate to a particular cause. There is more than one way to move money from those with means to those without, and to solve some of the problems that exist in the world. If there is a contingent of people who will ONLY give if they know that 100% of the money that they give goes straight to the field, then good on Charity:water. They just tapped into a huge contingent of donors that are helping save lives.

    It’s interesting that anyone would take issue with this model. It does no harm to the net charitable giving towards responsible charities (unless you have some empirical evidence that would suggest that?). Does it create some new discussions around where money goes, what constitutes responsible giving or responsible performance on a charity’s part, and whether the world really needs more charities? Probably. Is that a bad thing?

    Rene Joehnke · July 22, 2020 at 17:40

    Completely agree, Scott!

Viola · January 22, 2014 at 16:27

What my problem is with this model is what is a 100% charity donation. In my last job I worked for an Animal Charity and asked these questions to our sponsors and donors. Do you want that all your gift is spent on the animals? General answer yes, not to the people, but spent it on them.
Okay. I give you €100 to a stray dog and he will look at me and drool on it. Maybe eat it. Shouldn’t he have shelter? Yes that would be nice. Who will build the shelter may I pay these people. Yes of course. And maybe food? Yes that would be nice too. Okay who is going to order and give the food? A volunteer? Of course a volunteer. But wouldn’t you want the best care for this dog? Yes. So shouldn’t the volunteer have an education, or even better be someone traint for this job? Yes that would be perfect?
So in short you want your money to be spent on quality care? Yes that would be the best way to spent it. In order to do this we have to pay people. Yes, but if you explain it like this I wouldn’t mind.
Than a last question. If I wasn’t here to explain in an understable way why I need your money to help this dog how would you have known how to help him?

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE · January 22, 2014 at 18:05

Reminds me of other stories. Our local United Way received a large bequest that established an endowment that paid for its administrative and fundraising costs. So they also, like Charity:Water communicated to their donors that 100% of their gifts went to the charities they wanted to support. Which was true … however, it completely obscured their real overhead and administrative costs. At one point, they started conflating the two and as administrators of a state and federal workplace giving campaigns they were using the untrue 100% program, 0% overhead in their campaign materials. Until they were called on it by another federation as it clearly violated the definition of how to calculate your overhead.
So, while Charity:water may be accurately communicating how they use donations dedicated to their grants and assistance, they are omitting their federally reported overhead numbers.
Though savvy donors will check them out at CharityNavigator and find the other numbers.
If we look at Charity:water’s federal filing for 2012, they are reporting 84% to program.. If you look at what they distributed in grants and assistance, it’s about 78% of total costs. Not bad. After salaries, they don’t seem to have a lot of other expenses proportionately. But then again, they aren’t running the water programs, just raising the money for them.

Gwen Chapman · January 23, 2014 at 04:33

Simon, your great blog has generated excellent comments. What a read! Thank you!

My heart sinks every time I see an Annual Report that shows a pie chart reflecting the percentage of revenue spent on admin and fundraising without a qualifying explanation like “all our expenses are focused on achieving impact, including our admin and fundraising costs”.

Why do we persist in this kind of reporting?

Over the last few years, the non-profit sector has become increasingly defensive about these red herring issues – usually in response to media attacks. But it’s really up to the non-profit sector to position the reality of what it takes to achieve impact.

    Duncan · January 24, 2014 at 13:27

    I completely agree Gwen.

    By perpetuating this, and trying to outdo each other and present the smallest ‘admin’ costs, as a sector we’re reinforcing with the public that somehow ‘the cause’ only relates to a percentage of what we spend.

    It’s actually very simple. Charities shouldn’t spend a single penny that can’t be somehow related to ultimately delivering more of their charitable mission.

    Wise, well thought out, spending which result in impact is 100% about the ’cause’. Poor, wasteful spending is always wrong whether it’s ‘in the field’ or in the office.

LesleyP · January 23, 2014 at 15:25

This debate makes my head buzz! SO many arguments on both side of the fence I think.

I’m going to ask the question I asked over on twitter in relation to this debate of folks reading and commenting here….

If you knew that the 100% model that Charity:Water use could significantly increase your income and help you achieve your charitable mission quicker (and that you could sustain that model), would you use it?

(big assumptions here being that you’ve tested and researched and know that 100% model would increase your income and that you know you could secure the core costs from some key donors for a good period of time!)

Nora Ortiz Fredrick, CFRE · January 23, 2014 at 18:34

The United Methodist relief agency (UMCOR) makes the same claim for emergency disaster relief because their admin and fundraising costs are paid through a church-wide appeal. But donors look at this claim, then the rating agencies and are suspicious because they don’t align. In the age of increasingly well-informed donors that require a high level of transparency, is this even a desirable or even necessary model?

CB · January 23, 2014 at 21:34

One of the UK’s biggest charities – Comic Relief – has used this model for 20 years. Every Red Nose Day they advertise their Golden Pound/Comic Relief Promise – that every penny of every pound donated by the public will be given to a project.

There’s a similar debate around that and whether they are making other charities look bad. Since lots of those charities’ running costs are part funded by Comic Relief grants, it’s not an argument that many charities want to make in public I suspect.

The 100% model alone wouldn’t stop me from donating. As others have said, it’s really about the impact they make with their money.

Chris · January 26, 2014 at 16:22

They should be able to do a special fundraiser for the costs of running the foundation, or even find special sponsors for this which can get the benefit of media attention from them.

The should however keep advertising with the 100% rule, since this is EXACTLy what EVERYBODY wants.

jon hyde · January 27, 2014 at 08:12

Great article. Anything that promotes transparency and drives efficiency is a good thing. However I agree that the charity is a little disingenuous… Having admin or any other overhead provided for free is a donation therefore 100% of donations do not go to the front line. All organisations need to fund overheads. It would be interesting to see how efficient the charity really is.

Jeff Brooks · January 29, 2014 at 21:54

Simon, I think you should donate to charity:water and designate your gift for “overhead.” The fact is, few donors are excited about paying a charity’s electricity bill; they want their funds to go directly to where the “action” is. It’s an unusual donor who realizes that big picture there’s no meaningful difference between overhead and the “field,” or even that “overhead” is a better deal than the field — because it generates revenue.

I don’t see how using our fundraising messages to “educate” donors into thinking differently can be justified. It’s a) impossible; and b) irresponsible. You can’t make people want something they don’t want by insisting they should want it.

Sharon Shortland · January 31, 2014 at 09:48

Excellent – I couldn’t agree more. But the public at large needs educating and in the meantime ….

Charles · February 1, 2014 at 01:04

Will you write about the 200% model next? That’s very common too. Is it twice as bad to make people think one dollar can turn into to two?

Bradley Good · February 7, 2014 at 23:59

One of the challenges is that, for the most part, every charity has their own (often expensive and not interconnected) systems. To track volunteers, donors, online event planning, donation processing, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Online donations only account for about 7% of all donations. It seems that the sector has not been transformed like the music, film, publishing industries.

Simon, do you think there is opportunity for one dominant platform to come along and have a transformative impact? One that will be used by a vast group of nonprofits, companies, and individuals?

Andrew · February 9, 2014 at 08:21


Melinda Barrett · February 12, 2014 at 17:35

Amen brother! I have been met with this so many times when donors wonder why 100% of the donation doesn’t go directly to the people we serve. We serve the homeless through large shelters we operate in Montana. Our utility bill for ONE MONTH is over $10,000. We have overhead, overhead that cannot be passed on to any other means, that you can’t find grants for, and that you cannot do away with. Let’s be realistic, let’s be transparent. That should be enough.

Jonathan · February 12, 2014 at 23:30

I to love charity water. How can you not. I always wondered if you add their public donations with the donations for their operating expenses what the percentages would look like. That would give us a true idea of what percentage goes towards projects.

A fantastic marketing ploy but what they do is really “smoke and mirrors”.

Ina · February 13, 2014 at 03:53

Just add to your donation with the caveat that the extra is to help run the organization that is doing such a good job.

alan · February 27, 2014 at 23:57

simple answer is don`t give to any, they are all scamsters

Howard Freeman · April 15, 2014 at 16:16

Lots of “what ifs?” in paragraphs 4 and 5. Do you have any data to suggest that they are indeed unsustainable? Or are you — as most of us are tempted to be, admittedly — a bit envious of their success?

Stephanie Wentzel · May 31, 2014 at 06:24

Hi Simon! I agree with you completely on this matter! Reading your post enlightened me in a way because, although I DO agree with everything you wrote, I didn’t previously have my opinion on any of it- I guess I just hadn’t thought about it before. I had never looked at a 100% model in the same way that you do, but reading your words really seemed to “click” with me. I read a lot of blog posts. I write a lot of blog posts. But I had never come across one that made me stop what I was doing to just sit and CONSIDER. This was actually quite a strange experience for me, to be honest. I have been dealing w/ some negativity and a ton of stress lately, so I put myself into “Go-Mode” to keep things together. I read blog posts, scan others, and bookmark about 50 more to “look through later”. I created a journal & in it I scribble notes & jot down thoughts and sketch out plans, designs, and layouts. I work on things for 20 minutes here, 15 minutes there, three hours here. I organize and sort and tidy up– then I mess it all up again when I have a project idea and must complete it immediately. I never simply PROCESS. I’m constantly inspired or motivated- but usually lose interest before I finish writing the thought down. The inspiration lasts as long as it takes to right click & click “save image as…”
Anyway, I’m not trying to get too deep here, I just want to thank you for allowing me the chance to delve into my thoughts and really ponder the information you’ve provided. It was so new- yet so nice!- to acknowledge my own thoughts on the subject. I am not sure what it was, but your post- your words- just opened my mind and gave me the freedom to really think about the potentially perilous impact Charity:Water may have on other non profits.

I researched a bit more and thought the following information might be interesting to you:

#1– American Association of State Troopers Scholarship Foundation (AASTSF) states on its website that “97% of your donation will be deposited directly into our Scholarship Foundation account, which is used to provide college scholarships to children of our members,” and explains that the remaining 3% is used to pay the administrative costs of processing your donation.
**But Based on an analysis of this organization’s audit and tax form for 2009, the most current available, AASTSF spent only 34% of its budget that year on scholarships.)

#2— On its web site Kids Wish Network (KWN) says that all donations to its Guardian Angel Fund “directly support program services, ensuring that 100% of your contribution benefits the children we serve.” While it may be the case that donations they collects for this specific fund are only used for programs, OVERALL, KWN uses the vast majority of donations to pay many for-profit fundraisers. Their 2010 tax form shows that fundraisers brought in $14.4 million from the donating public. The charity saw under $1.6 million of this amount, with fundraisers taking fees of $12.8 million. KWN earned an F rating from AIP for inefficient fundraising and for spending only 18% of its total expenses on its programs to help sick and dying children.

#3— AIP has previously reported on Smile Train, a charity that helps children with cleft lips and palates, and that claims in its direct mail solicitations that “100% of your donation goes toward programs – 0% goes toward overhead.” The charity says “All non-program expenses, such as overhead and fundraising, are paid for with start-up grants from our Founding Supporters.” While Smile Train may split up its resources into different internal accounts that it uses for different purposes, this is not the same thing as it having no overhead. In 2009 Smile Train spent 30% of its total expenses on overhead, and 70% on programs – not 100%.
Anyway, I agree with you, though- these charities need to stop claiming 100%- especially when the truth of the matter is that they are only using clever accounting or creative semantics to fool their donors. This seems that it would eventually just confuse people– about what it actually costs to maintain an efficient and effective nonprofit, and the little guys are going to be the ones who get screwed over in the end- those smaller companies who aren’t shelling out $750,000 and up salaries to CEOs and CFOs and Chairmen and ….

FairWater Paul van Beers · May 31, 2014 at 22:40

Hi Simon, interesting blog! I do agree with you, furthermore we doubt the sustainability of most of the Charity:water funded NGO projects. We wonder what you think of our 100% model, as we are a Social Enterprise, taking care of our overhead ourselves, facilitating durable water projects in Africa for our donors, low profile, low overhead anyway, so indeed 100% model.

See http://www.fairwater.org

Paul van Beers

    FairWater Paul van Beers · June 2, 2014 at 00:30

    In addition to above, some comments on what is overhead, but first a little on my background and experience on this. Since 1985 i have been active in the water sector ( with a 3 year break to manage environmental projects) as a consultant, contractor, project director, government advisor, etc. all the time my salary and expenses were paid for, by God knows where the money finally came from. Was it all overhead? I guess yes,

    Was it all well spend, I’m sure not. I had to do all kind of work, from studies to planning and trainings and endless meetings and so on.

    In fact, most of it was a big mess to be honest and the main thing that came out of it was that I myself learned a lot how things work and don’twork.

    With all that experience, I finallly had enough courage to start my own organization, and called it a “Social Enterprise” which is a not-for-profit business organization, with a specific social product and mission.

    The product is a very reliable water pump, the famous “BluePump”, we don’t sell it ourselves in fact, but we get royalties from the company that sells it world wide.

    In the meantime, we accept donations from others, private people and companies, that want us to organize for them to replace broken pumps with our BluePump. Because we subcontract this work out to our local dealers, we can say that 100% of their donations goes to the project. In fact, our dealers present us a normal invoice for the work and that’s it. Any money that remains is put in a trustfund that we use again to do more projects in a similar way, with invoices from the local dealers. Basically a very simple and transparent procedure.

    Is it truly a100% model? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that indeed 100% of the donations is spent in Africa only for the project; Idle time between projects is not happening, so it’s very effective as well. No in the sense that there is indeed a small incentive for us to do this “free” work. Because at the end of the day, we do put time in that we are not paid for, but we get in return a good reputation and company profile, which could increase BluePump sales and indirect our budgets.

    However, i agree with the observation that stating having a 100% model can be een as an accusation towards others that dont have it, and be used as a marketing tool. The first was not our intention, using it as a marketing tool was indeed the objective. Why? Because we feel that charity NGOs are growing into an unwanted business direction using more and more the problems of others fir their own benefits. No doubt here and there are some good intentions, but ovrrall the charity market is a good one, also because there is no control whatsoever on impact and lasting results. Simply by the ad-hoc nature of most projects, there is little or no attention for sustainable services.

    The case of CW is typical for that. All good intentions could not improve that as well. Most water projects that are funded by CW are not sustainable at all. They know that, but cover up. Of course, otherwise the whole CW project will collapse. But it will anyway, as soon as the weldoers behind CW find out what really happens with the donatoons that the pay the overhead for. I have nothing against CW, on the contrary, i like the guys, but we have to be realistic as well!

    A good example is their latest 5M Google gadget that monitors if the pump works or not. This is ment to convince the simple donors that all is taken care of, the “American way”. Big brother is watching you. In reality in Africa this is a big scam, needles expensive, useless and not sustainable as well, but for fundraising it works perfect.

    Is 100% with CW indeed 100%? Of corse not! The moment the money arrives in the bankaccount of the psrtner NGO, directly 20 to 50% goes to THEIR overhead, so it’s just a clever marketing tool, used for PR for CW and the celebs behind it.

    Is that a problem? Of course not! Any business will tell you whatever to get you on board and in fact CW is not lying. 100%,goes indeed to the “field” and is only there used up by overhead. Clever!

    But it’s an interesting discussion and it shows how easy and ignorant the public is in fact. They don’t want to know really what happens with the money, they just want to hear that it’s OK, and that is something else.

    With FairWater we want to make a statement that fundraising for projects to help the poor (!) should ONLY help the poor, and in a sustainable way.

    As long as CW field partners are still using fragile pumps that can’t be maintained (everybody knows this problem, but many NGOs simply denie it…) their field partners will still need more CW and other funding and even the 100% funding goes also 100% to waste!

    There is the real problem. Poor people in Africa became fully dependend on NGOs repeatec donations to help them repairing pumps that dont work.

    See our websites fairwater.org and watsan.org for more info if you are interested in the sustainability issue of water points in Africa. There you find the unconditional hard true story.

    Paul van Beers

Matthew · June 14, 2014 at 05:14

I don’t see anything wrong with the model. Most small donors don’t even consider administrative costs and brush over sponsors. A 100% model makes them feel like they are giving to a good organization no matter what the cause is. Interesting article, but a weak argument.

a magic · March 14, 2015 at 23:57

I disagree I like to know all my donated money is going to the field and the charity it’s self is raising funds to pay expenses etc – why would they change their 100% – I can’t see any logic in your argument sorry

    Henry Morris · April 29, 2015 at 04:46

    Well said, ‘a magick’. I totally agree.

    I realise I’m not representative of most people, but I always check out a charity before donating to see how much they spend on advertising/fundraising. If it’s more than ten percent then I look for another charity to give my money to.

    I’m not a massive donor, but I want my donations to go towards helping people, rather than pay for TV adverts.

    Admin costs are a different matter, however, and I’m fine with general running costs.

Henry Morris · April 29, 2015 at 04:40

My opinions are the quite different from yours. I avoid charities which spend money on fundraising, and try to give to charities that actually spend their resources on helping people, such as charity: water, for example.

Also, the 100% model doesn’t create unrealistic expectations from me. I realise that most charities have admin costs, and that’s fair enough.

However, advertising costs are a different matter. It’s spending big chunks of funds on advertising that annoys me, and that’s one of the reasons I like charity: water. They spend their money on helping people.

TJ · October 29, 2015 at 11:54

What you fail to mention in this article is that the idea for Charity: water and its subsequent model, was birthed while Scott was working on a hospital ship in West Africa. The ship is part of the organisation ”Mercy ships”, a not for profit organisation where 100% of the money goes straight to the field. How can they do this with such huge overheads of over 400 people living and working onboard? Every single volunteer that works pays for the privilege of serving onboard, some have been paying their way by paying monthly crew fees for over thirty years now. So, although I understand where your head may have been in writing this article, you must appreciate that not every charity is, or should be run the same way. The most important thing, that you yourself acknowledge, is that over three and a half million people have benefited hugely from so much generosity. That alone is worth being a part of and encouraging. Kind regards.

Bill Banche · November 25, 2015 at 20:20

Interesting article, thanks :)
and long term:
donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate, donate,
where do you suppose the money for this will come from?
With our wages decreasing every year, and now making less than 1984, and when adjusted for inflation, much less.
Only the so called ‘elite’ have money, increasing every year, and with corporations bleeding us constantly every year. where do you suppose the money for donations will come from?

Fundraisers need to target those that have an increasing income. Not the average (over 90% of us).

Christina3 · December 8, 2015 at 02:43

Simon Please Help –
I really want to donate this holiday season to help fund clean water in countries/remote villages that really need it; through drilling wells, pumps or adding purification systems.

Can you help me identify one or two of your favorite organizations that do the most good please??? I’m really having a hard time navigating through all the negativity the various organizations have toward one another.

Thank you so very much for any help you can provide. :)


پنل اس ام اس · January 21, 2016 at 11:19

Thanks for this awesome post and the opportunity to discuss this important subject ,

Bob · March 26, 2016 at 11:12

I understand the points your making but I’d still rather have a 100% field fund charity that the infinite list of less transparent charities that have presidents and CEOs making way too much money for running a ‘charity’.

    John G · October 27, 2020 at 04:17

    Agreed! argely disagree with your article.
    Shortly after university I spent several years working in the finance departments of several charities. I saw EXTENSIVE abuse of funds, huge salaries for untalented administrators, and the fundraiser guys on the ground being exploited and getting paid poverty wages (breeding more problems in society). Went on to work in private for profit industry, and it was more ethical than half the charities I knew.

moby · May 23, 2016 at 07:50

This may be putting smaller charities at a disadvantage but Scott built a model that catered to people’s need for transparency and “the people” have spoken.

With amazing growth and all round figures, it is clear Scott hacked, disrupted the old money raising model and all you can do is complain. Maybe those small charities should follow suit or ask him to do the marketing and the business models for them.

    moby · May 23, 2016 at 07:52

    Well not all, just those guys hating on
    scott on the top.

    I would rather give 100% and so would 100 million people

Stan Belinda · May 26, 2016 at 16:50

Seriously? Have you not done any research about this concept? They have raised over $200million last I checked so it sounds pretty sustainable to me.

They spend 100% of the ‘public donations’ on the water projects. They are really clear about this. They do separate fundraising campaigns to a few high net worth individuals to cover the overhead costs of running the organization. Sounds genius to me. A small group of smart business people understand the concept and are willing to fund the overhead to continue the amazing work. The average Joe can invest $30 or $100 and know that 100% of that goes directly to a project (and they can see exactly where it goes). The biggest impediment to fundraising is the public fear that funds are being wasted / misappropriated / misrepresented. The 100% model (plus complete transparency) seems like a brilliant way to quickly address this.

Why on earth would you spend time and energy attacking an organization that is doing so much good. It makes me very suspect about the kind of work Fundraising Ireland and ChangeFundraising do. Sounds like probably consulting for organizations that direct much less than 100% to the actual causes. Keep up the good work.

Sixta Bowersox · September 11, 2016 at 07:36

Nice piece ! Apropos , if your business wants a a form , my wife saw a sample form here http://goo.gl/SNj50l

Lynne wester · October 1, 2016 at 13:44

No no no 1000 times no. Don’t attack another nonprofit because they have a different model. Don’t tell people not to donate to them. I support them and have told many others to do so. What Scott Harrison has done is changed the paradigm for the better. The work they do on behalf of donors and donor relations is brilliant and industry leading. Most donors in the US won’t give unrestricted, look at the falling rates of participation in University annual funds. We really need to examine this whole “overhead” rally cry. It costs money to raise money but that cost doesn’t have to be passed on to the donor when there are others that will contribute to cover those costs so 100% will go to the cause. But we should be collegial, Charity water has done nothing WRONG and to encourage others not to donate to them is to undermine the spirit of generosity.

    Graham Swann · December 12, 2016 at 18:42

    Have you looked at their accounts. The 100% model is an accountancy bluff. Their overheads ‘account’ for between 25 – 32% per annum over the last few years. In lieu of them opening shop in the UK, the UK Charity Commission has told them to present their accounts in a manner which includes their so called angel investors as income and not segregate it out. That way, joe public can compare the true overheads of one charity against another and make a reasoned based decision. And when charity water fund say for example World Vision in Malawi, do you think World Vision excludes their own overhead costs – of course not. Whatever demigod status the founder has, its no reason to allow for misleading pr.

WinterMK · October 10, 2017 at 00:21

Scott Harrison explained very clearly and with a chart how the overhead is paid. He has separate donors that cover only the overhead. There will always be people willing to donate the big bucks for this, just as other big charities will always be sustained by the larger donations.

    Simon · October 10, 2017 at 00:25

    My response to that is the article above.

Kelley Thiede · December 11, 2017 at 00:18

What if they can’t raise from private donors to pay overhead expenses?…But they have in the past and if they continue to perform I see no reason to boycott the charity based on fear of something that might happen. Sure, realistically, they may need to deviate from their original model “IF” this happens but it defiantly seems, compared to other charities, this would still be a success. Personally, don’t allow people the desperate help they need due to fear based thinking. Or refrain from fear due to the idea of the new precedent they set for other charities to follow. There is a lot of corruption in this field of work but there are also people with incredibly good intentions. Honor that. All businesses have setbacks and must course correct at times. Why would Charity: Water be different? The founder takes in a mid to modest salary of $200K and change annually. But he also dedicates an exorbitant amount of time, effort and travel to his cause which probably consumes a great portion of his life. It’s too bad bogus charities have caused the doubt and stigma attached to good will projects.

Rob · December 26, 2017 at 18:02

wow… it seems as if you wrote this with no investigative work at all… just lots of speculation and empty conjecture. I have my own questions about charity : water – but some on-line searches provided a lot of answers. Its rather pathetic that you couldn’t have done the same before writing your blog here.
They fund the administrative costs through a completely sperate source to the actual water projects. They are rather transparent about it all if you had bothered to look.

    Graham Swann · January 3, 2018 at 18:18

    Really, its quite simple. Add up all of their income (it doesn’t matter where its from) and then ask yourself how come they spend in the region of 30% of this on admin and fundraising. Any other charity would get crucified for wasting (spending) this amount of money on lavish lower east side offices.
    Lets spell it out again – they then transfer money to other charities working in developing countries, who in turn take a cut for admin
    ‘They fund the water projects through a completely different source’. So what – its still income to a charity. Bejasus…..

Janet · April 12, 2018 at 20:22

Good points, but not enough for me to not donate. Their model will change if it fails to work.

FLORIN TRANDAFIR · July 30, 2018 at 16:50

what the heck do you do other than trying to throw dirt on a life changing charity to so many?

Cheryl · October 28, 2018 at 15:42

But, they made me cry! Watching their ad on Facebook! And that my dears is what rakes in the cash!
I didn’t donate, I investigate!

Mary Anne Miller · November 4, 2018 at 21:59

Dear Mr Scriver,

I respect your advice regarding Charity: Water claim of 100% donations going directly to the field. Why not offer and/or donate your professional skills in helping this organization succeed?

Although this organization is 10 years running, it is still fairly new in any type of business success. You could make a hugh difference for the future of this company and helping millions of people on the way.

I for one, do not in anyway have the skills to accomplish what you could do to help so many. So, yes, i will donate my money in hope and faith that beautiful prople around the world, like yourself, will also help in anyway they can.

Im not a “promoter” of Charity: Water. I actually just learned of it about an hour ago and was doing some research about it when i came across your article.

Thanks for all you do already,
God Bless Ireland -and everyone else too!

seba · December 21, 2018 at 16:01

but they have separate donators for the overhead -.-

    Doubing Debbie · January 8, 2019 at 13:22

    I stopped donating to any charities because “Doubting Debbie” would say, “I’m being scammed!”. So, now I give directly to homeless on the street.

    I just want to know my money actually goes to a foundation that truly makes a difference to improve our planet or people’s lives.

    What percentage goes where is of little concern to me. I just want to confirm a charity is authentic. Can anyone tell me if WC is authentic?

    Perhaps charities should give donors a choice to give 50% to the program and 50% to Admin. Let us decide what % goes where. Then we have nothing to complain about.

    So long as we know the work is actually being carried out and we are making a difference.

Bob, the Accountant · January 9, 2019 at 19:21

If you love what they do so much, donate to them so that they could help people for longer. Maybe their company won’t last forever, but if they could do what they do for a bit longer, isn’t that a good thing? Please have common sense, thanks.

Des hernandez · January 25, 2019 at 13:20

I get your disagreements. But I do not agree that it is a good reason to not help the cause. I do not think they are doing as much damage as you are suggesting. A lot of what you have suggested is backed mostly by your skeptism of the reliability of the sponsors, which I don’t believe is a great foundation for an argument. But thank you for the information, because I do think more people should continue to be informed about how charities work.

    Brian · March 9, 2019 at 19:22

    I concur. Matt Damon, charitable foundations, and others can raise the $$$ to pay the expenses to run the organization while allowing 100% of the money from the average Joe to go into the field.

Tom Smokoff · March 7, 2019 at 09:52

Sad but true…. and spot on. Good to see an article like this that spells out the dilemma it creates for small organizations that contribute so much, with little or no backing… I work with small self funding people and humanitarian groups that do wonders during disaster situations, most pay entirely out of their own pockets. I can only imagine what they could/ would accomplish with a little funding.

Rose Marie W. · April 7, 2019 at 14:26

Who cares? They’re giving people clean water and saving lives!! If they are currently able to give about 100% directly to the cause, good for them! They were able to find a way to do it! You are really picking this apart.

Lisa Mason · April 16, 2019 at 06:49

I think your ideas are exactly why non profits are a joke and people are afraid to chip in to true non profits!

Amy · April 22, 2019 at 22:32

5 years later they are going strong at 100%. Bet you feel foolish.

    Simon Scriver · April 22, 2019 at 23:49


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Jon Hennings · September 27, 2019 at 04:14

Making your money as an advisor to fundraisers? If all charities were using 100% of contributions on their projects you would be out of a job. Maybe that’s your problem with the 100%. Makes you think, huh?

    Simon · September 27, 2019 at 09:45

    Yeh you’ve cracked the case, Detective Pikachu.

      Robert · October 10, 2019 at 15:25

      Full disclosure: I’m not spending a lot of time here because I’m instead researching sources that have data or can reliably specify the data they do not have on the group versus blogs bemoaning hypothetical dangers to smaller fundraisers of larger fundraisers successfully fundraising for a goal… because that’s a hell of a thing.
      “I’m sorry cancer research, we’ve decided you should no longer receive any donations because you’re sucking air from Timmy’s Lemonade stand in idealistic NGO Capitalist terms. More people will just have to die until we can ensure those Little League outfits are also paid for. It’s the only ethical thing to do!”

      They’re getting cash. Cash from people who are donating that cash. 10 years on to argue that they aren’t getting cash seems more an exercise in narcissism than useful dialogue.

      There are perfectly valid questions to ask;
      1) What is the data for efficacy on the ground? What pumps are up and running, what projects are failed, and how many still have access to clean water? What are the results?
      2) What percentage of partnerships tie religious doctrine compliance to outcome, and is it unethical to not transparently declare that?
      3) With the Davos donors dropping $1M a piece to cover overhead, what percentage of “Admin” donation excess is invested sensibly toward future Admin sustainability, and might not some of that budget do well being pushed into the “Clean Water” bucket if they have sustained overage?

      It seems to me the complaint being made here is entirely reliant on the toolbox of capitalist market dynamics, while cosplaying as socialist ideology and stating forget the water, the revolution is not pure enough and that’s what I care about.

      I don’t buy girl scout cookies or donate to Susan G Komen because I prefer my charity dollars have a snowball chance in hell of trickling down to the actual subject of the charity, not someone’s monthly LuluLemon and Weekend in the Hamptons fund.
      If attacking the funding model choice here is based off of downstream effects on that donor mentality, you seem to have tip toed to the edge of epiphany without being able to leap the chasm that Charity: Water recognized and modeled to avoid. That means your problem is not with them (specific to the issue you raise) but with your own and perhaps the fundraising field’s inability to self-examine.

        Simon Scriver · October 10, 2019 at 15:33

        What do you mean?

Christopher Morris · December 5, 2019 at 21:24

I have seen a lot of these organizations and one of them that I work with is trying to get that ball rolling. Clean water projects are important because it seems like such a foundation for every other sort of relief work beyond it. https://www.inmotionministries.org/clean-water-projects/

Rick · July 4, 2020 at 06:47

The 100% model is a pledge to combat the very issues you advocate for.

Too many organizations have incredible “overhead costs”. Millions of dollars to a CEO seems wrong to me. Yes, they make things happen. But taking from the poor, seems wrong.

They fundraise for two different causes, Charity water and Charity water admin (whatever the call it). As long as the two are kept separate, the initial 100% pledge has integrity. Their financials are posted online and as a legal charity, those records have to pass government audit.

We the people should applaud this organization for their good work and open policies.

Jo · September 28, 2020 at 15:02

I recommend not giving to any of these ‘charities’ regardless of the ‘business model’ they present to you. It’s all about the resources people like Rahm Emanuel, Jeff Epstein, and yes, even the posthumously sainted Seth Rich, take OUT while putting in some pipes for water. Philanthropy is always a cover.

John G · October 27, 2020 at 04:16

Largely disagree with your article.
Shortly after university I spent several years working in the finance departments of several charities. I saw EXTENSIVE abuse of funds, huge salaries for untalented administrators, and the fundraiser guys on the ground being exploited and getting paid poverty wages (breeding more problems in society). Some of these charities I worked for had good ratings, yet only 40-60% of the funds were actually making it to the cause. To put this in perspective, in my own manufacturing company that I started up shortly afterwards, we have an average margin of 30% to pay salaries, rent etc (and still do well), these so called charities had a ‘margin’ of 40-60% that is criminal.

    John Clayton · November 18, 2020 at 12:58

    I have just learned about charity water and plan to cycle across Turkey to raise money for them knowing that 100% will go to where it is needed. The operating costs are paid by donors . The primary motivation of the charity is to raise funds not to create a huge expensive career structure with massive CEO salaries. If a donor considers the key players are worth $250k then so be it . Many charities have the top team on 5-600k . Well done Scott

Geoff Greaves · December 23, 2020 at 12:36

You incur cost advertising, as a professional fund raiser, clearly not employed by charity: water, to not support them?
You, sir, are the lowest of the low.

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Michelle · October 2, 2021 at 21:05

“I will never donate to them. Not as long as they continue the ‘100% model’ where they guarantee that 100% of my donation will go directly to the field.” Simon Scriver – What does a person hold deep down inside in order to make a statement like that? With 785 million people not having access to clean and safe drinking water, the hill you are doing to die on – and your defense to NOT helping them and letting millions die because of the disease-infested water they bathe in and cook in and drink – is because you disagree with the 100% model? Are you so self-inflated with what you believe to be YOUR fundraising expertise that you feel fully justified in turning your head to a COLOSSAL problem just because Scott Harrison funs his organizational model in a way that you disapprove of and this is foolish. How much money have you raised to help people? Do you run a charitable organization of the same caliber? Everyone has the right to give or not to give when it comes to charities – and everyone has their reasons – however the hill you die on for your reason is because you don’t agree with someone who seeks to not spend his donor’s money on overhead. Sorry – I have read and re-read this article several times and each time I am more outraged. Shame on you, Simon Scriver. Shame on you.

    Simon Scriver · October 2, 2021 at 21:12

    Happy to chat and clarify if you’d like Michelle…seems like you may have misinterpreted. You seem to have read my article as saying “don’t donate to charity”…which is completely the opposite of what I’m saying. But I will accept your shaming if you don’t have the time to chat.

    Tee Mee · December 26, 2022 at 16:31

    I agree, his headlines will detract from a truly good cause and his reasons are VERY LOOSE and totally not factual. He does not include any verified fraudulent fiscal practices or failure to deliver what is promised. He’s bashing them over a ‘potential’ administrative overhead, just because he simply can’t believe they don’t have at some actual expenses and posits that Charity water possibly can’t get enough partners and donors and companies to provide their structural/website/logistic/administrative needs. Yet is does not even prove a 1-2% administrative overhead.

Snow Rider 3D · March 30, 2023 at 19:50

The decision to donate to any charity is a personal one, and it’s important to do research and consider the organization’s track record and impact before donating. It’s also important to consider your financial situation and make sure that donating is within your means.

Velo Ice Cool · October 3, 2023 at 08:12

That’s why I always inform myself beforehand about the institution where I want to donate something. If I can stand behind the activities, then I always arrange a donation.

Ruslan · May 7, 2024 at 02:35

It is your personal decision, whatever make you feel better :)

Fundraisingwoche vom 20.01.-26.01.2014 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · January 27, 2014 at 18:03

[…] a Major-Gift Focus npEngage: 9 Underutilized Emails that Improve Donor Retention 101Fundraising: Why I Don’t Donate To Charity: Water npENGAGE: The 7 Keys to a Donor Retention Strategy Full of […]

Can We Move Beyond the Nonprofit Overhead Myth? | Social Velocity · February 13, 2014 at 21:00

[…] which is often held up as the gold standard of innovative fundraising and nonprofit strategy, claiming that 100% of their donations go “directly to the field.” And thus the overhead myth […]

Is Crowdfunding for Social Change More Than Hype? | Social Velocity · May 22, 2014 at 00:00

[…] might just be bringing it back to life. Nonprofit crowdfunding darling charity:water has been taken to task for reinforcing the idea that 100% of the dollars they raise go “directly to the […]

Is Crowdfunding for Social Change More Than Hype? | CauseHub · June 3, 2014 at 07:34

[…] might just be bringing it back to life. Nonprofit crowdfunding darling charity:water has been taken to task for reinforcing the idea that 100 percent of the dollars they raise go “directly to the […]

Is Crowdfunding for Social Change More Than Hype? – Huffington Post | iVentures.me · June 3, 2014 at 10:27

[…] might just be bringing it back to life. Nonprofit crowdfunding darling charity:water has been taken to task for reinforcing the idea that 100 percent of the dollars they raise go “directly to the […]

Is Crowdfunding for Social Change More Than Hype? ‹ HowToCrowdfund.org · June 4, 2014 at 21:48

[…] might just be bringing it back to life. Nonprofit crowdfunding darling charity:water has been taken to task for reinforcing the idea that 100 percent of the dollars they raise go “directly to the […]

2014 overview: The 50 best blog posts! | READ AFRICA · January 7, 2015 at 23:14

[…] 1) Why I Don’t Donate To Charity:Water – Simon Scriver 2) 25 awesome fundraising quotes – Reinier Spruit 3) The BIG 5 in fundraising performance metrics – Reinier Spruit 4) To CFRE or not to CFRE – that is the question – Rory Green 5) Are communications departments the enemy of fundraisers? – Richard Radcliffe 6)  Double your digital fundraising – by fixing donation forms – Beate Sørum 7) How to Get Prospects to Call You Back – K. Michael Johnson 8) ASKphobia: How To Overcome Ask Aversion – Rory Green 9) Wake up to the new rules of fundraising! – Richard Turner 10) Relationship Fundraising needs a brand re-fresh. How about Engagement Fundraising? – Matthew Sherrington 11) “I am calling you, because …”  10 reasons to give your donor a call – Chantal Visser 12) Are you answering the right questions if you don’t want to bore people? – Matthew Sherrington 13) Not relationships VS results – relationships FOR results – Rory Green 14) 4th Annual Fundraising Growth Analysis – Reinier Spruit 15) Retention Fundraising: adapt or die! – Reinier Spruit 16) What Crowd-funding can teach Fundraisers about Winning – Matthew Sherrington 17) Good donors, bad donors – Francesco Ambrogetti 18) What you must know (and a few things you probably don’t) as an international fundraiser – Sarah Clifton 19) Who Would You Rather Ask for a Gift: a Woman or a Man? – Rory Green & Tom Ahern 20) If It Were Easy To Do, We Wouldn’t Need You – Karen Osborne 21) You just gotta love older people – Sean Triner 22) My Top 5 Takeaways From the International Fundraising Congress – Rory Green 23) How effective is your welcome program? – Erik van Dorp 24) Relationships vs. Results – Margaux Smith 25) Strong fundraisers, weak bosses? – Rebecca Davies 26) Interviewing for a job? Here are the top 5 questions that you should be asking – Joe Matassino 27) Even for a charity there’s no such thing as a free lunch – Ken Burnett 28) Are you in danger of becoming a robot fundraiser? – Rachel Beer 29) Treat donors like the superheroes they are – Laura Iancu 30) Fire Your Donors – Josh Bowman 31) How Much Money Will You Waste This Year? – Charlie Hulme 32) The donor pyramid is no panacea – Ken Burnett 33) December “Glass Balls” for Major Gift Teams – Karen Osborne 34) How Philanthropic are Fundraisers? – Joe Matassino 35) Olympic Edition: fundraise like a bobsledder – Rebecca Davies 36) Is it me you’re looking for? The sad extinction of the donor sapiens – Francesco Ambrogetti 37) Evidence and Ideas:  The scientific approach to fundraising? – Alan Clayton 38) Where my girls at?* – Margaux Smith 39) Everything that is wrong with our retention programmes and how to put them right – Charlie Hulme 40) What I Learned At #IWITOT – Georgia Bridgwood 41) A few words about Ebola and you – Francesco Ambrogetti & Derek Humphries 42) Shouldn’t ‘Best’ Practises Do Better? – Charlie Hulme 43) What’s it like to be old? (By Richard Radcliffe, aged 60) – Richard Radcliffe 44) Brand awareness is King! Or is it? – Sean Triner 45) Who do you think you are? – Rebecca Davies 46) Can anyone write a good direct mail pack? – Lucy Gower 47) Fundraisers need to ask themselves why, at least five times each day – Giles Pegram 48) The Call for Leaders – Margaux Smith 49) Fundraising Lessons from a Con-Man – Matthew Sherrington 50) A Crisis in the making – Tony Elischer […]

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