Water and Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison was a New York nightclub promoter who lived to flaunt his Rolex, his super-model girlfriends, and his ability to get liquor companies to pay him $2,000 a month to drink their brands in public. Harrison woke up one day and “realized I was the most morally, spiritually, and emotionally bankrupt person I knew.” He signed on with a not-for profit and while working in Africa, he became acutely aware of the devastating impact the lack of clean drinking water had on communities. “I learned that a billion people in the world didn’t have what I took for granted every day of my life,” he said. “And it’s entirely solvable problem.”

He decided to take a three-pronged approach with charity: water.
  • He pledged to find a way to put 100 percent of donations into water projects, such as digging wells in impoverished villages.

  • He’d provide proof of where donations were going by sending donors pictures and showing them the projects using Google Earth.

  • He’d create an “epic brand” to differentiate charity: water and to gain support from the media and high profile donors.

Harrison’s asks individual donors to “give up” their birthdays by asking their friends and social media contacts to donate a dollar amount equivalent to the age to charity: water. So far, 9,500 people have done just that, including several celebs. The charity has raised $43 million to finance 4,200 water projects, serving two million people in 19 countries.

Donna Fenn, Inc


A Return on Social Investment

For decades, nonprofits looked to donors – private foundations, individual philanthropists, governments – for most of their expenses. Some suggest that some nonprofits are stuck on “the philanthropy dole.”

An Aspen leadership fellow observed, “There’s been literally trillions and trillions of dollars given through nonprofits, with limited results.” As a businessman turning toward social change ventures, that nonprofit model baffles him. “If you give me money, I produce results,” he said of his primary field. “If I don’t produce results, I don’t get more money.”

Enter the world of social-impact investing, or socially responsible investing. In this world, investors are willing to trade some – or perhaps all – of their possible return on investment (ROI) for achieving some social change, or “social return.”

But that begs another question: What’s the ideal 'Return on Investment' on charity?

And how do you measure it? Donors have become increasingly demanding of data to help evaluate how well donor dollars are being used. As one guy in the trenches observed, “Anecdotes are not going to cut it anymore.”

At the same time, not every change can be turned into a number, much less a return on investment. One woman who runs a nonprofit abroad asked, “How do we get measure right? Our ‘profit’ is, we’re changing lives somehow.”

Making that change happen, she insists, requires that “the helper” – donor or investor – “needs to listen to the doer.”

[Christian Science Monitor]