How One Small Business Made Philanthropy a Big Part of Its Culture
Everyday, the company I started, Midwest Pond Design, brings me to water. I have designed and constructed new water features, restored and repaired existing ponds and waterfalls, and kept customers’ water rid of algae and their koi happy and alive since 1999.
The next part will sound so cliché, but I woke up on New Year’s Day 2012, and was trying to think of a way to give back to the world. Eventually my time will come, and what will I have left behind? Sure, I have built beautiful water features and patios for countless clients, but is that enough?
So after researching a variety of charities, it came down to water, and I decided to work with one of my favorite non-profits in the field: The Water Project. Clean water is something we all need and too often take for granted. One in six people in the world do not have access to clean, uncontaminated water. Close to 800 million people do not have the ability to walk to a faucet. They cannot filter parasites from their water, so the water they are drinking is making them very ill. I wanted to do something to alleviate this vast global problem – the fight for a resource I work with in abundance every day, but is scare for millions of other people around the world: clean water.
I began with a fundraiser in January 2012, and like any small company, simultaneously had to build an interested audience. Soon I learned that fundraising is much harder than cold calling – how was I going to convince others to contribute to a cause they were personally far removed from? During the entire process, I found myself looking at the way I was utilizing my own resources, spending my money, and prioritizing my needs for material objects.
Midwest Pond Design’s first fundraiser took ten months, and through the generosity of customers, family, friends, and an online event, we raised over $6,000. As a result, two wells were built and over 2,000 people now have access to clean water – one in Lungi, Sierra Leone, and another at a school in Matawa, Kenya.
The fundraiser has also become a great learning lesson for my 7-year-old son, who was able to speak to his school at an assembly about the importance of water. Prior to the assembly, some of the students took empty water bottles and went out to collect water wherever they could find it. They came back with the water they collected from puddles; for millions of other kids around the world, this is the kind of water they drink – and it’s all they have on any given day. The school soon became involved in the fundraising process, and I look forward to returning to my son’s school in the next few months to show pictures of the well they have created for other children through their donations.
The fundraising process has become part of my company now, integrating charity into the foundation of the business, as well as my personal life. It’s a joy to be able to bring clean water to other parts of the world besides Northern Illinois by making small sacrifices and fundraising to encourage others to give back, too. Charity has no sales limitations or targeted customer base. Charity has no boundaries.
There have been a few occasions this year where I have sacrificed an hour of my day in services knowing that my hour of giving just allowed six people to have clean water for the rest of their lives. How could I not take that trade? That’s what this whole project has opened my eyes to: the reality that, even though we may not have the financial resources, there is always an opportunity to be charitable and have a significant impact on the lives of others.
I’ve always asked my customers, family, and friends the same thing: “Would you give up one drink this year?” It could be that small. That’s all it takes to make an impact. If everyone you knew gave up just one drink this year and instead, gave that money to someone who needed clean water, can you imagine how many people’s lives would fundamentally change forever? This has become my greatest sales call: to get everyone I know to share a link or give up one beverage this year and put it toward a well so more communities have access to clean drinking water.
During this entire process, I have been asked multiple times “Why are you doing this? Why are spending so much of your time fundraising?” My response is simple: How could I not? I’d even argue that my heartfelt fundraising efforts have actually opened up greater opportunities for Midwest Pond Design and myself by creating room for dialogue with many great people and companies I would have otherwise never been introduced to. People rally around impassioned causes in an amazing way.
The greatest thing about integrating The Water Project into my business? 100% of all money raised goes directly to the well construction process. All wells are given GPS coordinates, so you can see – literally – exactly where your charitable donation is going. It makes your impact real and tangible. So if you too are wondering why I’m doing this, my response to you is this: “Why haven’t you started yet?”