Dedicated Donors: Debby’s Truth-Seeking, Intentional Approach Inspires Us

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023

The Water Project community is grateful for every donation, no matter the size. When we can cultivate an incredible relationship with the person behind the donation, though — that is a true inspiration, and fuel to our collective fire. 

For instance, our relationship with Debby A. from New Jersey. When our Senior Director of Philanthropy, Tess, spoke with Debby for the first time, she heard Debby’s passion for helping others ignite when they talked about the cause of clean water. As Debby says below, she came to us right at the start of COVID, when the pandemic was just an inkling of unease in the United States. She had researched how best to venture into philanthropy for a whole year before she even called us. 

Debby’s interest in the inner workings of improving water access inspires our staff. She comes to each call with insightful questions — clues into how much thought she has given to our process and our results. 

But we could go on and on about how amazing Debby is. Instead, we’ll let her speak for herself!

TWP: We often hear that people give from the heart, but it seems like you give both from your heart and your head simultaneously! What led you to take such a thoughtful approach to giving?

Debby: At this point in my life, I was in the fortunate situation to be able to donate more generously. I wanted my dollars to have an impact — not only to the charities that I gave to, but on my own life as well, by making me feel connected to something truly worthwhile.

I knew very little about charitable giving; in the past, I simply took a cursory look at a charity’s ratings on Charity Navigator before donating. So I decided to read a few books on philanthropy, listen to some TED talks, and do online research, where there is a wealth of information not just on individual charities, but philanthropy in general.

Some sites provided suggestions for how to examine your own values and interests and relate them to giving. Other sites talked about deciding what type of giving works for you — do you want to tackle underlying, long-term structural problems or make an impact now at the grassroots level? Perhaps most interesting to me were those sites that shared stories of how others choose to give. I learned a lot about all the different approaches, which helped me make my own choices of both how, and how much, to give.

TWP: How would you describe your life goals? How does giving to help others access clean water fit with your life’s mission?

Debby: Just being born in America to loving, hard-working parents who valued education meant that I had already “won the lottery,” to paraphrase Warren Buffett. My goals were simply to get a good education, work hard, find love, and lead a simple and happy life. I was fortunate to be able to have all that. When I realized that I might be able to help others achieve similar goals by giving them a step up in life through my donations, it was a no-brainer. 

TWP: What led you to The Water Project? What made you decide to work with us over other organizations doing similar work?

Debby: Clean water is something we Americans take so easily for granted, and yet is so difficult for so many; this was something I was always interested in. I actually started with a list of five water charities — although there are many more! — and did a comparison of not only their financials and ratings, but staff size, geographic area of work, sources of revenue. I preferred a smaller-sized charity where my dollars might mean more, and one that was forward-thinking — they didn’t just build wells and then move on, but they were there for the duration, providing water that was sustainable.

What made me decide, definitively, was a phone call with Tess Crick, your Senior Director of Philanthropy. I had sent her a list of questions in advance of our call, and her ability and willingness to answer each with detail and candor was amazing. 

We talked about what made TWP different than other water charities — notably their transparency, where it wasn’t a matter of dazzling donors with numbers, but honestly sharing what was happening, even if it meant an occasional failure. She explained the Water Promise, which guarantees that TWP will be there for a community for the long haul.

The call occurred during COVID. Tess told me that in early 2020, when COVID was still just in China, TWP already recognized supply chain issues would occur, and so they contacted each of their communities and advised them to pre-order parts that they might need within the next year.

I remember hanging up the phone and thinking “Oh, yeah, this is a forward-thinking organization that hires amazing people, who will do amazing things with my donation.” I actually ended up giving three times the amount I had originally planned for that year, since I was so excited about what I learned. And the more I work with TWP, the more I give each year.

TWP: Are there any particular stories/quotes/videos you’ve received from The Water Project that you particularly remember?

Debby: The success stories on TWP site are all inspiring, and so rewarding as a donor; to know that “I helped make this happen.” But one thing in particular resonated with me: Tess sent me a little 30 second video when she was on one of her field trips to Kenya with a swarm of little children in their school uniforms all shouting “Hi, Debby, thank you” — that was priceless.

TWP: What advice would you give someone else considering donating to The Water Project?

Debby: Well, obviously I think it’s an amazing organization that will be a good steward of your donation, using it to improve the lives of so many people. I would say to simply take that first step — no matter the size of your donation — just do it. Take a few moments to look at their site and read the wonderful success stories, and you will be able to trust your instincts that this is a special charity worthy of support.

TWP: How do you feel when you receive a project report from The Water Project?

Debby: It’s immensely satisfying to know that I’ve been a part of making someone’s life easier, making someone’s life better. And when you look at the photos — both before clean water was available, and after, with the look of joy on the faces in the community — you once again appreciate all that we have and often take for granted here in the U.S. So, you not only are enriching their lives, but you are enriching your own with a sense of gratitude.

TWP: What do you wish more people knew about water?

Debby: How essential it is on so many levels — not just to sustain life, but to allow people to build a better life. Here in the U.S., we take for granted that upward mobility is available to each of us. But without adequate, easy-to-obtain water, people can’t take that “next step” beyond fulfilling their basic needs. They, and their communities, can’t prosper. They can’t dream of starting a small business, expanding a farm, sending their children to school to further themselves. As stated on your site: “Without sufficient water, community members find themselves in a holding pattern in life, unable to do anything above the basic daily routine.” 

Debby reminds us of how powerful philanthropy can be, especially when donors share their goals and missions with us. Debby spoke with our Philanthropy team about what’s important to her so that we could tailor her donating experience to her values, and we want every donor to have a similar experience. 

“We try to be consultative,” Tess said. “We want to know what matters to you (education, social justice, sustainability). That way, you get the most from each gift.”

Each donation we receive is an opportunity to accelerate our progress toward reaching 100% water coverage in our service areas, and we would love for you to be part of that. If you want to join Debby in meeting your life goals through giving, please give us a call.

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Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).