Water.org’s Funding Hot Streak Continues With a $1 Million Score. What's Its Secret Weapon?

Bank of America’s charitable arm gives away tens of millions of dollars annually and announces a handful of RFPs each year. So while it doesn’t seem too difficult for organizations to get their hands on BofA’s money, consider this: Most of its philanthropy is dedicated to projects happening within the borders of the United States.

Water.org is U.S.-based NGO, but its water and sanitation work is focused on developing countries. So how did it land a $1 million grant from BofA in support of its WaterCredit program in India?

We can’t say for certain, but Water.org has been on a funding hot streak over the past year or so, receiving several large commitments like:

  • $8.3 million from the Caterpillar Foundation
  • $6.3 million from the IKEA Foundation
  • $1.3 million from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
  • $2.9 million from the Helmsley Charitable Trust

With the exception of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s grant, each of the other funders were drawn to Water.org's signature program, WaterCredit, a microfinance program that helps people in developing countries finance such water and sanitation needs as paying for vended water, toilets, and sinks. As we pointed out in October, this work seems exciting to funders because it "merges the hot area of microfinance with a WASH beat that's also gotten very hot, especially as the nexus between these issues and girls' empowerment has come into clearer focus."

It’s worth mentioning that Helmsley is not a traditional water and sanitation funder, but Water.org managed to wrestle a sizable $2.9 million from it regardless. And, no, it's not just because the organization has Matt Damon on its side. (Damon co-founded the group.) 

Related: Why Big Foundations Come to Love You: A Case Study

Bank of America’s big give to the WaterCredit program will focus on people in southern India. The grant will help around 100,000 people living in gain access to safe water and sanitation solutions. Alex Liftman, Global Environmental Group executive at Bank of America touched on another salient WASH issue, stating:

Water access is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Through our connection with Water.org, we are improving environmental and global health, and creating educational and economic opportunities for women and girls.

As we said, the gender angle is a key reason that WaterCredit has caught fire. Women represent over 90 percent of WaterCredit borrowers around the globe, and that's captured the attention of deep-pocketed funders. The less time women and girls spend walking hours each day to fetch water, the more time they have to dedicate to economic opportunities and education. Among other things, this means maximizing a huge reservoir of human capital that, in many places, is now sidelined. That's a win in everybody’s book.

Related: Why Caterpillar Foundation Backs Water.org’s Credit Program in India

Also, you can see why a big global bank would be paying attention, here. We've written a lot lately about how banks are increasingly keen on empowering people economically, whether through workforce development or financial inclusion efforts. Obviously, a world with more people earning more money is one that benefits banks. And one way to create that world is to help women put down those jerry cans.