What This Tech Billionaire Can Do For charity: water

Here's a fantasy of nearly any nonprofit president: One of the hottest tech entrepreneurs around decides that he loves, loves, loves your organization—and then, later, turns into a billionaire. Yup, that's what a lot of NGO leaders dream about. And right now Scott Harrison of charity: water is living that dream with long-time supporter Jack Dorsey finally popping up on Forbes' billionaire list. 

Dorsey's page on charity: water's website says that he's donated $57,626 to its campaigns, which is pocket change for a billionaire. (Although it's certainly possible that he has quietly given much more.) The tech entrepreneur who's given charity: water much more serious backing is Michael Birch, who gave the group $1 million early on and has continued his support and involvement, including helping create one of the group's projects, WaterForward. (See IP's profile of Michael Birch.) It was also Birch who opened doors for Harrison in the tech world, where he got to know Dorsey. 

The Times once asked Harrison why techies get excited about charity: water but not the Red Cross. Harrison's answer seems spot on:

I think Charity Water felt different to them. We were young, we were tackling an improbably important problem: trying to bring clean water to one billion people. Because we acted like a start-up, people who run start-ups could associate with us.

People like Dorsey. (See IP's profile of Dorsey.) And the scale of Dorsey's giving right now may not actually matter very much. While most people have never heard of Michael Birch, Dorsey is famous, and his backing for charity: water translates into a commodity that is even more valuable than money for NGOs: social proof. As in: "right, you're the group that Jack Dorsey is into." Which is much better than: "you're the group that the Osprey Foundation is funding." 

Charity:water makes it easy for celebrity figures to leverage their profile on the group's behalf, and Dorsey has done exactly that. He ran charity: water fundraising campaigns for each of his last three birthdays, raising more each time. Dorsey's campaign for his 35th birthday brought in $81,753, and his net total over the three years stands at $174,464.

Again, not big money compared to his net worth—but money that still goes a long way in the developing world. Dorsey has sponsored several wells with the funds he's raised.

Here's the other thing about having a billionaire in your corner, however much they may actually give: There is always the likelihood of much bigger money down the line. 

A lot of young business leaders are too busy to take philanthropy seriously, or reluctant to part with a new fortune that can seem ephemeral to begin with. But most of these folks will eventually get around to serious giving, and if they've been working with a group for years, some very large gifts are likely. A case in point that we reported on recently is how Stanley Druckenmiller has been a supporter of the Harlem Children's Zone since it's beginning, but only in recent years has Druckenmiller begun to give to the HCZ to the tune of $15 million a year. Why now? Because he got older, wound down his investing career, and turned seriously to philanthropy.

Will an older, grayer Jack Dorsey one day be giving $15 million a year to charity: water? It wouldn't be surprising. And could happen sooner than you think.