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ENR Next: Firms Think Outside the Donation Box
Courtesy of Water for People
A Water Corps volunteer discusses evaluations in the community of Ajoya in East Medinpur, West Bengal, India.

From bake sales to in–house dunking booths to personal volunteer expeditions, the employees of top engineering and consulting firms are donating more than just money to Water for People, the American Water Works Association–sponsored nonprofit bringing water and sanitation to developing countries. In unorthodox ways, these companies are going beyond the corporate check–writing routine and rallying support for a charity whose mission resonates with their water–engineering communities.

"Perhaps no other charitable organization aligns itself more closely with CDM's core water and wastewater services than Water for People," says John L. Roberts, executive vice president of the Cambridge, Mass.–based firm. Roberts, along with a network of 80 local office coordinators, spearheads CDM's three–year–running Water for People workplace giving campaign. This year, the nationwide campaign raked in over $100,000–trumping their $60,000 goal. Together with corporate contributions, CDM's 2007 Water for People campaign reached $120,000. "Offices participated in bowling, golf, and softball games–bake sales, auctions, luncheons, cook–offs; employees collected coins and sold commemorative water droplets," says Roberts. "There is great enthusiasm and energy generated by our workplace giving campaign events, which bring employees together in ways beyond their normal work duties."

The same company–wide enthusiasm seems to permeate Englewood, Colo.–based CH2M HILL Cos. (, which brought in $92,000 in its workplace campaign for Water for People this May. Although it too had its fill of pancake breakfasts and sporting tournaments, CH2M HILL's is a top–down success, says Elisa Speranza, company vice president. "It's an overall corporate culture of giving back to the community," she says, recalling e–mails and intranet advertising for the campaign.

One of CH2M HILL's most effective measures was the implementation of a payroll deduction system that made employee contributions even more "simple" and "painless", says Speranza. The company also developed an online donation software for easy credit card payments, which they then passed to Water for People to benefit other companies' campaigns. CH2M HILL's 2007 donation topped $125,000 with in–kind and corporate contributions.

Top executives from both firms have long sat on Water for People's Board of Directors. CDM's Frederick H. Elwell and CH2M HILL's Elisa Speranza currently serve as president and vice president, respectively.

CH2M HILL and CDM are among only six of Water for People's "global sponsors" top tier contributors that each donate over $100,000. Other 2006 global sponsors were American Water, American Water Works Association, Nalco Foundation, and Ware Foundation. "Companies at the global level do just about everything to support Water for People," says Nancy Stewart, corporate giving manager for the organization. She says monetary support is one thing, but these companies go beyond that, imbuing their employees with a personal initiative to contribute.

Jerry Anderson, a project manager for CH2M HILL in Louisville, Ky., joined Water for People in India on a country tour in 2003. His team of six volunteer professionals evaluated the arsenic water treatment facility of a village on the Ganges River. Anderson gathered qualitative feedback from villagers, while representatives from a local nongovernmental organization measured the system's performance metrics. "I was struck by how pleased they were with it," he says of his interaction with village members. "We found they oftentimes measured the success of the facility by how little medicine they had to buy."

Anderson says that though he took the personal initiative to pitch the project, he was able to secure discretionary funding from his office. His program was the precursor to Water for People's current World Water Corps, which sends professional volunteers to evaluate and update existing facilities. Both CH2M HILL and CDM have sent employees since the program began last year.

It isn't surprising that much of Water for People's donor base stems from the water and engineering industries. Its coordinators work with local groups and community members to bring water and sanitation infrastructure to areas unaware of basic hygiene. Currently operating in Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, and Malawi, the nonprofit has just announced that it will expand its presence into Ecuador, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic.

In Bolivia, for instance, Water for People addressed age–old water sanitation problems for the Anchallani community. Together with the governing Municipality of Luribay, the nongovernmental organization Suma Jayma, and participating families, the nonprofit spent five months building the area's first treatment system. In all, 192 household water taps as well as extensions for two local schools and the health post were provided.

Community members participated throughout the construction process, which included digging trenches for PVC pipeline and building four spring boxes, five break pressure tanks, a 25–cu–m storage tank with hypo–chlorinator, a 5–cu–m storage tank, and 8.7 km of distribution line. The facility, in conjunction with several hygiene workshops, replaced the community's contaminated water source with a modern system and understanding of sanitation.

A complete list of Water for People's 2006 sponsor list is available on the organization's website.



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