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Bright ideas in nonprofits: engineers


Nonprofits are in the business of solving real-world problems in unique ways. As they study an issue in-depth and uncover setbacks, they need engineers to discover and implement the creative solutions.

Engineering in nonprofits can be extremely valuable in transforming the output of an organization. Take the example of Charity: Water, a nonprofit that provides clean water to communities in need. In order to impact great change in communities of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, Charity: Water’s founder, Scott Harrison, knew that tech innovation would have to play a large role. “To get people involved around the world, we’d have to use whatever technology was available at the time and become early adopters of innovation,” says Harrison.1

BrightIdeas_child pumping water in africa

The solution came from hiring a team of skilled software engineers. While the team would require civil engineers to build solutions on the ground in these communities, software engineers would play a critical role in project maintenance and providing proof to donors that their dollars were well-spent and measurable. To do so, Charity: Water’s team of engineers created Dollars to Projects, a high-tech feature of the organization that tags water projects with a GPS monitor and connects them to Google Maps. With this feature, individuals and organizations that provide donations can directly track how their money is being spent, down to the dollar.


Using technology to provide a transparent funding model—one that’s visible through the digital devices of their donors—helped bring Charity: Water’s impact into the lives of those donating.

With this specific nonprofit software development, engineers at Charity: Water work with substantial amounts of data—the water technology used in the project, how many people are being served, project costs, and GPS coordinates—to deliver real-world results to both the communities they serve and the donors who fund them. Part of this process involves a custom-built Assignment Tool for each of the organization’s endeavors, a nonprofit management software that helps create positive relationships with Charity: Water’s donors. Using technology to provide a transparent funding model—one that’s visible through the digital devices of their donors—helped bring Charity: Water’s impact into the lives of those donating.


Beyond offering an accessible digital product to donors, the efficiencies created by Charity: Water’s tech model also enables the kind of trust that would, in turn, increase their funding potential. Says Harrison: “The problem we were trying to solve was to bring a group of people back to the table of giving who didn’t trust charities.”1 As a result of their successful software initiatives, Charity: Water has been able to raise 60% of their early days of fundraising from grass roots supporters alone. They’ve also earned the attention of big-name tech supporters like AmazonSmile, Keurig, and Caterpillar, and in 2012, received $5 million from Google Impact Awards.

In pairing their on-the-ground solutions with digital products and software, Charity: Water was able to increase funding opportunities, awareness, and perhaps most importantly, their outreach in the communities they serve. Thanks to the help of dynamic software engineers—those who built the systems that enable project communication and show real-world application—8.4 people around the world have access to clean water, and donors taking part can say that 100% of their funds have backed this cause.



[1] Bertoni, S. (2013, December 19). How Charity: Water Won Over the Tech World. Retrieved from
Header Photo Credit: pujislab /
Top Body Photo Credit: jennygiraffe /
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