Our Story



Since 2005, the Water1st community has given $17 million to fund 2,297 water projects, transforming the lives of 185,000 people.

Water1st was started in 2005 by a group of professionals with solid experience in the water and sanitation and fundraising sectors. Our focus was simple: build an organization from the ground up with the ability to consistently implement high-quality water and sanitation projects that provide permanent solutions for the world’s poorest communities. At that time there were very few non-profits focused solely on water and sanitation. There were even fewer that were consistently implementing projects that really addressed the underlying issues of access to water and toilets. For the sake of the world’s poorest people, the status quo had to change. Addressing the water and sanitation needs of the world’s poorest is the one activity that, when done properly, generates benefits that can lift a community out of extreme poverty. There is no exaggeration in the statement: supporting and implementing water and sanitation projects properly is the best investment and best hope for the world’s poorest.

Why did the world need a new water and sanitation organization? Because 35-50% of water projects fail in the first 5 years. That appalling statistic has remained true for the past 30 years. Why? Because fundraising for new projects often takes priority over monitoring the old projects. This means that less than 10% of projects receive any follow-up attention after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and that organizations are not learning from past work and improving their outcomes. We knew it didn’t have to be that way – our experience proved that we had a method that was successful and provided permanent solutions to people’s water and sanitation needs.

Water1st was created to support water projects that would last. Our vision was to support local, on-the-ground organizations (our partners in this work) with a proven track record of implementing effective, long-lasting water and sanitation projects. And since most international nonprofit organizations do not follow up on their projects, we would be different.

In a world that entices us with new technologies, new inventions, and new gadgets, we have remained steadfast to our approach and mission. We have 2,297 projects still functioning today, proving that this respectful approach works.

Today, we are a grassroots organization of more than 7,000 supporters across the country, each doing what we can in our individual lives and communities to bring clean water and toilets to the world’s poorest people.

We invite you to join us in this exciting movement for effective, long-lasting change in the world – one water project, one community at a time.




Rather than jump from country to country to fund projects, we work with local, in-country non-governmental agencies who have a proven track record of implementing sustainable water projects and fund them consistently. Stable funding to our partners enables them to retain qualified and experienced staff so they can develop trusting relationships with local communities and leaders and engage in long-term strategic planning. This approach also allows us to efficiently saturate a region with water and sanitation projects.


We fund comprehensive, cost-effective projects — piped water systems, sanitary toilets, and hygiene-education projects. Our projects serve the whole community: homes, schools, health clinics, and community centers. Our partners prepare communities to operate and maintain their projects so they can sustain the health and productivity dividends that only a water and sanitation project can provide. One of the reasons we have selected our partners is that they have very good judgment about the specific technologies that users can operate, repair, and replace. Often that means investing in projects that have higher up-front capital costs but are much cheaper to operate over time. It also means that our partners often pass up on fancy new gadgets that haven’t been proven in the field or haven’t developed supply chains for service and replacement parts.


We follow up. We routinely visit our projects to evaluate our work, to hold our partners accountable, and to share and exchange knowledge. We make sure each project is providing the intended benefits and generating the best possible outcomes. You can be confident that your donation is spent wisely and is making a real difference in the lives of the people we serve.


There is also a philosophical value that we hold up — we start from a true place of respect for the people we assist. We believe poor people are their own best resource in escaping poverty and we support solutions based on their priorities. We listen, involve community members in every step of the process, and fund solutions that are most effective in the long run. Every poor community is rich in the most valuable resources – human intelligence and strength of spirit. We are successful because we invest in those resources and provide the poorest people in the world with an opportunity to accomplish something they see as critical to their own well-being.


On the fundraising side, we made a conscious decision to focus on grassroots funding. Too many organizations find themselves pursuing solutions that appeal to what donors want to do, versus solutions that actually address the needs and conditions of the beneficiaries. We believe the world water and sanitation crisis will be solved by building a community of concerned people and together taking simple and effective actions. The stable funding provided by grassroots support maximizes the effectiveness of our international work. We think there is something powerful about our coming together to serve the needs of the world’s poorest and to be part of something bigger than ourselves.