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Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CBC, and NPR.

I Want Water for My 33rd Birthday

Wheel in the cake. This Sunday, June 29, 2014, is my 33rd birthday. If you’re willing, I’d like a gift from you. No, it’s not a neck tie or a pair of cuff links. What I’d like from you is your help: help me help others.

A couple years ago, my best friend and co-author Ryan Nicodemus raised enough money on his birthday for an organization called charity: water to build a well in Cambodia that brought clean water to more than 250 people. This year we’d like to help even more.

charity: water

Out of all the NGOs in the world, why am I so inspired by charity: water?

A few years back, Ryan and I spoke at Chris Guillebeau’s WDS conference. One of the event’s keynote speakers, Scott Harrison, spoke about the tumult of his early twenties, a time in which he partied endlessly, drank heavily, took drugs frequently, and did everything a stereotypical out-of-control twentysomething does. He was a popular guy. Very popular in fact. He was a fixture in all the cool social circles. Everyone—well, everyone who was anyone in NYC—knew who he was. But Scott’s solipsistic lifestyle spiraled him into near oblivion, which eventually left him alone and empty inside.

After hitting rock bottom, Scott paused and thought hard about how to change his life. Long story short: He gave up drugs and alcohol. Then he decided to give a year of his life to charity. After years of parasitic behavior, he wanted to contribute beyond himself and add value where the need was great. He headed to Africa.

In Ethiopia, Scott was tasked with taking photographs for doctors who were volunteering to help remove large-growth tumors from people’s faces. Scott witnessed unimaginable things. Real pain. Real suffering. Disease. His pictures were surreal: 7,000 tumor-stricken people wrapped around the stadium in which the doctors performed their surgeries. The tumors were massive. Beyond belief. Flesh-eating diseases. Cleft palates. Blindness. Chunks of people’s faces were missing as they gurgled and choked on their own malignant growths. Disease was everywhere. But why?

Within his first hour on the job, Scott was so overwhelmed that he had to walk away, cry in a corner, and then go back to his post with the doctors. On his way back to the stadium he noticed a few natives gathering filthy water from a puddle, and he asked his guide what they were doing. The guide explained that this was the only water to which they had access. They bathed, drank, cooked, and cleaned their clothes with this filthy water. “No wonder there’s so much disease here,” Scott said.

Inspired to make a difference, Scott knew he had to do something. He started a nonprofit organization and called it charity: water. He began looking for donations. It was a rough start. He found that people didn’t want to donate money, mainly because they were uncertain where their money went whenever they donated to charities. Scott revamped his business and developed the 100% model, wherein 100% of the organization’s operating expenses are paid by a small group well-off donors (i.e., a few rich guys keep the lights on), while people like you and me see 100% of our donations go directly towards drilling wells and providing clean drinking water to people in need. Yes, 100% of the money donated to charity: water goes directly towards helping people. And it’s all trackable down to the donor level. Brilliant!

And then Scott had another brilliant idea: he wanted to give up his 31st birthday for charity. Instead of people purchasing material gifts he didn’t need, he asked them to donate money towards this fund. So far he’s raised over $10 million and has helped more than 1 million people get clean water. There are, however, still 800 million people in the world without clean water. The story gets braver and better, but I digress. You can watch Scott’s video if you want to learn more.

(It’s worth noting that Charity Navigator rates the charity: water among their highest-rated charities, with a full 4 out of 4 stars and an overall rating of 67.32 out of 70.)

Birthday Gifts

So here’s my plea to anyone who’d like to give me something on my birthday…

We take for granted so much in this world. Clean water is one of those things. Most people don’t realize that dirty water is responsible for more deaths than all violent acts combined, including deaths from war. We are fortunate to have water, we are fortunate to have the Internet, we are just fortunate. Let’s pay it forward.

I’d like to raise $20,000 for charity: water on my birthday. You can wish me a happy 33rd by taking action now: donate $33 (or $330 or any amount) at my personal charity: water page. Remember: 100% of our donations go directly toward getting people access to water. Together we can radically improve hundreds of lives.

I’m in. Are you willing to help?

UPDATE 9/23/2014: We did it! We reached our $20,000 goal on the last day. Thank you for contributing in a meaningful way. Y’all’re awesome. Then, surprisingly, a few days after our campaign ended, a kind person donated an additional $10,000, which brought our total raised to more than $30,000. Big or small, thank you all for your contributions.