Cannon Funds Water Wells in Ethiopia


In early November of 2010, a few employees of Cannon, an engineering firm in San Luis Obispo, were discussing the need for water wells in developing countries. Less than two months later, Cannon had raised over $10,000 through donations, enough to build two wells in Ethiopia later this year.

How it Began

Our firm works with public and private agencies on large-scale, complicated water projects all the time,” said Jeff Spannbauer, a Senior Associate Engineer and Water Resources Specialist at Cannon. “To learn that nearly a billion people are living their lives without even having access to clean, safe water was particularly striking to us. We just felt like we had to do something.”

“A few of us had this wild idea that we’d try to raise $5,000 so a well could be built,” said Susan Roberts, Principal Engineer at Cannon. “Then the idea got a little wilder: we decided to try to raise all the funds by the end of the year – less than 8 weeks away.”

Spannbauer, Roberts and Liz Moody, Cannon’s Marketing Director, agreed to set up a fund at “Charity:water was a good fit for what we wanted to do,” Moody said. “They’re dedicated to addressing this global issue and they turn your donation into action. For $5,000, they identify the community that needs the water well, make the arrangements, and build the well. We really like that they have private funds to support their organization’s overhead, so 100% of the money we donate goes directly into the construction of the wells. And, they have a website feature set up so we could monitor our incoming donations at any time.”

How it Grew

A grass roots effort from start to finish, the three employees enlisted the support of their firm’s internal employee network, The Loose Cannons. Word spread. Donations began to trickle in. More employees got involved, and flyers promoting the cause began to appear on bulletin boards, in emails, even in the employee restrooms. For several years, Cannon has had a campaign in place to match any employee’s contributions to charity, and the water well was no exception. Every donation to the water well fund was immediately matched by the firm.

With the holidays just around the corner, an “All I Want for Christmas is Clean Water” campaign was launched. Employees began mentioning the water well to their friends and families. More donations were received. More and more employees checked charity:water’s website to see how Cannon’s donations were adding up. Slowly, milestones were reached and surpassed. After five weeks, $1,750 had been donated. After six weeks: $2,100.

But with only a few days remaining in 2010, it didn’t look as if they’d hit the $5,000 milestone by year-end. And then, on December 30th, the last $320 that they needed were donated, and Cannon’s employees celebrated.

And then, before the building erupted in cheers for a second time, it got very, very quiet. An anonymous donor had just added another $5,000 to the account, enough to build a second well.

“We were worried we wouldn’t raise enough funds,” said Moody. “Then those last few donations came in and put us over the top, and we were so thrilled with what we’d accomplished. All of us were so happy at that moment – really, genuinely happy to be part of a community like this – and then that big anonymous donation came in. It just blew us away.”

The Reaction

“I never cease to be amazed by the people who work here,” said Mike Cannon, CEO and President. “The way they aligned themselves with this cause makes complete sense, considering how much expertise our company has in this realm. But the real joy was watching them work at this, watching the enthusiasm and participation build, and watching the momentum of the whole thing just continue to snowball. When that donation that put us over our goal came in on December 30th, we had a building full of people with goosebumps.”

Roberts agreed. “We all hear about how much better it is to give than to receive,” she said. “But until you’ve actually been able to witness a group of people working so hard to give, you can’t really understand just how inspiring it can be.”

“I went into engineering,” Spannbauer said, “because I wanted to make a difference. I do that every day designing pipelines and roadways for local communities, but I knew – I think we all know – that we have a lot more to give than just a good day’s work at our jobs.”

The Wells

To date, Cannon has helped fund the construction of 48 wells. charity:water identifies the communities that will benefit most from these wells, and makes arrangements for construction of each well. When completed, each well will provide clean, safe water for 100-600 people.

What Comes Next

The Cannon employees have found a cause they truly believe in, and plan to continue funding water wells for years to come. They have set an initial goal of funding one to two wells per year. If you’re interested in participating, visit Well Worth It’s charity:water page.