The World Love Foundation, run by Tony Kalhagen and his wife Terri-Lynn, raises funds to build water wells in Ghana, where thousands of people die every year from drinking unclean water. They then take their donors to the construction site in Ghana, where for a $4,000 fee they can see firsthand how their time and money has saved and improved entire village communities.
Tony and Terri-Lynn have funded and led three such tours since then, and are planning to have their next one in November.
Tony and Terri-Lynn make their primary living running the TV/video production company Makai Ohana, but they put just as much work and passion into their second business. They manage and expand their brand and community through their website, www.theworldlovefoundation.org, promote and network through presentations to Portland’s business community, organize the tours, and arrange the finances for the actual well construction (performed by contractor Rashed Anaba, who is based in Ghana). They have also done projects such as water filtration systems and prosthetic limbs, all designed to improve the quality of life in sub-Saharan Africa.
Eight years after starting the World Love Foundation, Tony and Terri-Lynn have created their own brand of global philanthropy. They not only help poor communities in Ghana, but they enrich their own world back home by creating a network of volunteers and donors who raise funds for and spread awareness about water issues in Africa; two of their donors have even started their own non-profit, Global Wells. Through a combination of networking, word-of-mouth, and social media, the World Love Foundation has made a dent in the water crisis in Africa, and redefined the idea of non-profit charitable foundations.
I sat down with Tony and Terri-Lynn to talk about marketing a charity, creating communities and “experiencing the unimaginable”.
Tell me how you started World Love Foundation.
Tony: In 2006, we went to West Africa to film an international backpacking show for Makai Ohana, and we wound up in the northern part of Ghana. We ran into Rashed, who took us into the bush to a small village. During the course of filming, we noticed that the village did not have a clean water supply – their water was a dried-up mud puddle with animals standing in it, and they used it for everything. We came home, looked at the footage, and decided to try to do something.
What is your marketing model?
Terri-Lynn: A lot of trial and error. We have this TV show, Oregon Lifestyles, and we were able to take our camera over there to film our other show, Overland. A lot of people wanted to see the footage – rotary groups and so on. It’s the footage that got people interested: seeing where the water comes from, seeing animals standing in the water and people digging holes to draw dirty water and walking two miles both ways five times a day to get it. We made a 17-minute film and we would show it to get people interested. We also had a lot of online marketing, articles, and press releases and papers.
What did you do online?
Tony: With our media company, we air most of our footage on five different TV stations, but our online coverage way surpasses that. It’s a lot of metadata, making sure that when people are using a search engine that they will fund our videos first. YouTube videos were a big one for us; YouTube brought in five of the participants in our 2011 tour.
That’s your biggest social media channel?
Tony: I find it to be. When I look at the back end, our analytics are pretty high. This year alone we’ve had close to 700,000 minutes watched. That’s pretty good.
Terri-Lynn: We also made a DVD explaining how we came to drill wells, called “Just a Drop”. We hand those out, free, to everyone we know. That’s how we got a couple of our volunteers. I teach Jazzercise, and at about the time we were doing a fundraiser for one of the trips, a couple of my students watched the video, called us, and said, “We want to go on your trip.”
How do you find and grow your client base?
Terri-Lynn: We did a lot of presentations for rotaries – I’d say about once a week. It’s a combination of presentations, word of mouth and online marketing, especially Facebook and YouTube. We also collect emails and send group emails, send them things here and there.
What’s your process for optimizing the website?
Tony: I try to keep the search engine optimization up as high as I can, and work on the metadata on the back end. We continually load new videos and pictures. If I were Googling some place like Ghana to go on a trip, the first thing I would want to see would be photos, and the photos might inspire me to find out more about the country. That’s exactly what we do with sites like Flickr and YouTube: we make sure that people looking at our photos or videos know where they can see more things, like videos or stories or blogs. We put down a page outlining specifically how you get to Ghana: how you get your visa, what’s the climate like, what are the best times to go? It’s an informational database on how to travel to Ghana.
What would you say is the brand of World Love Foundation?
Terri-Lynn: We wanted to make it an umbrella to do many things, much more than just wells, so we wanted our name branded that way.
Tony: We’ve done lots of different projects over there: we’ve done prosthetic hand projects that came through a rotary club; 300 Permanets, which are insecticide-treated bug nets to help protect against malaria; Lifestraws, which is a straw filtration system for water; and we’ve given out scholarships for young people from the villages. “World Love Foundation” was an umbrella name, and we thought it was fitting. We can use it anywhere, not just for wells in Ghana.
What is your niche? What services do you provide that other non-profits don’t?
Tony: The cultural immersion and the hands-on approach. When people go on a tour, they are able to participate in something rather than sending in a check; they can actually see what their money is being used for. You really get to see where it’s going, and meet the people you’re helping. You’re surrounded by hundreds of people in a small village out in the bush who know that they’re getting drinking water because of you. You can imagine the gratitude and appreciation – the whole village is crying, the volunteers are crying. It’s amazing.
Terri-Lynn: We’re not a regular tour group. We’re taking people to see villages that never see the outside world at all. It’s an education and a true cultural immersion. It’s a real trip to go from a city with money and cars to villages with no food or water. When people come back, they’re different. Their lives are a little sweeter – they have water.
How do you use your media company, Makai Ohana, to help out World Love Foundation?
Tony: I don’t think World Love Foundation could do it without Makai Ohana, because we would have no footage.
Terri-Lynn: There’s also fan base. We’ve been producing tourism since 2004, so we’ve already got an established fan base. That helped a lot when we were walking into rotaries – people already knew us from our tourism shows, the most recent being Oregon Lifestyles. Once you have connections to put your shows on the air, you can more easily put foreign footage in, like in our other show, Overland.
Tony: We work with three different stations in three different states: [We’re on in] Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Eugene, Rogue Valley, Redding, and Sacramento.
How do you see this foundation moving forward, and where would you like to go?
Terri-Lynn: What I would like to see? Once a year, or every other year, we are able to take a small group of people over to Ghana, and that creates a ripple effect. For example, the two people we took on a trip who are now starting a foundation and helping with our mission statement. If you take people there and show the wells to them and let them know they’ve helped, it’s forever in their hearts, so they’re either going to talk about it with friends and family or actually put something into action in their own community, or a community across the world. They’re going to fall in love with the people. My vision is leading a tour a couple times every other year.
How do you see yourself getting there?
Terri-Lynn: Exposure and marketing. We’re not into doing presentations anymore, because sometimes you put a lot of work into it and no one shows up. For this next tour, we’re marketing online with our friends, talking to them about it and getting them out of their own element and across the world to experience something that is unimaginable.