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SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF. — In early November 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 more than $10,000 through donations — enough to build two wells in Ethiopia later this year.

“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 eight weeks away.”

Spannbauer, Roberts, and Liz Moody, Cannon’s marketing director, agreed to set up a fund at charity:water.org. “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 percent 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.”

A grassroots effort from start to finish, the three employees enlisted the support of their firm’s internal employee network, The Loose Cannons. Word spread and donations began to trickle in. More employees got involved and fliers promoting the cause began to appear on bulletin boards, in e-mails, and even in 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 Dec. 30, the last $320 that they needed was 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,” Moody said. “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.”

“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 Dec. 30, we had a building full of people with goosebumps.”

The two water wells that the extended Cannon family has funded will be built later this year. charity:water has identified two communities that will benefit most from these wells, and arrangements for construction will begin soon. When completed, each well will provide clean, safe water for 250 people.

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, and have already begun the 2011 campaign. If you’re interested in participating, visit http://mycharitywater.org/loosecannons_2011.

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