By Devlin Smith
Every day, Facebook members decide to use their birthday to raise money for their favorite cause. This year, several African Well Fund supporters made a Birthday Wish to raise money for clean water and sanitation projects in Africa, including Angela Martens, Kelly Palombi, Elsha Stockseth, Lara Wineman and Leslie Winterbottom.
Earlier this month, Travis Adkins, who once worked for AWF’s partner Africare, made the following appeal to his Facebook friends for his birthday:
As I prepare to celebrate my 34th trip around the sun, I’d like to invite those who know and care for me to contribute to a worthy cause. I have selected the African Well Fund as that cause, because I know them both personally and professionally.
While working at Africare, I oversaw water and sanitation interventions supported by the African Well Fund in Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Our work took place in some of the most remote and underdeveloped regions of the continent, where people were often forced to drink, cook with and bathe in fetid water, often contaminated with human and animal waste. I watched in amazement, as our water and sanitation interventions (including the building of wells and latrines) brought back health, renewed dignity and beaming smiles to communities…villages…men…women…and children.
As such, I thought it fitting to engage my community of conscious and concerned friends to support a cause larger than all of us. I would like to raise $1,000 towards the work of providing clean water and improved sanitation throughout the continent. In my view, the cause of assisting those in need belongs not to me….nor to the African Well Fund…but is the hallmark of all human beings who claim decency and humaneness in the world…
Please help me to reach the goal of raising $1,000 to save and improve the lives of untold thousands.

AWF I.jpg
As of Nov. 24, Adkins’ Birthday Wish had generated donations of $1,177 for AWF. Adkins answered a few questions about his Birthday Wish and offered suggestions for people wanting to make their own wish. Adkins also provided the pictures for this story which were taken in the Ntungamo District of southwest Uganda where African Well Fund projects are benefiting over 21,000 people.
How did you learn about the Facebook Causes Birthday Wish program to raise money for nonprofits?
A friend of mine used the Facebook Birthday Wish application this past summer to raise money for her selected cause. I thought it was an amazing idea and for two weeks I watched as she set and met her funding goal. I was sent the notification by Facebook to undertake my own cause two weeks before my Nov. 6 birthday. I admittedly procrastinated the first few days, and finally posted a cause with about nine to 10 days remaining before my birthday.
Why did you make your Birthday Wish to raise money for the African Well Fund?
I selected the AWF because I knew their work from both a personal and professional level, having managed several AWF funded projects for Africare in Ghana, Uganda, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Having worked so closely together, I was also well acquainted with the passionate and committed volunteer staff of AWF. Besides these facts, it is obvious that water is a vital aspect of health and human life, as such, the need for water is so self evident that in many ways it sells itself. I had no need to provide in-depth explanations to those who donated, as my photographs and our common humanity made the case on our behalf. Finally, I knew I could vouch for AWF’s integrity and recommend them for donations from my closest friends and family.
How did you decide on the $1,000 goal for your wish?
I only posted my cause nine to 10 days prior to my birthday, so time was short. Despite that fact, I love a challenge, I knew the character and conscience of my friends, and I believed that clean water in Africa was a worthy cause. As such, I figured $1,000 was the least I could ask for, having nearly 400 FB friends. To be honest, it was a little scary at first, as my donation meter seemed to be stuck in low gear for the first few days, fueled initially by my own donation. But as the days went on, I posted photos to raise awareness, and more friends and family got involved. This was my 34th birthday and with the current economic crisis I figured $34 was a good mark to set for each donation. Making that direct link to my age and donation ask I think was key to personalizing the cause, most people actually donated $34 exactly, and the range of donations was from $10-100. My joking “regret” coming out of this experience is that I wish I had only been older, that way we would have earned more money.
AWF II.jpg
How did you let your family and friends know about your wish?
I initially just transformed my FB page. It went from just being a reflection of my life to becoming a reflection of my life and what the cause of clean water for Africa means to me. With about four days remaining until my birthday, I would call friends and family and make direct asks, which was obviously much easier than cold-calling strangers. Between the two of these methods, we were able to succeed, and I always gave people an out by letting them know there was no pressure, that the $34 rate was merely suggested and that I would be as proud of their willingness and intention to give, as I would of their ability to actually give.
What kind of reaction did you get from family and friends to your wish?
Nearly everyone loved the idea, partly because was for such a basic need and partly because they know what it means to me, so the issue really was about whether they could afford to give at the time, rather than if the cause was worthy.
Did word of your wish spread beyond Facebook? If so, how did the word get out?
Yes, it did, both through me and through other friends on FB. We all have friends and family who are skeptical of FB, but because the Birthday Cause provides a link for distribution to non-FB users, it has huge potential to be spread beyond one’s page.
How did it feel to see your family and friends reach and then surpass your goal?
It was a true honor, as the giving by family and friends was not only a tribute to me, but to the cause of those without adequate access to water, and, even more, it gave others a vehicle of purpose, a chance to do good, an opportunity to have a real impact in the lives of those who are less fortunate where water access is concerned.
What advice can you offer to people considering making a Birthday Wish for African Well Fund or other nonprofits?
My advice would simply be pick something you are passionate about, you should be able to explain why it’s important to you and how it can/will impact others. Set a reasonable goal that is somewhat challenging and then promote your cause sensibly, being mindful not to bludgeon friends/family into giving.
Anything else you would like to add about your wish?
As cheesy as it may sound, and true and sentimental things usually do, this was absolutely the best thing I have ever done for my birthday. A full week later, and I am still ecstatic that people without access to water received nearly $1,200 in assistance because my friends and family agreed to honor my life by donating to the AWF.
For more information on how to make your own Birthday Wish for the African Well Fund, or any other cause click here. Visit AWF’s Facebook page here.