5 Learnings from Year 1 at charity: water

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business, charity: water, Internet, Life, Marketing | Posted on 09-06-2011

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This time last year I took a plunge and joined my favorite non-profit, charity: water, as Director of Digital.

The first year has been amazing. The most fulfilling, exciting and extending year of my professional career. So I thought I’d take some time to share the 5 biggest learnings from my first year on the job.

  1. Team is everything
  2. The power of brand and creative
  3. Relationships drive return
  4. Prioritize and be decisive
  5. People are good
  • Team is Everything

I’ve learned a huge amount about teamwork alongside my executive team at charity: water. ‘Teamwork’ was always a value I appreciated, but I didn’t quite understand just how important it is, and just how much hard work it is, until the past year.

We work at it every day – we’ve brought on executive coaches, we’ve read books together, we’ve spent a lot of time intentionally learning how to work better together. A real turning point for us has been the past 6 months, we’ve begun meeting as an executive team every morning at 9am and the additional time together has made a big impact.

Teamwork requires deep trust (that only comes with time), constant communication (listening as much as talking), and, importantly, vulnerability (not easy for a rugby player). It’s also essential that everyone on the team has deep committment to shared goals and to each other.

The biggest learning for me has been that you don’t really realize what good teamwork is until you start working as a high performing team.

  • The power of brand and creative

Few things can boost your brand in an online world more than great creative. And for truly inspiring creative you need talented people given the freedom, time and resources to produce amazing work.

We’re very lucky to have a stroyteller and huge creative brain in our Founder Scott, and also the strongest creative team I’ve ever worked with led by Vik’s genius and supported by a great team.

So many times I’ve worked with big brands who would focus rigidly on budgets, ‘eyeballs’ and numbers driven strategies. Content and creative is just a means to an end in this dynamic. But now I’ve seen how an investment of time and effort in inspiring, powerful content can lead to huge gains and ROI.

At charity: water we spend about $0.08 for every $1 we raise – and our powerful brand and creative is a huge element in making that happen.

  • Relationships drive return

One of the first things I did at charity: water was put together a digital strategy hinging around relationships. This comes naturally to the brand – and most importantly it involves thinking of people as people, not wallets.

One of our strategic priorities as an organization is to ‘inspire a movement of passionate, informed and active supporters’. We can only do this by focusing in on our customer experience, thinking about long-term relationships with every donor, and continually thinking ‘how can we make our fundraisers heros?’.

We do this in many ways, such as by focusing on entertaining content and saying thank you instead of asking for money (we’ve never sent direct mail). We’re also working on proving to our donors where every cent of their money goes, and hopefully delighting them by showing the impact they have made.

Think about this for a second: what’s the last thing you’ve done for your customers?

Customer experience matters. Relationships and giving to your audience is so valid. Our thank you emails, water changes everything, dollars to projects.

  • Prioritize and be decisive

charity: water is a brand on an explosive growth curve. We perpetually have more opportunity than we can deal with. This has taught me that prioritizing and decisiveness are essential skills for a leader.

One of our coaches, Carol Morley, shared a thought on this that has stuck with me:

Someone who makes 10 decisions a day, and gets seven right and 3 wrong, will be much more successful in the long run than someone who makes just 3 decisions… but ensures all 3 are perfect.

In the words of another mentor Mike Moran: Do It Wrong Quickly.

  • People are good

Everyday I’m inspired by things people do to help the cause. Michael Birch not only plays a big role in keeping our lights on, but is investing energy in a new web project. Bill Nussey’s Silverpop via Joohae and Erinne have revitalized our approach to email. The good people at Razorfish have done huge things for us digitally pro-bono (shout out: Andrea, Rupa, Raashi, Shawn, Emily). Michael Lazerow and the Buddy Media team have even helped us help Will Smith spread the word!

And then there’s the kids, like little Tariku who built a well with his 5th birthday, and 11 year old Nathan Hidjat and his Google Doodle.

People are good. And people are also kinda lazy. Inspire them and empower them and they’ll change the world for you.

That’s the big 5 insights… there are thousands more of course! If there is anything else you’d like me to share just leave a comment or ask me on Quora.

Comments (2)

Hey Paul, great blog post. I was wondering what some of the books the executive team at Charity: Water have read together?

Great post – inspiring!! Thanks :))

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