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.

Delivering Happiness at SXSW

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet, Marketing | Posted on 12-05-2011

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A few months ago at SXSW I jumped on the Delivering Happiness Bus to shoot an interview with Tech Cocktail’s Frank Gruber on charity: water’s digital approach.

Readers of this blog will know I’m a follower and a believer in the Delivering Happiness movement, and I’m quite stoked with how this video turned out.

Take a look to see a quick snapshot of the world of charity: water from my perspective:

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Quotes & Misquotes

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Internet, Life | Posted on 02-05-2011

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In a soundbite and tweet driven new media world a snappy quote can go a long way. Easy to post, easy to retweet, and also a simple way to look clever (important when ego is a big part of our online profile).

Today the Internet was rabid with conversation focused on the passing of Osama Bin Laden. And many of my friends shared what seemed a thoughtful quote from the great Martin Luther King:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives but I will not rejoice in the death of one not even an enemy Returning hate for hate multiplies hate adding deeper darkness”

Except The Atlantic reports that not only did MLK never speak these words, they only appeared on the Internet yesterday.

A quick google search turns up lots of tweets, all of them from today.  Searching Martin Luther King Jr. quote pages for the word “enemy” does not turn up this quote, only things that probably wouldn’t go over nearly so well, like “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” I’m pretty sure that this quote, too, is fake.

Which reminds me of another quote that tells you a lot about communication in an instant world:

A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.

Update: and not only was the oft-tweeted MLK quote off-base, there was also a quote attributed to Mark Twain all over the Internet that was fake too!

Water Changes Everything

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet | Posted on 24-04-2011

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One billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us. But working in the water sector, it sometimes feels like less than one in eight people even realize the world is living a water crisis right now.

To address this, my team at charity: water enlisted the awesome animator Jonathan Jarvis to produce alongside us a brief, entertaining video that can explain the breadth of the water issue in a few short minutes. We were also lucky to have the support of a great friend of charity: water, actress Kristen Bell as narrator.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video on how Water Changes Everything – and if you love it, share it anywhere you can!

We launched this a few days ago and are nearing 100,000 views thanks to great support on Twitter from the likes of Jamie Oliver, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Twitter itself. Will Smith shared it with his 16 million Facebook fans, and some of the top tech blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable also posted the video.

And if I can make one ask of YOU – I would love nothing more for you to share this video on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog or even via email! Every view counts as we battle to tell the world about the one billion people living without life’s most essential need.

Check out Bnter

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Humour, Internet | Posted on 05-04-2011

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Take 5 minutes in your lunch break today to check out Bnter – a new social site created to curate and share interesting conversations.

It looks a little something like this:

Sign up. Follow some people (follow me!). Have a laugh. Add your own.

I’m an early user, and a fan, of the site. Founded by Lauren Leto here in NYC it has some serious brains behind it, and a small but loyal (and growing) following. Bnter right now reminds me of Twitter back when having 100 followers was a HUGE deal.

Google, Obama & the Power of Data

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business, Internet | Posted on 03-04-2011

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All hail the power of data.

Today’s Politico email shared a great anecdote from ”In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives” by Steven Levy:

“Google was Obama territory [during the campaign], and vice versa. With its focus on speed, scale, and above all data, Google had identified and exploited the key ingredients for thinking and thriving in the Internet era. Barack Obama seemed to have integrated those concepts in his own approach to problem solving. Naturally, Googlers were excited to see what would happen when their successful methods were applied to Washington, D.C. They were optimistic that the Google worldview could prevail outside the Mountain View bubble. … [A]nyone visiting the Google campus during the election year could not miss a fervid swell of Obama-love. While some commentators wrung hands over the Spock-like nature of the senator’s personality, Googlers swooned over the dispassionate, reason-based approach he took to problem solving. … ‘It’s a selection bias,’ says Eric Schmidt of the unofficial choice of most of his employees. ‘The people here all have been selected very carefully, so obviously there’s going to be some prejudice in favor of a set of characteristics – highly educated, analytic, thoughtful, communicates well.’ …

“[O]ne of the company’s brightest young product managers, Dan Siroker [the Chrome browser], … got permission to take a few weeks off. … At [Obama] campaign headquarters in Chicago, Siroker began looking at the web efforts to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. … [H]e returned to Google to help launch Chrome. But over the July 4 weekend, he went back to Chicago to visit the friends he’d met on the campaign. Barack Obama walked through headquarters, and Siroker was introduced to him. He told the senator he was visiting from Google. Obama smiled. ‘I’ve been saying around here that we need a little more Google integration.’ That exchange with the candidate was enough to change Siroker’s course once more. Back in Mountain View, he told his bosses he was leaving for good. He became the chief analytics officer of the Obama campaign. …

Just as Google ran endless experiments to find happy users, Siroker and his team used Google’s Website Optimizer [tool for testing site content] to run experiments to find happy contributors. The conventional wisdom had been to cadge donations by artful or emotional pitches, to engage people’s idealism or politics. Siroker ran a lot of A/B tests and found that by far the success came when you offered some sort of swag; a T-shirt or a coffee mug. Some of his more surprising tests came in figuring out what to put on the splash page, the one that greeted visitors when they went to Obama2008.com. Of four alternatives tested, the picture of Obama’s family drew the most clicks.

Rugby Bullfighting

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Humour, Internet, Life | Posted on 31-03-2011

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Last year I posted a couple of videos of my rugby team, the mighty Village Lions, in action – both on the field, and trying our hand at Portugese Bullfighting while over there on tour.

Not only has that video gone viral on Deadspin, we also just found out it was featured on TV in Colombia:

Surreal. But I’m glad I can check ’15 minutes of fame for wrestling livestock’ off my bucket list.

QWERTY Why?

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Internet, Life, Marketing | Posted on 26-03-2011

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Right now I’m reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel – essentially a quick history of civilization and the role geography plays in shaping our past, present and future.

A chapter on technologies role in history yielded this interesting tidbit of info on the QWERTY keyboard that says a lot about human rationality and the power of vested interests:

Unbelievable as it may now sound, that keyboard layout was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scattering the commonest letters over all keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right handed people have to use their weaker hand).

The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick succession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improvements in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then. The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer sales people, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency for over 60 years.

We First Interview

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business, charity: water, Internet | Posted on 23-03-2011

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Last week I was in Austin, Texas for the SXSW mega-conference – think Woodstock, for nerds.

While there I had the good pleasure to meet a great charity: water supporter and one of the smarter guys in the cause-marketing space, Simon Mainwaring, who shot this video with yours truly for his blog (apologies for the croaky voice… SXSW will do that!).

Simon is a must-follow if you’re interested in social media for social good, cause marketing or corporate social responsibility. And I’m not just saying that because he’s a fellow Aussie!

Right now he’s promoting his new book We First, one of the first books I’ve heard of that will laser in on the intersection between social media, social good and corporate strategy.

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to thumb through a pre-release copy of the book and can enthusiastically recommend you pre-order it here.

Sending Kbell Down the Well

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Humour, Internet | Posted on 17-03-2011

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My boss Scott just took a handful of big charity: water donors to Africa.

There’s nothing like being able to say thank you to our supporters – so check out the video we made for Chris Sacca, featuring the hilarious Kristen Bell.

Update for Chris Sacca from northern Ethiopia. from charity: water (special donors) on Vimeo.

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