Charity: water is one of those rare organizations that not only does amazing work (bringing clean water to people around the world), but also tells amazing stories. As you’d expect, we’re suckers for both. We recently flew to the Big Apple to visit with members of the charity: water creative team and hear about how they use Musicbed in their videos (honored). While we were there, we grabbed a little extra time with video producer Jamie Pent and learned more about the charity: water creative process and what it’s like crafting stories for one of the most compelling nonprofits out there today.
Check out the video below. And here’s Jamie.
So, describe the space here. It’s pretty awesome.
Yeah, totally. We’re all open space. When I first came in August 2012, I was the 23rd employee; now we’re at 67. So we’re tightly packed. This week, half the team has been in Ethiopia, though, so the office has been pretty empty. It’s been so quiet.
When you walk in, there are photos that Scott [Harrison], the founder of charity: water, and Esther Havens took. We’re surrounded by the result of our work all the time and these beautiful art pieces.
Did you see the pushpin wall? The “Water Changes Everything” wall?
I think so, yeah.
When we first got into this building, our creative director projected the words “water changes everything” onto the wall, and people just started putting in pins. When visitors came, they’d be like, “Oh, I want to do some!” We’d turn on the projector, and they would fill in some holes. There must be thousands in there now. I don’t even know how many there are.
You guys all seem very cool/creative. How did all these cool/creative people end up in one place?
I feel like we’re a pretty close-knit group. The office is always buzzing with activity. We hang out for each other’s birthdays, and we hang out in the evenings. Every Friday night we have beer and pizza night.
One of the biggest parts of the hiring process, though, is paying attention to whether or not someone is a cultural fit. It’s a huge factor. I feel like I could get along with every single person at charity: water. I want to hang out with them. They’re good people and hardworking. You feel motivated every day just being in the same room with them.
What exactly makes someone a cultural fit?
It’s such a variety of people. We have some people who worked as interns out of college, and then they got hired on full time. We have people who are from Twitter or from big corporations who decided they want to do something more meaningful. Everyone here really cares about helping people, whether they’re working at the front desk or as vice president.
When we interview, we have to do the StrengthsFinder test. They actually pay attention to that and say, “Will you fit with our team?” Sometimes there are people who are super-talented but they’re just not a good fit. It’s an intangible thing. I don’t know exactly what it is.
What were your strengths on the StrengthsFinder?
My strengths were responsibility . . . context . . . um, developer . . . and I always forget the last one. It’s interesting because supposedly when you take the StrengthsFinder, you’re not supposed to change. But I took it six years ago, and then I retook it and two or three of mine changed.
How old are you?
I feel like until you’re mid-30s, 40s, you’re still forming who you are. At least I feel that way.
Here it is: context, deliberative, developer, adaptability, responsibility. That was what I was six years ago. Now I’m empathy, harmony, developer, restorative, context. I kept two of them but I lost adaptability and responsibility. Great.
Maybe you’ll get them back someday.
So how is the creative team set up? You have a creative director it sounds like?
Yeah, Viktoria Harrison. She is a super-talented designer. She’s actually our founder’s wife, and she was one of the first three employees. Very, very talented. We have her, two designers and two UI designers. We have Cubby Graham — he is working with schools and stuff like that. Then there’s Tyler, our content strategist. And me.
That’s pretty small.
Do you still get excited to make videos about water?
Actually, that question comes at a good time. We are shifting this year. In the past, our Growth team — the people responsible for all of our fundraising and grants — they’ve been the ones who’ve said, “Hey, we need this,” or “It needs to have a call to action, and it needs to fit within these certain parameters.” This year we’re starting to change our thinking. We’re still giving Growth what they need, but now we’re making a list of the projects we want to do. Passion projects. Then we’ll give those to Growth and let them do what they want with them. But they’re coming from us and not demanding a certain monetary return. When what you’re making has to bring in a certain amount of dollars, it kind of kills the creative edge a little bit.
That’s interesting. I feel like the stuff you guys have been putting out has been so good.
Definitely. Yes. It’s easy to be on the receiving end of a video and look at it and go, “Oh my gosh, it’s great!” But on our side, we’ll have it where we think it’s almost done, and then Growth comes in and they’re like, “You need to put an ad here, here, and here; and this needs a shift; and add a slide here.” And we’re like “Ah, no.” even though we know that is the ultimate purpose — raising money. We shouldn’t complain about it. That’s our job. It’s my job. But there is something to be said for creating something that’s not bound by money.
So what kinds of videos do you want to be making?
I really want to do a complete GoPro video. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I want to learn how to use our Steadicam Merlin too. We have one, and I just haven’t taken the time to actually figure it out and learn how to balance the camera. I always lose it. I want to use a GoPro Chopper, a drone, and bring that onto the field and just change it up, change the feeling of our videos. For me, those kinds of things are making me excited this year — for some of our bigger videos to incorporate those ideas.
So walk me through how the charity: water’s stories come together. How planned out is everything?
Whenever we go into a country, we have to be flexible with the story. For example, when we went to India for the September campaign last year, we went with the intent of getting a specific story. But when we got there, we realized that what we thought was the story really wasn’t the story at all. Ultimately our stories are always about water and people needing clean water, so it’s sometimes a struggle to figure out how we’re going to make this next story exciting for those people who have already seen all of our videos and know the water crisis story.
Ultimately, I think our goal is always to get new viewers too. Even though it may be not a fresh story to me, necessarily, it’s a fresh story to our viewers. And we have to try to explain the water crisis, the need, and that we can do something about it — all within a three-minute video. I like to think of different ways we can tell the same kind of story. Like there was one woman who talked about how when she got clean water, what changed for her was her skin, her beauty. She felt more beautiful because she got clean water. It’s just little things that we never thought about. We’re like, “Wow! That’s a beautiful story and it’s connected to water, and people will understand it.” But it’s a completely different story than just people are drinking dirty water.
Malawi is my most recent trip, so I have that in my head a lot. Even though it’s the same kind of story, it has different elements that keep it exciting. In this particular village, they built a bridge. It took two months. They hauled rock and sand and dirt, and they built a bridge just so a rig could come across. We were there the second day the rig came across the bridge. We had no idea. We thought we were going to shoot them building the bridge; but when we got there, they were done. They’d already finished it. The rig came across and we got to see them get clean water. I had never been in a shooting situation where you come full circle. You see them getting their water source that day, and then the next day they have clean water. It’s pretty unbelievable.
We loved hanging out with charity: water. It turns out they really are as cool as they seem. What was most inspiring about being there was seeing how connected everyone was to a common mission. Whether they were making videos or answering phones, everyone knew why they were there. That comes across when you see the videos they create, and it definitely comes across when you start talking with them. They’re people who have a purpose, and it was infectious just being around them.