Had a question about your mycharity: water campaign? Wanted a tip or two about fundraising? Came to a Volunteer Night at our office in NYC? Then you’ve probably talked directly to Merry McCarron.
It’s time everyone learned a bit more about the wizard behind the mycharity: water curtain. Here’s a quick Q+A with our Online Community Manager:
Where are you from? How is that a part of you?
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and always had lots of forests, streams and fields to run around and play in. Nature is really important to me, which can be rough living in NYC. I love the city… but I do make time every summer to go camping and head down to the beach a few times.
How did you get plugged into the water issue?
I did a national competition senior year of high school, where my team was assigned to come up with a solution to the water crisis. Compared to AIDS and international terrorism, it sounded like the most boring thing ever. And then I learned how water affects everything and it went from boring to thrilling. That competition changed my life — I knew my passion was and always would be international development, and water in particular.
So how’d you come to charity: water?
I started at charity: water as a lowly intern. I actually had never heard of the organization until I saw the posting on Idealist. My first day, I showed up in slacks, a white button down shirt and pearls… the other interns looked at me like I was crazy. I quickly learned that skinny jeans and Converse sneakers were as welcome here as pencil skirts.
One thing you really like about working at charity: water?
One of my favorite things is our Friday beer + pizza and the dance parties that sometimes get started afterwards!
If you could travel to see any of our programs around the world…
I’d really love to go to our countries in Francophone Africa. I spent four months in Paris and speak pretty decent French. I focused on francophone Africa throughout my college career — Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular — so I’d love to go and actually spend time with the people in those countries. But honestly, I’m yearning to go to every single one of the places that we work in! I’d love to get some personal stories that I could pass along to the fundraisers who I chat and email with.
Let’s talk fundraisers. You answer all email requests from anyone interested in mycharity: water — that’s a big job. What’s your favorite part about being the mycharity: water go-to?
Our fundraisers make me teary-eyed on nearly a weekly basis. They also crack me up. I sometimes end up just chatting with people on the phone once I’ve answered their questions — one of the best was when I spent 10 minutes talking with a fundraiser about how awesome Chik-fil-A is.
The hardest part about being the mycharity: water go-to?
Sometimes, inevitably, there are problems that I can’t fix or requests that we can’t accommodate. I really wish we could do everything that our fundraisers ask of us. We have a tech queue, and every good idea is on it… but there’s so much to do, some things are going to take awhile. We get a lot of requests for staff to speak or accept checks, but everyone’s so busy we usually can’t make it happen.
Where do you come up with the advice that you end up giving to fundraisers?
For the most part, we get it from other fundraisers! Personally, I’m always looking for feedback — the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m eager to pass along tips to fundraisers and to work with our team to fix the problems underlying complaints.
Also, I’m just a huge nerd that loves to dive through spreadsheets to analyze the numbers. I’ve learned some interesting things that way, which are influencing the strategy we’re building right now to help our campaigners be even more successful in their fundraising efforts.
As great as stats are, though, I really believe that input from our supporters is the most important (and useful!) information for us and for other fundraisers.
Tell us about a fundraiser who’s inspired you:
One of my all-time favorite fundraisers is Tariku Savage. He was born in Ethiopia, and his birth parents’ first child died at a very young age as a result of waterborne disease. When his parents brought him home to the U.S. last year, he was very sick due to parasites he contracted from dirty drinking water.
Tariku turned five this past September and had a birthday party where he showed his friends the September Campaign 2010 video — there’s an amazing picture of him pointing to the little kids at the end of the video when they’ve gotten clean water [right]. The look of happiness on his face is incredible (cue me getting teary-eyed).
His mom Amy and I still keep in touch, and I occasionally get pictures of Tariku, who is one of the cutest kids in the world. I almost feel like I know him, if you can’t tell already!
We know you’d do anything for our fundraisers… if you could whip up a new feature, technology or program to better support our fundraisers, what would it be and why?
I’m hoping to launch a forum for fundraisers past and present to connect and share ideas! I’ve made personal connections on a one-on-one basis and I think it’s been a good experience for everyone involved. There’s something very compelling about getting directly from someone who’s done it before.
Now, you also work with our volunteers a lot. Can you share why this group is important to what we do?
Working on a 100% model means we can’t have a big staff, and staff time is at a premium. We never, ever give volunteers anything that we wouldn’t do ourselves — some tasks might be boring, but they have to get done! Whether it’s sending out hundreds of t receipts, putting together 2,000 goody bags ge conference, or setting up, staffing and then tearing down charity: ball, there are loads of important stuff that would be impossible without volunteers. If it weren’t for them, we’d be in big trouble!
I think even as we grow to be a $100 million organization we’ll continue to need our volunteers — they’re really a key part to why we thrive. And aside from all of the tasks that they help us out with, they’re some of our biggest evangelists!
Every time we have our volunteers in the office I have a great time. Monthly volunteer night is just 6:30-7:30 p.m., but there have been many nights that I’ve been in the office chatting with vols until 10 p.m.! Lots of friendships have started at charity: water volunteer nights.
Who usually volunteers for charity: water?
Our volunteers range from high school and college students to venture capitalists, full-time social media gurus, fashion-brand marketing heads, teachers and retired grandparents. No matter how high-powered they are at work and in the world, though, they’ll do anything for us.
“Our fundraisers make me teary-eyed on nearly a weekly basis. They also crack me up… one time, I spent 10 minutes talking with a fundraiser about how awesome Chik-fil-A is.”
Anything you’ve learned about yourself while working at charity: water?
I used to consider myself shy. Working at charity: water has been a crash-course in being comfortable talking to strangers, which is fantastic.
What are your hopes for the future of mycharity: water?
I hope that we create more and more opportunities for our supporters to talk to us and to each other. This is nothing new, but I’d love to see people jump into the comments section of the blog more often! I think really great conversations can be sparked that way. I think mycharity: water is going to continue to set a standard for online fundraising. We’re launching a new feature in July that I’m SO excited about… but I don’t think I can talk about it yet (hold tight!). I’ll say this, though — I think it’s just the beginning of connecting our supporters to the work we do.