Cubby Graham on the Intersection of Charity and Social
Cubby Graham is the Social Media Strategist at charity: water, a best in class nonprofit working to bring clean water to people in need. In ten years, with the help of more than one million donors worldwide, charity: water has raised more than $200 million to fund 20,062 water projects in 24 countries. When completed, those projects will provide more than 6.3 million people with clean and safe drinking water.
At his core, Cubby sees his job as that of a storyteller. He works to help people, help people by telling inspiring stories of impact and creating digital experiences that demonstrate transparency and bring supporters closer to the communities they're serving around the world. He's been at charity: water for more than three years. He loves robots and making new friends.
He's also a keynote speaker at our upcoming Summit in Austin, Texas. We wanted to get a preview of Cubby's talk—and his unique point of view on charity, social, and the power of storytelling.
First, what do you plan to center your talk around at Spredfast Summit?
Building trust, telling stories, and changing the world. I'm excited to unpack a little bit of the charity: water story, and how we've activated more than million people around the word to make it their story.
Building trust, loyalty and advocacy are some of the biggest challenges brands face. But in a time where 42% of Americans don't trust charities, charity: water is working to change that with radical transparency, innovation, technology, and the power of storytelling to help bring clean water to people in need.
Can you tell us a little bit more about how charity: water is reinventing the way people think about giving?
At charity: water we're really passionate about using innovation and technology to bring people even closer to their impact. From the beginning charity: water made a bold promise to our community that 100% of every public donation would go directly to clean water. We choose to take it even a step further to show people the impact of their generosity through photos and GPS coordinates, proving back to the donor exactly where their money went and how it was used. And let's not forget sustainability and accountability. Broken water projects are unacceptable and so we've developed a system of mechanics and partnered alongside Google to design remote sensors for our water projects -- so we're not just building new projects, but taking care of the ones we already have.
You've spoken often about the power of storytelling — how does that power look now, in 2016, thanks to the evolution of social? Has storytelling changed due to changes in medium? What principles remain the same?
Everyone loves a good story. There are heroes and villains, problems and solutions, successes and failures. People have been telling stories from the beginning of time. Stories are memorable, moving, and we believe have the power to change the world. We live in such an exciting time, where it's easier than ever to share your story, but the real challenge is telling it in a way that people will listen. There'll always be new mediums, but the principles of what make a great story stay the same, and the way you position your listeners' relationship with the story will determine how deeply it moves them to action.
How do you think social media has changed the nature of trust and charitable giving, especially for our generation?
Charitable giving aside, if your brand isn't building relationships and trust with your community, you'll never cultivate loyalty or advocacy with Millennials and especially not with Gen Z. Now more than ever, young people are craving truth and they're afraid of being taken advantage of. Therefore they question everything, and avoid anything that isn't authentic. You're either building trust or losing trust. Social media is an opportunity to give people a deep and meaningful connection to the people we love and the things that we care about.
How do you think social media has changed current definitions and understanding of community? How might it continue to change those in the near future?
Remember the last time someone commented on your photo or left a really special note on your Facebook wall that gave you warm fuzzy feelings? Everyday you have an opportunity to do that in the lives of other people on the Internet. It's often easy to forget that there are real people on the other side of every username. And those people matter.
Early on, I think a lot of people rejected the idea of social media and coined it as the "anti social network". But I think more and more people are discovering that social media is simply an extension of ourselves and enables us to connect with real people around the world, and through it are finding community in places they'd never imaged.
What do you love most about social media?
I really love making people feel special, inspired and giving them a deep sense of belonging. Whether you have 5 or 500 followers, everyone matters and by someone choosing to follow you, they're inviting you to speak into their life. What will you say? How will you make them feel? And how will they remember you?
And finally, our marketing audience will find much to admire in the strength of charity: water's brand. What went into building the brand, and what goes into protecting and strengthening it every day?
I believe transparency and trust play the biggest role in building a strong brand. Especially for nonprofits. From the beginning, charity: water has delivered on its promise that 100% of public donations would go to water and we'd prove every water project with photos and GPS coordinates on Google Maps.
We work to connect our community with their impact around the world by using social media, email, and video. We tell stories to make the work that's happening on the other side of the planet feel a little closer. And at the core, we're storytellers who exist to simply help people help people. We want to make it easy and memorable and special. Making our community feel a part of the mission. Because they are. Without them, there's no us.
Editor's note: Hear more from Cubby at our 5th Spredfast Summit, October 26-28 in Austin.