[How I Work] Ensuring universal access to clean water
WaterAid employees have an ambitious aim: To put themselves out of a job by 2030, having ensured everyone on earth has access to clean water and sanitary toilets. As the Communications Manager at their 14 -year-old U.S. office, Tiffany Langston is part of a small New York-based team coordinating fundraising efforts for several U.S. programs and raising the organization’s profile nationally. She’s found WaterAid a satisfying challenge for her abilities, honed through eight years in nonprofit communications (and an early pursuit of the Academy Award for directing).
My role, the short version: Handling all of our digital communications: all social media, most of our e-newsletters, and managing and updating the website.
My role, the long version: In addition to daily updates to let people know what WaterAid is doing, my major functions change from day to day. Since the U.S. office is quite small, we work closely to support each other. I handle quite a bit of team communications—how we’re going to push out a message, where it’ll run, how digital efforts will support media outreach, coordination with other offices. I might work with corporate partners on a larger global initiative, like the recent #WaterStories photo exhibition sponsored by HSBC, in partnership with WWF and Earthwatch, which was featured in Brooklyn’s Photoville showcase and will be traveling to multiple cities.
What I’m working on now: I am wrapping up a couple larger projects, including a complete website overhaul and redesign that we started last fall, and an updated customer management system—with a peer-to-peer fundraising component—that will give us a better, more efficient way to communicate with stakeholders. I’m also doing audience segmentation research to come up with the best way to get core supporters the information they want, and to find new audiences.
What keeps me going day to day: Being with a group of passionate people who are in it for the long-term, and knowing we’ve unlocked the method for making progress. I came to WaterAid mainly because I wanted to feel my day-to-day work making a direct impact on people who most need it. Just a few years ago, a thousand children were dying in Cambodia annually due to water-related issues. Now that number is down to 380. The newsletter I write could convince somebody to donate a thousand dollars to support that work. That’s why I look forward to going into work everyday—and because of my amazing coworkers, who feel the same way.
Who best fits this position: In a nonprofit setting, it’s helpful to be more of a generalist than a specialist: You need to be flexible. The ability to write well, and succinctly, is a must-have. A team player, not just in your own office, but in the wider federation—we work with all of WaterAid’s 36 offices in some way, shape, or form. Because ours is a newer office, without as much brand recognition as the original UK location, being creative is especially important. And if you’re not passionate about it, it can be a really difficult job: Many people die every year because of water issues, and the problems can weigh on you. You need to be able to find the positive in the bleakest situations.
How I got here: Originally, I wanted to be the first woman to receive the Oscar for directing—I went to film school for undergraduate and grad degrees. Once I realized I didn’t want to go that route, I ran a portrait studio. My first nonprofit job was at the Memphis Zoo & Aquarium: They were looking for an in-house communications person, someone who could build a social media strategy for their Facebook page, write things like press releases, and do video work. I had never used social media professionally, or written a press release, but my film background parlayed well into that general communications role. From there I worked solely in nonprofits: doing some very traditional PR and some social media at the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, pitching Memphis as a tourist destination; supporting programs on everything in philanthropy management at Philanthropy New York, a member organization for foundations; and then my role at WaterAid.
The first thing I do when I get to the office: It’s a habit I’ve brought with me through my tenure in the nonprofit sector: I make a list of the top five things I want to get done today, and then a list of five things that would be nice to get done. Because you can always use about five or 10 more people, your most important tool is an ability to prioritize. Even though there’s 30 things on the full list, this helps make sure I get the most important things accomplished.
Reaching over 3 million people last year, WaterAid is an international organization working toward a world where everyone has clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. Learn more about them on their website, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.