Interviews/Carolyn Miles

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Could you tell us about Save the Children as a global organization?

Based on what you’ve told me about Wikimedia, I think that we certainly do have some analogous experiences with the 28 different Save the Childrens and the ways that they operate and work together.

As a global network, Save the Children is made up of 28 independent members (e.g. US, UK, Fiji, and Norway). Those members are autonomous, but we are also all members of the Save the Children Alliance. The Alliance owns the name and the logo, and in all instances except the US and UK it licenses out that name and logo to the other members.

In the last 10-12 years, we have finally started to bring the Alliance together as more than just a protector of the trademark but as an organization that tries to work together on global campaigns, fundraising, programs, etc.

The Alliance has a small secretariat in London (~25 people). This supports the Secretary General and the Board of the Alliance (made up of the CEOs of the 4 largest members and representatives of smaller members). The secretariat puts together a strategic plan that says these are the things we are going to work on together, and then most all of the resources and the capacity come from the members. It serves as a coordinating body, and has some capacity for communication, coordination of global fundraising, finance and IT. No programmatic capacity and no resources flow through that secretariat except for dues that the members pay (% of income to support join efforts of the organization).

What is the distinction between members and program countries?

We have programs in ~ 80 countries run by one of the members. The 28 members are all net fundraisers. A seat at the table at the alliance is only for members. Right now, ~11 of 28 members run programs outside of their own countries.

What holds the alliance together?

Everyone is there to try to improve children’s lives. So what is really going to drive that? What do we need to do collectively that we can’t do by ourselves? We made the decision that there is a lot more power in being able to work together. What are the strategic priorities for the Alliance?

We have 4 things that we work on together (called “Key challenges”)

  1. Stronger members – Building stronger members in home countries or building new members. For example, the Alliance wanted to start up a Save the Children in Italy, so other members raised money, set up the new organization that then did advocacy, did communications and started up fundraising and domestic programs inside Italy
  2. Unifying our country operations – Sometimes more than one member can operate within a program country, so we have been working on a process to unify those country operations (one office, one director, etc)
  3. Rewrite the future – Putting our efforts together into one global program initiative on education in conflict-affected countries. This has been very successful and enabled us to take that whole campaign and area of programming to a different level than each of us on our own (e.g. raised more money, higher profile, formed bigger partnerships to support campaign. Save the Children Italy initiated key partnership with Bulgari)
  4. Emergency Response – Up until the tsunami, many members did not respond to emergencies. About 3 years ago, we said we need to collectively develop capacity to be the responder for children in emergencies. So we developed global rosters of people, started sharing fundraising and communications in emergencies, and developed on the ground response capacities and emergency preparedness plans.

What is coming next for Save the Children?

We have a new strategy over the last 2 years or so based on the next level of collaboration and taking Save the Children much closer to one global organization. This involves big changes around governance – the Board will be made up of Board members from the members instead of executives and will be more representative globally. It is really meant to be more of a shareholder Board.

On the international program side, there is a move to create a new organization called Save the Children International which is owned by the membership and delivers programs in the 80 countries. We will roll that out over the next 3-4 years. Members would really have responsibility for funding, advocacy, program design and leadership (but not delivering programs in other countries). Strength is co-dependency.

What would be your advice for Wikimedia?

Look at where can you do something centrally that would really add value to the members. This can include developing tools, centralizing some communications, fundraising opportunities that can’t be done by members alone. Strategy – who sets the strategy? Is there a strategy planning process that the center needs to drive?

How do you weigh the costs and benefits of independent chapters vs. building a unified global org?

A lot has to do with where you start from. The founder’s vision of Save the Children was a vision of all these Save the Childrens linked together with common mission and values. It was much more centralized. But membership kind of split apart because there wasn’t enough to hold the center together. Over the last 12 or so years, people started to come together and see the value of doing some things more centrally. There is value to having local members – they can do much more that way than someone coming in from the outside. But what would be advantageous to have centrally? Where do local members add the most value? This is probably around building local constituents (donors, advocates, volunteers).

There is this love-hate relationship between the center and the local organizations – we don’t want some big thing in the middle, but we want this work to get done and we want someone to do it. If you really want to make this work, you have to have something in the center that you fund and a group of people that make this happen. There is always a tug back and forth on that.

What about fundraising?

We have come up with this idea of a home donor principle. Members have the responsibility of raising money from their own governments. But we also need to raise money for 80 program countries. There is a huge opportunity to raise money from international corporations for example. The new structure has global fundraising challenges and opportunities. There are global companies in countries where we don’t have a member, and hopefully this will better position us globally.

There are 6 global program priorities that all members agree on. Every 3-5 years we will really highlight one of those and use that as fundraising and advocacy and public mobilization themes.

Save the Children U.S. is not too dissimilar from the other organizations in the Alliance in terms of types of funding we receive:

  • US Government funding
  • Child sponsorship (relatively restricted, only for larger members)
  • Private donations
  • Corporate funding
  • Foundation funding

Child sponsorship is very resource-intensive and tied to programs. It is very predictable and does give program-level flexibility inside countries. On the other hand, there is a lot of administration involved. But, it does appeal to donors who want to feel a connection to something specific. Most of our sponsors never write or send anything, but they get information and photos of that child and they want that connection. Technology makes this a bit easier (digital photos, email, etc) but it is still very hands-on.

We do have some people who do mission-specific committed giving - every month on a credit card. You still get the predictability, but without as much administration.

Government funding is more restricted/limited – what programs it goes to, how it gets spent, etc..

For the Save the Children U.S., we have about 80 people involved in fundraising. 20 folks on the corporate side, 8 on the foundation side, 25 on sponsorship, 20 on major gifts, and the rest for database, research support, etc. They raise about $150M on an annual basis.

We look at the “cost to raise a dollar” metric and try to keep it somewhere between 7 and 14 cents on average. Direct mail donor acquisition is more expensive, and things like corporate are much cheaper.

You want to keep giving as unrestricted as you can given the role of the organization. I think it’s pretty impressive to get it to the current level with the amount of resources you have at Wikimedia. It points to the power of the idea and the power of donors who think that is worth supporting. How many of the one-off people could you transfer into a committed gift? Are there campaigns you could put together around what Wikimedia is trying to do that you could market? How do you leverage the donor base you have to support you in a different or higher level way and what are the things you are going to ask them to do?

What about the idea of being a “member” or “supporter” of Wikipedia? That distinguishes from contributors but still makes them feel like part of the community.

It is also important to look beyond individuals – how do you get support for the concept from corporations, large donors, etc?