Interviews/Jon Huggett

From Strategic Planning


  • Based on the number of active contributors and readers, it sounds like Wikimedia is a relatively healthy organization that is facing challenges that are common to global NGOs and networks looking to grow
  • Now, Wikimedia needs to build on that success and find ways to build and sustain global coherence
  • Work with other global orgs has highlighted 3 keys to successful global governance, which seem to tie very closely to the challenges WMF is facing:
    • Maintaining clear focus on the organization’s impact goals
    • Building a multi-faceted and global leadership team, and
    • Clearly defining roles and responsibilities
  • Getting roles and responsibilities “right” is less about overall structure and more about creating effective, complimentary relationships that facilitate collaboration and make all org components feel connected and accountable to the network
  • Other global orgs have shown that raising money through a large number of small donors is a viable financial model; however, at first glance, it appears the WMF is significantly under-investing in fundraising

Detailed notes

On Wikimedia as an organization

  • Based on the numbers of active contributors and readers, Wikimedia seems to be a healthy organization
  • The movement also seems to be facing challenges that are very common to global orgs
  • Wikimedia needs to “celebrate and respect that success in order to build global coherence and avoid stagnation”
  • Key challenge: keep and expand volunteer base while staying globally coherent

On the keys to success

  • Research and experience indicate that there are 3 pillars to successful governance of coherent global NGOs:
    • “Managerial” leadership, not just “entrepreneurial” leadership
    • Shared impact goals within a shared mission
    • Complementary relationships within the structure

On leadership

  • Most NGOs are founded by charismatic people, but that “doesn’t always fly at the global level”
  • Therefore, as an NGO grows, the focus needs to shift away from the founder towards recruiting a successful management team
  • In order to be successful, management teams need to:
    • Have multiple leaders
    • Who are physically globally distributed (either through travel or through actually distributing responsibility across people who are located around the world)
  • Global distribution gives a network legitimacy (“People on the ground don’t want to be told what to do, least of all by an American”)

On shared impact goals

  • It is critical to have a clear focus on the impact you are trying to achieve and the way that you are going to measure that impact
  • This focus enables an org to:
    • Translate practices and outcomes between different projects and locations
    • Share best practices with a common denominator
    • Make strategic resources decisions in a global environment

On relationships and structure

  • It isn’t the actual structure of the organization that has been shown to matter
  • Instead, it is the relationships between different players in the org that differentiates successful global orgs from the rest of the pack
  • Success has been shown to come from:
    • Defining a RAPID (decision-making structure) that works and that is aligned with the mission and performance metrics
    • Building effective, complimentary relationships between org components
  • Building these relationships comes from:
    • Over time, distributing roles around the network to create interdependencies and facilitate collaboration
    • Making sure all players feel connected and accountable to the network
      • See benefits in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities
      • Understand trade-offs and consequences of not doing so
      • “You can’t really fire anyone” – so you have to create an environment of high trust and mutual accountability (“build the trust in”)
    • Forcing components to specialize
    • Example: Greenpeace and how they have distributed roles around the world (note: press on this during the interview!)
  • It is also important to prioritize when it comes to distributing roles and responsibilities
    • Be clear where you absolutely have to
    • Leave room for localization where you can

On the legal structure of chapters

  • Legally independent chapters are the usual
  • It is very difficult in the NGO world to own another NGO in another country, although you can have a branch office
  • To raise money, it helps for a chapter to be incorporated in it’s host country
    • Legal requirements
    • Perceptions of donors

On funding and fundraising

  • Large NGOs like WorldVision, Médecins Sans Frontières, Save the Children have had lots of success raising money through small donations from a large number of people, and they don’t have the reach of Wikimedia or the range of opportunities to make contact with people
  • Capacity is key to successfully raising money this way
    • You need people with experience reaching out to small donors
    • Assume that 1/3 of what you raise goes to fundraising (this is a hypothesis from experience, but orgs will never confirm)
    • It appears that WMF is way under-investing in this area
  • There are important connections between distributing roles around the network and getting local entities involved in fundraising
    • Create reciprocal relationships and explicit value transfers (so if one chapter raises money that goes to support others, they see value in return)
    • Reward strong $$ raisers in terms of increasing roles and responsibilities
    • “I’m paying for this, you pay for that”
    • OR “I’m paying for this, you are giving me that in return”
  • Raising money through ads could be tricky and at odds with Wikimedia’s strengths – people don’t like volunteering for orgs that seem to make a lot of $$