Interviews/Ken Weber

From Strategic Planning

Interview with: Ken Weber, COO, ONE

Interview participants: Barry Newstead, Tyler Thornton

Interview date: 1/6/10

Background and ONE organizational structure

  • The ONE campaign is an advocacy and education organization that works with decision-makers and people from all walks of life to address issues of extreme poverty and global health around the world, with a focus on Africa.
    • The organization has been around since 2002, when a group called DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade Africa or Democracy, Accountability, Transparency Africa) was formed (focused on policy and direct advocacy, or lobbying)
    • A couple of years later DATA’s leadership and other non-profit leaders got together to build something to drive the public/grassroots side of the conversation - that was ONE
    • The idea was to have both inside influence and an outside game – outside mobilization
    • In 2008, the decision was made to merge the organizations so these efforts could be more closely aligned and co-ordinated day-to-day

  • The organization currently has about 100 people
    • Major offices in Washington and London, with smaller offices Berlin, Brussels, and Abuja Nigeria
    • We also have people in the field in the US working with volunteers, college students, churches, and community leaders
    • Internally, we are equal parts policy shop, lobbyists, communications, field, campaigns, and management and operations
    • A lot of what we do is market specific (government, national perspectives and cultures around issues)

Board and leadership team

  • We essentially have one Board (though there is another board for the c4 organization, ONE Action), which gets together to discuss big strategic ideas, network, come up with the next game changing thing
    • A couple Europeans, the rest are American, we are currently in the process of adding two Africans to the board
    • The board is a mix of funders, thought leaders, founders, and non-profit leaders
    • There is some representation on the Board in terms of the constituencies we deal with, but mostly it is a board comprised of funders and key/close advisors
    • We also have a Policy Advisory Board comprised of Africans and development experts

  • Board/staff interface is always an important issue for any organization. The charter and collective understanding on the Board and its role are important. We are just now getting around to creating committees and creating some additional structure underneath the Board
    • Important to balance big shots, funders, etc. with people who are more professionally oriented and who can be more involved in operational issues and fulfilling traditional governance responsibilities, etc
    • We have Board members who are very willing to connect us with other resources, people with expertise, etc. Those people then provide counsel, guidance, validation for decisions

  • The management team has gone through a lot of permutations. We’ve tried a lot of things, some of which have worked and some of which haven’t. We are always trying to be cognizant in terms of diversity (both in terms of diversity-diversity as well as geography, background, expertise)
    • Executive management team is comprised of 6-7 senior leaders including the CEO, COO, Executive Directors of US and Europe, a Global Policy Director, and Chief Marketing Officer
    • Broader leadership group also includes Directors with significant functional responsibility and teams reporting to them. That team has meetings every 2 weeks.

Local activities

  • We try to have a philosophy in every part of the organization that we are a global team but that there is autonomy for local activities. We have established a set of policies and procedures and ways of doing things that help the global team stay on the same page for critical activities.
    • There are some things we need to be consistent on, like articulating mission and core policy positions, but the way that we work in the different markets can be very different.

  • In the US, there is centrally coordinated paid field organization, with regional field directors located around the country
    • We try to include them as much as possible in the life of the organization (via web cams, conference calls, video conferencing, and the intranet).
    • We’ve also recently added a piece of software that enables the field team to log their activities and share information with one another remotely – an exciting investment and something that’s been widely used on political campaigns recently
    • We provide field toolkits on issues and camapgins, talking points, try to amplify our campaigns through field activity, but different field people may also be focused on different things
    • At some point we are comfortable with them being a little bit off message or relating to their constituents on issues that might not be on our core agenda. If that’s a way in for them, it’s OK for them to have a conversation that isn’t fully technically correct from an insider’s policy perspective
    • There are examples of successful organizations that have been successful because they don’t have too many rules for what happens in the field. We are still evolving towards being comfortable with people making non-approved tee-shirts, etc., and are starting to encourage that. Just don’t charge more than $10 and have fun. It helps the brand in the end and it broadens the audience. I’d say we are somewhere in the middle.

Incorporating member ideas, thoughts, into what the organization does

  • We’re very much driven by our 2 million members and what they do and what they think. We are conducting an extensive survey of what they’re thinking now.

  • Field people are incorporated into life of the organization, which creates a feedback mechanism to help inform what our policy and campaigning teams are developing, how we talk about our issues, etc.

  • We have a series of member conferences, and what happens online is also important. A lot of activity happens on the blog, user comments, etc. We have 300K followers on Twitter and more than 100K fans on our official Facebook group.

  • Our business model used to be pirate ship, with an almost single-minded focus on the next big opportunity, the next big moment we could leverage for the world’s poorest After a number of successes, we reached the stage where we had attracted more than angel investment (we were getting serious $ from serious people who wanted us to be accountable and sustainable), we decided there needed to be some people below deck who were maybe not as passionate about the mission and could focus on creating a sustainable, business-like environment
    • You need both of those kinds of people for it to work long-term
    • Sometimes we try to pick off some of the pirates to come to headquarters and hang out for a little bit – six months or a year – in a modified role. We try to get them to represent both sides – make sure we’re not getting to set in our ways – and bridge the two groups. And we’ve had some success with that.


  • We are fortunate enough to be sustained through the support of 3-4 core funders. They are very generous and give us what we need, though within limits based on plans and a budget. We do some supplemental fundraising with the next circle out (funders who don’t want board seat or who don’t need a lot of attention)

  • We also don’t proactively fundraise among the general public. For a long time, part of our call to action has been, “We don’t want your money we want your voice.” Though we are considering fundraising on a limited basis for specific purpose – b/c the data shows people want to give and when they do it can make them better, more engaged advocates.
    • We think that there are people who want to be more invested and contribute financially, and have experimented with limited fundraising around specific advocacy campaigns, etc. Similar to but we haven’t been systematic about it.
    • Want also to be respectful of difficult and competitive fundraising environment of organizations that work on the same issues – we want to help “make the pie higher,” not siphon off funds.