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Grants:APG/Funds Dissemination Committee/Additional Information and Analysis/Interviews/Stu West

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Interview date: 4/20/12

What do you believe is the most effective model for the FDC?

  • The right model is whatever will work! I have no idea what that will look like yet. Our movement is so unique and it often gets very complicated. My sense is that this is going to be a complex process as we try to figure it out.
  • Our community of editors is a huge part of the value we provide in pursuing our mission. Ultimately everything we do has to be driven by supporting and giving confidence to the community. The community can be skeptical of centralization and single points of failure. So decentralization should be core here.
    • The tension with this is our fiduciary duty. We have a deep responsibility to our donors to spend our money appropriately and efficiently. We need to build expertise both centrally and around movement to be good stewards of this movement.
  • Our proposed solution is to have an FDC with lots of representatives from the community with a strong voice in decision-making. But it also needs to have oversight and involvement from the Board of Trustees, who has the ultimate fiduciary responsibility to the donor.
  • The top priority for designing this is to make it work. It has to work for the community and it has to work for donors and our fiduciary duty. We’re not going to get it absolutely right the first time—it will probably take three or four years.
  • People in our community often have bigger appetites for volunteering time than they can actually take on. We have got to fail gracefully when people aren't able to follow-through on time commitments they've made.
    • Example: Grants Advisory Committee involved volunteers from across the movement. We have at times had low participation. It’s totally understandable given that they’re volunteers. But, we’ve got to address that issue when we’re designing the FDC. We need clear expectations of what is required, clear processes for ensuring participants meet that commitment, and clear tenure and succession plans.
    • Also, because we are volunteers and largely interact online, we have an aversion to implementing strict schedules and discipline and follow-through. The FDC will have to have that – recipient organizations will have bills to pay so decisions will have to get made and communicated on schedule.
    • On the audit committee, we’re careful in our selection process and we set really strong expectations of what’s required. And we still have some participation problems. We are driven by a financial calendar—there are external auditors expecting us to do things on time. And in my role as the Chair, I keep the group on task and make sure things happen.
  • Important to think about the role of a Chair for the FDC. One of the reasons it works on the audit committee, is largely because I’m also on the Board. I have enough credibility in the community and I have functional expertise. Those things are respected in our community. My instinct is to always have a strong chair that rarely uses authority. Challenge is to be clear about what the scope of that authority is. For instance, on the FDC, perhaps a staff person can sit on the FDC and make sure the trains move on time, but they can’t have the authority.

An important role for the FDC will be to ensure fiduciary responsibility to donors. What does that entail?

  • There’s the easy stuff— black and white criteria
    • Is someone stealing the money?
    • Is it being spent instead of keeping it in the bank?
    • It there documentation on how it’s being spent?
    • Are appropriate audits being done?
  • Then there’s the issue of “do you spend it well?” This is harder and will require more nuance.
    • Is it being spent on the best possible way it could be spent in pursuit of our mission? But “pursuit of our mission” is quite high level—most things are going to pass that screen.
    • Our strategy should guide the FDCs work—we need to be consistent about priorities. Every few years, we will come together as a movement and identify a strategy, and I think the role of the FDC should be to make sure that that strategy is being carried out in the way we spend our money.

What value do you see Bridgespan bringing to this process? How can we be most helpful?

  • What we’re looking to Bridgespan for is to bring your experience in organization and culture, as well as your understanding of what it takes to build thoughtful, rigorous processes.
  • Help us learn from other organizations. There are other organizations that have struggled with this issue. We can’t directly apply any of it, but it’s so helpful to hear their experiences. The trick is that it’s hard to find benchmarks that even come close to our model—we have a concentrated source of funds (the fundraiser on wikipedia. org) and a very distributed community with strong individual identities. The closest I’ve seen to that model is the Olympics—they get a huge amount of funding from selling television rights, and then the IOC has to decide how best to allocate that money across the constellation of countries who participate. The IOC is wickedly political—would be a huge goal to try to avoid that here.