Benchmarking Interview with the World Vision
Date: May 4, 2012
We had the opportunity to interview Larry Probus, Chief Financial Officer of the World Vision U.S. office. The World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization tackles the causes of poverty globally. They operate in approximately 100 countries through Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas with both support and field offices.
What Wikimedia can learn from World Vision:
- World Vision ensures quality control throughout their network through a peer review process in which offices receive a visit from another office every three years to assess whether they are aligned with World Vision’s core values and practices. This may be an interesting model for Wikimedia to consider as part of the due diligence process for funds evaluation.
- They also are constantly navigating the inevitable power dynamic between the offices with the funds and the offices with the needs. This is a perennial problem in many nonprofit organizations, and given Wikimedia’s “non-entitlement” value, you will need to continually monitor and work against.
Please describe the structure of World Vision
We tend to have two types of offices: 23 support offices and 80 field offices. We have support offices that are primarily about raising funds and then we have field offices that use these funds to do humanitarian work on the ground. These offices are largely tied to a specific country. Support Offices tend to be in the “Global North”, but some countries have both (e.g., South Korea).
Each country is a standalone entity with its own board of directors. We have a partnership agreement which talks about how we will work together. One of the principles is that every country has an equal say regardless of size.
What mechanisms allow for the offices to work together?
There is a Triennial Council that each office attends once every three years, but only a few decisions are made through this process.
Most global decisions are made by the President’s Representative Council (PRC) which has many representatives around the world. It has representation from the different regions that World Vision serves. Every office has some connection to this group (whether directly or through the regional representative). We try to have it so that no one country has undue influence.
We are constantly fighting against the “other golden rule” – which is that the country with the gold makes the rule. Since the US accounts for the majority of fundraising, some countries feel that if the US really wants to do something then it happens. As a result, we at the US really downplay our role unless an issue is really critical to our donors .
We also have a peer review process. Once every three years, three or four representatives from other offices will come to our office for a few weeks and investigate whether our office is living within the partnership covenant. The US office is currently being evaluated by individuals from Somalia to ensure we’re meeting our covenant.
How does the funds dissemination process work?
We hold regional meetings where support offices, field offices, and someone from National get together to discuss the funding needs of that region. Each field office will come with their need and each support office will come with what they believe they can raise. The support offices then make commitments to specific field offices about the programs they will support and for how much. Virtually every dollar a support office raises is designated for a certain country or issue through this process.
We then build a global funding schedule that identifies the needs of the field offices and the commitments of the support offices. This allows us to make sure offices are working together to ensure that the needs of the field offices are addressed by the fundraising plans of the support offices.
As the support offices raise funds, we send it to World Vision international who passes the money to the field office in their local currency. The US office typically expects some kind of report back from the local office to pass on to the donors.
What happens for those countries that donors are less willing to donate towards?
We have something called “Keeping the Lights On”. There are some countries that for various reasons never get funded. We all agree that we will pitch in some funding to make sure that we’re keeping the lights on in those countries. We sometimes must have tough conversations about what to do in the long-term if we can’t attract donors to a specific issue.
How does World Vision conduct due-diligence on funds?
Historically, support offices would do a lot of direct due diligence on the field offices where they were sending funds. Increasingly, we trust the national offices in the countries we support to do the quality control offices themselves. This works well 80-90% of the time.
What are the challenges with this process?
The decentralization vs. centralization point is a cultural challenge. We like to be decentralized and don’t like the global centre having power per say. However, you can only take the decentralization so far (e.g., IT, Treasury) – some things need to be managed centrally.