In a nutshell: the core team shares organizational and financial ownership, operation, and risk together. This is how we do it.
Build Up’s organizational model is grounded in a worldview and principles that match our vision as a collective for creating the world we want to live in. We’ve decided to make our model public because we value and want to contribute to transparency in the conflict transformation community generally, and particularly on how we are organized internally. We want to share our experience for others to be inspired by, adapt or adopt some of what has proven useful to our collective.
This blogpost is a summary of some of the key elements to our model; if you want all the details, then our full organizational manual — which we call our Collective Agreements — is available here.
We share ownership by making finances collective.
Our collective financial model is the starting point for our collective ethos. We use an adaptation of an existing alternative financial model called “the money pile”, that is best explained through our annual budgeting process.
1. The Head of Finance, Strategy Lead and Board Treasurer work together to develop a Master Budget template that incorporates: a detailed budget reflecting the operating expenses for the organization, any obligated project expenses for projects that will be carried over into the following year, and a blank space for team salaries. The Master Budget template also includes a tab for obligated income (showing any project or overhead income that is obligated for the following year), and a tab called “the Money Pile” (calculating the amount available for team salaries once obligated expenses are deducted from obligated income).
2. Collective members reflect on fundraising capacities and prospects for the coming year, and agree on a fundraising target for (a) overhead expenses (can include salaries) and (b) program salaries. These targets are added to the Money Pile tab, arriving at the final target amount available for team salaries. The Money Pile also shows what the average salary across the organization should be based on this target, providing an anchor for the next steps.
3. Collective members reflect individually on their financial needs and desired level of effort, and make a salary ask based on these.
4. Salary asks are added to the Money Pile. If the combined asks can be met with the obligated income and agreed fundraising targets, the budgeting process is closed. If the combined asks cannot be met, we move into one or more adjustment rounds. An adjustment round starts with sharing the total financial gap to meeting the combined asks. Team members then reflect and offer any revisions to their asks (both salary and level of effort) until we arrive at a combined amount that fits within our pipeline.
Building on this annual budgeting process, we continue to monitor our financial situation collectively. On a monthly basis, we review the money pile and decide what adaptations we need to make, for example to decide what we include in the fixed (obligated) expenses, and how far into the future salaries can be covered.
Our finances are fully collective and transparent: no budget, no program, no person can be cut or added without a collective agreement. The financial viability and risk of Build Up are shared among the full collective.
Non-hierarchical salaries as a starting point for non-hierarchical structures.
One of the core operational principles of our model is that salaries are defined based on needs not hierarchy: each team member is invited to define their financial needs subjectively and based on their life circumstances. Many of us have found that defining one’s own financial needs outside of externally-defined norms and privileges, and requesting support from others to meet our needs, is a challenging and vulnerable task, one that requires courage and commitment to bringing our collective principles as fully as possible into our organizational system. Holding the space for these uncomfortable conversations requires a constant effort from everyone to push our boundaries for allowing vulnerability in front of others.
We also recognize that our relative privilege shows up in all stages of putting this model into action. Our past experiences with — and possible alternatives in — our field of work depend on different identity factors primarily country of origin, level of education, race and age. Collective members may carry a history of discrimination where equal pay for equal work was not a reality. At the same time, collective members may be uncomfortable giving up higher salary opportunities with other organizations based on our relative privilege. Furthermore, the aid industry typically sets separate salary structures for internationals vs. local staff in a country. We reject this artificial disparity in principle because it is racist and exploitative.
Collective ownership enables collective leadership.
From the strong basis of transparent, non-hierarchical and collective financial ownership, we lead Build Up collectively. This means that each of us leads on different aspects according to our individual wishes and strengths. Everyone is encouraged to rise to their very highest level of responsibility utilizing their abilities based only on priorities, merit, ability, and potential — free from social, personal, or institutional barriers of prejudice or discrimination.
We recognize that this commitment needs constant attention as we each have internalized expectations and biases from past exposure to hierarchical systems. We have set processes in place to put our collective leadership in practice, centering consensus-based decision-making but also allowing for a way forward to a decision when consensus is not possible. We also distribute the leadership and the effort needed for Build Up to function through organizational pods. The general role of pods is to care for organizational needs in different areas, reducing the need for all team members to track and be involved in all organizational areas, and minimizing the burden on a small number of individuals. We review the pod structure yearly at retreat to see whether we need to adapt anything as we grow and develop as an organization.
A non-hierarchical collective that works alongside mainstream structures of power.
Our existence and experience since 2014 proves that it is possible to operate as a collective and embody our values, and to do so while existing alongside mainstream structures of organization and power. Legally, Build Up is registered as a non-profit organization (501c3) in the United States and as a subsidiary of a foreign, non-profit organization in Kenya. We comply with the statutory governance and financial requirements in both countries. We find that there is nothing in these important external requirements that hampers the operation of alternative, non-hierarchical internal power structures.
Being a collective is a constant process of learning and adaptation. We try our best to be honest and vulnerable, and our agreements change as we learn. We’re interested in what others think of this model, and happy to answer questions about how it works. Leave a comment below, or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org