Organisational culture


office meeting

Activism and professionalisation
A widely held idea during Mama Cash’s first decade was that hierarchical organisations did not fit the ideals of the left wing and the women’s movements in the Netherlands. When Lilianne Ploumen, became the Executive Director in 1997, she was determined to show that activism did not necessarily preclude professionalisation. Mama Cash consisted of three rooms, a kitchen and thirty-eight women, only six of whom were paid. A formal structure was lacking, and everybody was included in every decision. Once every two weeks a bookkeeper would visit. Ploumen: ‘We couldn’t afford to buy a PC for everybody. If someone fell ill, her work simply would not be done. We all put our shoulders to the wheel to bring the organisation to a more professional level’. (watch interview)

Charming chaos
Ploumen doubled the office space and, for the first time, Mama Cash got a real meeting room. She introduced human resources policies, job descriptions and task specifications. At first she faced quite some resistance. Ploumen: ‘Delegating tasks and having our paid staff prepare and complete the grant requests, these were things I had to fight for’. ‘That chaos was one of the charms of Mama Cash’, Will Janssen, former Manager of the Fund for the Global South, recalls. ‘But the pressure of work was high. When Ploumen became the Executive Director, she started to take care of personnel matters. The internal organisation improved a lot’.

Informal hierarchy

gezamelijke lunch op kantoor

lunch at the office

The organisational culture at Mama Cash was unusual. Mama Cash was a small organisation with a certain bureaucracy and hierarchy. Ploumen: ‘I usually didn’t have to remind people, but I was the Executive Director. I was able to have a hearty laugh with someone, and later on address her about something with which I was dissatisfied. It was an informal hierarchy. It was not something with which everybody was comfortable’.

According to former treasurer Louise van Deth, who was at that time working in the banking sector, Mama Cash stood out from many other organisations in at least two ways. ‘Mama Cash was not run by people’s egos, which was a far cry from the male environment in which I was used to working. Also, at Mama Cash we were able to make quick decisions in complex situations. I saw how important it was for people in an organisation to deal with each other in both a friendly and a business like way’.

Change in organisational structure
In the year 2000, Mama Cash prepared for a radical change in her organisational structure. During the previous decade, Mama Cash had consisted of four connected, yet autonomous foundations: the Guarantee Fund, the Culture Fund, the Fund for the Global South, and the umbrella foundation: Mama Cash Foundation. Each of these foundations had its own Board, consisting of volunteers supported by paid staff. The Board of Mama Cash Foundation was comprised of representatives of the three other foundations. Mama Cash Foundation managed the finances and was the employer of the staff. All Boards made their own policies in alignment with the vision and mission of Mama Cash.

One single Mama Cash Foundation
This organisational structure had been difficult to manage for the Executive Director. There were also external reasons to change the organisation. For one, the larger donors expected Mama Cash to be more accountable for the way she spent their grants. Additionally, the Dutch Central Bureau of Fundraising had become stricter about awarding their seal of approval and required a certain governance structure. Therefore, in 2001, all four foundations were united into one single Mama Cash Foundation.

The year 2000 also brought a big financial surprise. Private donor Johanna from Women with Inherited Wealth donated five million guilders (2.270.000 euros) to Mama Cash. The donor determined that the money should be added to the financial reserves. The interest could be used for financing activities of Mama Cash.