Thoughts (circa 2011) on sharing creativity and experience, governance and prioritization, power and execution across Wikimedia.

Followed by a few overviews of how we've tried to handle & delegate resource allocation:

Related readings: The Tyranny of Structurelessness, the history of I*RC

Independence and PrioritizationEdit

Failure toleranceEdit

  • Our network of organizations supporting Wikimedia's mission should be robust to failures of any particular part or entity, including the WMF, a single hosting provider, and any single chapter.

Mike Peel:

I also firmly believe that it is fundamentally important for there to be independent Wikimedia organisations aside from just the WMF, in exactly the same way that we have independent language projects (with shared values). A natural follow-on to that is that we should not be aspiring to a monolithic fundraising organisation that is solely (or even primarily) based out of the US.

David Gerard:

It's a vital safety valve that if the WMF is taken over by stupid or malicious people, the chapters can dissasociate from it but still exist, just as a chapter that goes bad can be disassociated from by WMF.

Prioritizing what to fundEdit

The WMF and the largest chapters should not be deciding in isolation what programs are funded. The question "who processes payments" should be completely independent from "who determines which programs are funded".

  • Shared prioritization of goals and projects is something essential to innovation, creative work, and a sustainable doocracy. This is too important and interconnected to be done in a fragmented way -- in particular, the WMF should not see this as a task it must handle alone.


I don't think that the chapters raise money, I don't think that the Foundation raises money... I think that thousands of people who edit all our projects every day are raising the money.

?? :

While I agree wholeheartedly, this is something that I don't really feel reflected in the Foundation's attitude. What I feel is the attitude of the owner: "we have this incredibly valuable web property which we might let you use to fund your program, or we might refuse if we feel that other methods of funding work better of us".

Deryck Chan (to SJ):

You said "Not signing a payment processing agreement does not limit the amount of money a Chapter can get to support its work", but as Mike Peel said, "If the only way that a chapter can obtain funding from within Wikimedia is to go through a grant, then they're clearly not independent of the WMF by definition". With the WMF declining WMHK's (and WM Asia project's) proposal last year to apply for a grant to hire staff and rent an office, I find it impossible to believe what you believe.
That's a good example to work with. What was the process and set of criteria used to decline that proposal? What would the equivalent process be now? SJ talk | translate  

Symmetry of assessmentEdit

  • Evaluation and assessment of effort should be applied equitably to all parts of the movement. Smaller organizations with smaller initiatives should not need to meet the high bars of the larger ones; the WMF should be held to standards at least as high as those for large chapters; and all parts of the community should be able to see and repeat for themselves assessment of each group's work. [There should also be some mechanism for peer review among large movement-groups to supplement this process]

Birgitte writes:

If the criterion used to evaluate a chapter were applied to WMF, and they both fail the criteria, the [criterion] becomes inapplicable.

?? writes:

what would make our donors absolutely happy: if the foundation, beeing professional, does not only take 50% of the money, but writes a grant request to the chapter. this would oblige the chapter to set something up for giving grants - and it would be of course community people. This then is documented publically on both sides, and gives the "yes, this is the part we paid for" feeling easy to be proud of at any level.
this then would it also make it easier that one chapter helps another chapter, via the same mechanism. and then the whole system would be a little bit more federated as it currently is, a network of trust. and also contains at all the ends and countries some financial reserve, just in case something in this whole ecosystem collapses... like a currency.
This is very well put. We will need much more active information exchange to develop such a trust and support network. -SJ

Project 'ownership'Edit

  • The projects, which most people donate to support, are not "owned" by the WMF or any other single entity. They are owned and governed by the communities that created them, and protected / supported / amplified where possible by the Foundation and Chapters [and, soon, other organizations]
  • On the other hand, as part of this support, the domain names and trademarks and most servers are owned by the WMF. This has certain implications for liability and responsibility. The WMF is also currently the most visible entity in the movement, and one of the few in a position to work globally or make global statements.

Jan-Bart writes:

I don't think that the chapters raise money, I don't think that the Foundation raises money... I think that thousands of people who edit all our projects every day are raising the money.

Aubrey writes:

I still understand the fact that the Foundation says "We run the servers, Wikipedia is ours, those money are ours".
The WMF is not / should not be saying that Wikipedia is 'ours' [It holds only the trademarks and the domains, and WMF servers hold private user data, all held in trust for the communities]. The WMF should also not say that money raised through site-wide banners is 'ours' in an exclusive sense - but the money is raised through those servers and domain names, which creates an obligation on the WMF's part to ensure it is used in support of our mission.
The hard question is "how much obligation" does it create, and how much the WMF fundraising agreement implies that the chapter partner in such an agreement is trusted to fulfill that obligation.

Balanced growthEdit

Focus on mission first, fundraising laterEdit

  • No group should feel obligated to develop fundraising capacity (staff and skills) before they can develop other program or coordination staff.

Chris Keating:

To be honest the prospect of a $50,000 grant from the Foundation for much less work than participating in the fundraiser would be attractive. (Though of course this alternative grant system isn't actually set up, which makes it difficult to examine it)
  • Short-term: the WMF needs to develop its capacity to give infrastructure grants, well beyond the money budgeted for grants in the 2011-2012 Annual Plan.
  • Medium-term: we do still want there to be regional and local fundraising capacity (and tools for same) at every geographic level. That matches the practical needs of local culture and history and knowledge, and the practical supply of current local social norms of government, librarianship/archiving, and philanthropy.

Build a global community of participation through givingEdit

  • We need to develop a global network of donor communities, with local coordination, and connections in messaging and activity that are relevant to communities at every local and regional scale. Currently we have 500K people who participate in the movement through donation; a community that we should steward with love and attention - including through local engagement.
    • This should be updated with the network of people who participate through membership and regular donor communications in global and regional groups. And with the network of content-donors who participate through similar membership in knowledge consortia and regular communications with sources of public knowledge, media, and data.

Chris Keating:

we as a movement ought to be building an ongoing relationship with the people who are generous enough to give us money, and sharing the Wikimedia vision with them. [A] donor communication programme... something better done by chapters where those chapters have the resources to do so...
our donors are a massive and under-used resource for the movement in both financial and non-financial terms. I get the impression that some people think the only benefit of Chapters handling donor data is that donors get tax receipts. That is definitely not the case and it if that's the only thing we care about then that is a massive missed opportunity for the movement.

Accountability and transparencyEdit

Transparency of this discussion and processEdit


1. This is a WMF board letter, not a resolution. Is there a timeline proposal if and when this will eventually become a WMF resolution that will be binding in nature?
Not yet. I personally hope to see more clarity by the October Board meeting. -SJ
2. Can someone or some group help to create a table of recognized chapters on the x axis and the criterial laid out in the letter on the y axis and indicate which chapter currently is (and if applicable, was) in compliance with each single specific criterium?
I would like to see that also, with some spectrum of compliance [as they are not really binary]. The WMF itself should be included in such a table. -SJ

Auditing practicesEdit

We should share best practices in auditing across the movement.

A WMF example: external auditing and Audit CommEdit

The WMF has a third-party audit every year, which produces a set of public and private reports on its financials.

It also maintains an Audit Committee led by its Board Treasurer, which works with its CFO and external auditors each year. This group also publishes an assessment of risks for the Foundation (and movement), and advises the CFO and ED during the rest of the year in developing financial plans.

A French example: commisaire au comptesEdit

The c. au c. looks @ accounts, plans, and more. He notes potential conflicts of interest or tricky processes/decisions as well. One is required for any org raising over [120k Euros] a year.

It is chosen by the organization to be audited, and on contract for 6 yrs. In the 5th year, the next c. au c. is chosen, providing 1 yr of overlap in case of a change, to avoid pressuring this person to be 'nice' in the 6th year or risk losing the renewal.

For WM-FR, this was chosen by the general assembly, after looking at many candidates, and interviewing 3 in person at a meeting. He went through all old accts when appointed in 2010, sharing extensive recs for the future.

This post is separate from an annual audit, which as elsewhere is conducted by an outside firm.

Movement-funding practicesEdit

We should summarize and share our practices of bilateral and global funding of projects and organizations.

Mailing list summaries (2011)Edit

KEY: ^x*_+O


"payment/donor processing"  - an action that carries some legal and social obligations; it is not a service.  [a better term would be welcome]  The WMF and 12 chapters did this in 2010.
"grants to chapters" -  can include both restricted and unrestricted/infrastructure grants.  The WMF has not yet given any unrestricted grants, but has indicated an interst to do so next year.
"revenue sharing" - sharing an unrestricted portion of revenues with another organization.  the wmf shares donor traffic with chapters; revenue is shared mutually b/t some chaps and the wmf.  [under a more centralized fundraising model, the wmf might continue to share revenue with chapters]
"developing/developed countries" -- my preferred replacement for 'global south/north'


Milos:  I would appreciate a little digest about the issue.

Nathan: Maybe they could summarize the discussion among the patricii for us mere plebs?

"Disconnect"   I/F:Lod

-- These fundraising changes are being done last minute when many issues were known as of the 2010 fundraiser.  This suggests noone adequately expressed to the chapters what frustrations the WMF was facing [until now]
-- Board letter mechanism and timing, rather than more explicit consultation
-- Board bylaws change, without public notice and discussion
-- Similar changes within Chapters / without notice among Chapters
-- No WMF people in the chapter meeting before wmania
-- Fin discussion on Stu's blog, not also posted to int- or f-l
-- A sense of 'wouldnt have changed <ones> mind anyway' which gets in the way of communicating *with* one another.

"Board letter about fundraising and chapters"  F:Birg


> ** The organization's current financial resources are not 
> enough to fund proposed program work.
-- this should apply only if the WMF's resources are also not enough to fund proposed work under these criteria. [Birg]

> WMF should provide equivalent paperwork [to chapters and others]
> so chapters can similarly review its plans

I would love to see Chapters or other movement entities making
specific suggestions to the Foundation about how to improve its own
transparency, or align its spending better with our [shared] mission
and the messages [we all] use to attract donors. [SJ]

-- maximizing effectiveness is not independent of geography.  for the money needed to hire one person in the US, you can hire 5 in E. Europe.
-- "donor expectations" is not a good thing to hide behind.  we have to respect the opinion of donors, but dont run the WMF on donor surveys.
-- while discussions about what is more effective or beneficial are more productive than discussions about who has what rights, 
WMF should engage in discussions of legitimacy with more empathy then it currently does.

[i] "what would make us/our donors happy: if the WMF wrote grant requests to chapters for the money they receive.  or if chapters asked one another for help via the same mechanism.  

Chris Keating:
1) a number of chapters who processed donations in the 2010 Fundraiser have limited reporting; it is hard to find an indication of how much has been raised, or what they money was spent on.  Thsi is concerning as a community member.
2) for small, new chapters, the prospect of a $50k grant from the WMF would be attractive -- but this alternative grant system isn't set up yet.
3) tax-deductibility should not be an absolute requirement for processing donations. some chapters are in countries with no such notion, or where this could not work.
4) we should be building ongoing relationships with donors.  this kind of active stewardship is a much better match for chapters.   

-- Generally: donors are a massively underused resource. 

-- The WMF's record with transparency and accountability is hardly spotless either.


-- Christophe: "we now have a ladder with a bottom and a top, but none of the steps in the middle." 
-- Standards for PP have become so high it requires dedicated staff.  Can this be easily done via grants?

-- This is an chance to lay the groundwork to ensure our principles are upheld by the heirs of movement organizations whoever they might be.  a system that can survive the WMF or any chapter being coopted for a time by leadership misaligned with our mission.

Payment processing: separate from budget size.
-- WMF can fund infrastructure and entire annual plans.  (this will require a change to the grant process)
-- however: the WMF has made it harder for a small chapter to hire staff and rent an office. The WMF declined WMHK's (and WM Asia project's) proposal last year to apply for a grant to hire staff and rent an office, and WM-ID found it easier to get significant support from an external Foundation than from WMF.

[i] Concern: that this would limit chapters funding, and force chapters to "benefit from American plans" [siska]

[i] adam jenkins: "I've been concerned over the past year that collecting funds thru the fundraiser has altered the relationship of Chapters to the WMF, with a lack of understanding of it."


Sue - replying to related emails by Mon 15 Aug.
Barry - a "next setps" phone call soon.


-- We've come to a point we cannot afford anymore to have this
duality between WMF and Chapters.  whatever your concerns are, we have to stop thinking us Vs. them.

we need that every single organizations fundraising to be able to manage and steward correctly the donations.  All orgs raising money must
-- be able to do useful things
-- possess a framework to handle thousands of donations
-- respect accountability standards and criteria stated in the board letter

one approach could be to fully understand that we just have "won the lottery": it's just because we are working (most of us for free, in our spare time) in one of the greatest projects in history that we are allowed to manage and receive this amount of money, but I certainly did not earn it, nor deserve it. And I think none of us do. 
WP is a strange beast formed by millions of people, and we by chance get to tame/shepherd it. 

If all funds are via WMF grants, chaps are not independent of the WMF by definition.  [cf UK charitable status laws]

There are lots of different views on how we should
best handle revenue sharing, but most/all of us aspire to behave
competently and ethically in how we handle donor money, and want,
simultaneously, a flourishing decentralized movement.

WMF runs the risk of growing Wikimedia projects out of the things that put it where it is today -- whether those things are a desire to see multiple avenues for knowledge and an alternative to a "market leader" encyclopedia,  or trust in the chapters to handle their programming and grow in size.

This may not maintain the interest and activity levels of those who came into our sphere long ago

WMF has to start things much bigger than itself with decentralised, distributed heavy lifting.  Its Board does not direct the movement.

We all have shared ownership in the success or failure of WP and sister projects, as well as Wikimedia (the meta-organization).  Each of us has a stake in that, and has contributed a good deal of personal work to making Wikimedia what it is.   

Legal ownership of the trademark is relevant because during the Board discussions around the extent of our responsibility towards donor funds. [PSA]


The core of what makes Wikimedia projects what they are happens irrespective of the existence of a formal, legal organization in a particular jurisdiction.  

Both Chapters and WMF are a type of centralization to support decentralized work with focused infrastructure: legal, administrative.

We should be careful not to insult or belittle chapters or local work.   Even where central work makes sense, ti is easy for it to be misunderstood when information passes through the grapevine.  
This can easily become a plank in a narrative of WMF imperialism.


-- A Chapters Council is needed to help Chapters communicate and reach decisions among themselves, and coordinate with the WMF and communities on issues that affect all Chapters.  [Theo]

-- It may be useful to think of more than one chapters [council], such as one for Europe along the lines of the COE. 


There is a lasting disconnect here, not just a problem with timing.  The WMF seems not to have realized how controversial this would be (and still does not).   

-- Sue: the WMF and Board knew this would be controversial, but did something necessary and unpopular.

-- Sue: the conversation about the WMF's relationship to the movement is an easy proxy for a broader conversation about the evolution of the Wikimedia movement generally.

-- TD:  It's when the WMF tries to take charge of the whole movement (even when it's making good decisions) that people resent it.

This board letter is not a bad thing.  I see a communication problem - I sense some unfriendliness and even imperialism from the WMF side in these communications. 

Sue will respond to individual emails by Monday (Aug 15th)


-- Is there a timeline for a binding resolution?

-- most involved groups would have preferred more warning.
among those supporting a change to improve transparency and accountability, people say "The WMF is doing the right thing, but in the wrong way."

-- "what is so bad now which wasn't that bad or worse a year or so ago?"   That someone is afraid that it might get much worse very soon and forever, I guess.  [Milos & Nemo]

-- was this urgent?  If nothing will change for current signers of the fundraising agreement, could it have waited for a public discussion period?  many groups would have liked more warning, naturally


PP does not provide true "financial independence".  True fin independence requiers diversified revenue sources.  The gap b/t "receiving donations under a strictly regulated agreement with WMF"  and "receiving a grant under a strictly regulated agreement with WMF" is not so large.

-- whether that's actually important for a new chapter is another question.  and morally, should this independence be easier for wealthier countries?
-- the grants advisory committee for WMF grants shows that it's perfectly possible to build participatory systems for making those decisions in a way that moves power away from WMF.
---- participatory for whom?  I don't think it is the donors...
---- it is only advisory.  only notified 'WMF approved/rejected grant G for org O'

-- because most of our donors simply donate in support of a very
broad mission and vision.  the specifics of how to implement that vision really are up to us.

-- Chapters have been dependent on the WMF to provide the access required to raise money, but once raised it has been unrestricted and immediate.

-- getting donor lists leads to independence.  chapters can directly ask those donors for money. (It would be interesting to see what the ratio of new and recurring donors is for more mature chapters.)


-- We're getting close to the territory of arguing about who owns what and who's entitle to what.

-- we have always shied away from saying things like 'WMF owns Wikipedia' on comcom, due to the various interpretations of "what does own mean?"

-- At this stage, Wikipedia has an effective monopoly, forkability or no. (I consider this a problem, simply as a single point of failure. )
-- As LibreOffice has shown, if you mess the content community around too much, the project will slip out of your fingers, strong brandname or not.
--  If you asked most WIkimedians whether they would support Wikipedia having a monopoly on the encyclopedia market, I think a good many would say no. 


Whoever receives funds has a primary obligation to donors.  chaps once they receive have to rsepct donors' interests, just as the WMF does.  If funds come directly through WMF, that obligation [for cha[ters] may be lost.  this should be understood in discussions.

During the fundraiser any person can choose to donate directly to the chapter or to donate directly to WMF.  [for how many people is this true? see DATA]


More than one organization can do a great job in fundraising.   WMF has more experience, but the idea that WMDE or WMNL can do a great fundraising doesn't exclude that.  [There is value to many groups being able to organize this.]

One point to distributed fundraising is to let donors give to a local org.  Aside from tax-deductibility, reduced transaction costs (exchange rate) and support for a local group are solid incentives for the donor.

If the WMF does offer unrestricted grants [after seeing an annual plan similar to what's required to be a payment processsor currently], I don't think there is real benefit to being a "payment processor" unless the chapter can offer "tax deductibility or another incentive to donors" 

Thomas D is in the process of putting together a proposal to resolve the conflcit b/t the principle of independence and the reality of the situation.

-- local chapters show better fundraising growth than the WMF is in the US.  Preliminary numbers:
-- these #s dont take into account when banners start and stop.  it's also easier to grow by thousands than by millions. 

-- money operated by the local chapters is more efficient than using it to prepare the long-term plans of the Wikimedia Foundation [KS]
The WMF is responsible for the main plan and probably coordination, what it can do best; but running specific programs should be sought elsewhere, in the chapters.


There is benefit to a strong relationship with donors.   Chapters may well be better at doing this in the long term.  
-- the national and movement-wide work all need to be better and more tightly integrated for that to happen.
-- imo it is only possible to do this well at a national level, if chapters take ownership of donation relationships in their area. [i, chris keating]

-- I do not think these benefits are currently at all well-understood.
-- the WMF has been keen on cultivating donors for a while. it was one of Rand's top priorities, something he repeatedly stressed to chapters.

we may well find this year that the easy gains from the fundraiser are exhausted.    [UNICEF had this problem with street fundraising in Indonesia by their 4th year; viewed as beggars with better outfits]

Some chapters want to organize galas or dinners to attract large donors.  The challenge here is coming up with an event that resonates with potential donors -- requires some imagination.  

Major donor cultivation is quite different from raising money from the general public, but there is crossover: one can look at the database of donors to identify individuals who could make larger donations if engaged more closely.

DATA  [f]

MZM: started a summary page on Meta.
-- ideally a table w/ chapters on one axis, criteria on the other, noting  where each chapter currently is on each (now and before)

Some say "donations grow significantly where there is a strong local org".  Research/data would be handy here.  [req by D.Gerard] ['we have lots of numbers' EM]

This discussion should happen on a wiki.
-- the f-l thread seems to have started good discussion
-- wellll a significant part of the discussion happened f2f at Wikimania

Needed: a deeper quantitative look at the WMF and chapters experience so far.  
-- I would encourage everyone at the table to start both collecting questions, and begin sharing answers. [EM]


How can project development be expanded to cover developing countries as well?  Who is in a position to make this happen?  How are chapters and the WMF doing this now?

I hope WMF can learn embrace its roots as an "owner-led" organization and not forget what the real program work really is.
Our program work includes scrolling through hundreds of RCs in more languaegs than I could pin on a map.  

Decentralization is a necessity for our work, including making programs locally relevant.  


MAny chapters would be much more interested in a discussion of how we are going to get this patched up as quickly as possible.  "I want to know how I can fund that shiny new strategic plan [our chapter] unveiled today."


we need to carefully separate out the highly technical issue of
"payment processor" from the entirely separate issue of "who has the 'right' to receive what from a fundraiser".

When there is a surplus, it is more risky for it to sit in the account of a small organization with limited financial controls and a greater risk of being coopted by people with ill intent [some chapter boards are elected by a few dozen voters, or have no contention for board seats].


-- 'us v. them' language
-- 'FOO wants to make chapters less independent'