Wikimedia Trust

Just brainstorming. More on the talk page.
This page describes a mere idea (one among many for the goal): please edit this scratchpad page at will.

The Wikimedia Trust is how an endowment for Wikimedia could substantiate.[1] Its aim is a subset of the Wikimedia mission: namely, to support the Wikimedia projects survival, with a goal of being able to ensure it for a 100 years (500 years?) timeframe.
The definition of "survival" will require work (by the founders and by the Trust itself), but has two aspects:

  1. the functioning of the projects (as wikis), including the ability to edit;[2]
  2. the preservation of the projects (as cultural works; including edit history), in digital and physical media, that can be publicly accessed.[3]

For mere convenience,[4] the Trust is designed as follows, with both a positive exclusive definition and a negative definition (tightly connected):

  • it is strictly limited to the (defensive) aim above,[5] therefore and for instance
    • it doesn't invest on nice-to-have's for the functioning,[6]
    • it's not interested in altering the existing social dynamics of the projects (e.g. editor decline[7]),
    • it doesn't care at all about actively expanding their access (e.g. Increase Reach);
  • it's forbidden to directly do anything that falls within the institutional activities of another Wikimedia entity's purposes (even if such entity is only an hypothetical possibility within Wikimedia affiliation models), for instance
    • it doesn't directly operate the servers[6] nor take care of the engineering and product development (currently done by the Wikimedia Foundation),[8]
    • it doesn't execute a general-public fundraising on the Wikimedia projects sites for short-term expenditure (currently done by the Wikimedia Foundation),
    • it doesn't manage the licensing of the Wikimedia registered trademarks (currently assigned to the Wikimedia Foundation),
    • etc. etc.: the rest is easier to grasp.

This is aimed at ensuring that the Trust fills a gap without creating overlaps, and to avoid confusion of responsibilities (current confusion is big enough, in particular for the very different but tightly mixed/bound activities of the Wikimedia Foundation).

From a legal perspective the idea has some challenges, but of the sort one can deal with.

  • The bylaws (especially the object) would need to be very stable and trustable in a long-term fashion by other parties (especially the donors), but also set requirements that can be met in shifting conditions, being interpreted by the Trust itself (especially what is done by other entities can shift).
  • Organisationally, it needs to start reasonable: for instance, 1) with no staff except some accounting, investment, legal and fundraising consultancy (that could be initially outsourced by the Trust board to the WMF itself), 2) with some simple initial governing body, e.g. the WMF board itself.
  • As for the legal framework, it would have to be carefully chosen among those available in the different jurisdictions. It could e.g. (complete speculation, don't bother) be governed by an assembly of institutional shareholders: start with 1 single share of nominal value 1 million dollars owned by the WMF, and later be expanded with voting or non-voting shares for donors. Many well-known devices exist to avoid problems and can be considered (depending on how safe one wants to be), like
    • golden shares for some Wikimedia actor(s),
    • carefully avoiding monopoly/exclusivity on any aspect of the Wikimedia projects (e.g. central servers operation and funding).
  • Trademarks considerations are particularly tricky.
  • Financially: how to set up a budget (e.g. forbid to consume capital and allow to spend only return on capital); how to handle the case that the Trust fails its aims and is disbanded (where the funds collected would go).

See alsoEdit


  1. It has some concrete value only under the premise that having an endowment has some value and that its aim should be pursued; whether such an assumption is correct is not discussed in detail on this page.
  2. So-called "Keep the servers running" or "Keep lights on" mode.
  3. This somehow resounds with the UNESCO World Heritage concept, for good and bad: it's about giving value to an object, but also about a patrimony-sation of it; i.e. making it more a sclerotic estate to protect from decay (with clear boundaries and guardians), than a living thing for the population.
  4. Inspired to the approach of the laws on institutional objectives and spin-off of corporations and foundations from public entities (e.g. a University creating a Foundation or a for-profit company; or a Foundation owning a bank and vice versa), at least in Italy.
  5. Two important notes.
    1. The limitation affects only the Trust itself, not the rest of the world: its aims are not exclusive but can be pursued by others too. Example: a generous billionaire sets up a mirror of the Wikimedia projects, via a foundation tasked with this purpose only and funded to sustain it for 1000 years.
    2. A strict limitation is not to the entirety of such aim, but to subset of it. Imagine the two following scenarios:
      • Nuclear war scenario: nobody cares about funding or editing Wikimedia projects, the WMF is disbanded. The Trust manages only to fund and operate a read-only static mirror for the happy few with a web connection to access. (Or even worse, to print the projects on metal and bury them in the North Pole before the last human dies.)
      • Nineteen Eighty-Four scenario: WMF is disbanded by the government; wikis are kept functioning by a secret organisation funded by the Trust from a neutral country, editors keep editing the wikis in a secret intranet to avoid their knowledge from being forgotten.
  6. a b This point may be particularly difficult to define strictly; one more reason to have a dedicated "department" in Wikimedia to do it. For instance, minimal functioning requires not only having at least a non-redundant set of servers able to run the projects and paying the bills, but also a bare legal defense to avoid that the feds shut it down. The Stabilize Infrastructure 2010–2015 strategic goal is both more and less ambitious: possibly more for the requirements, but less for the timeframe.
  7. Or more in general, the following goals in the 2010–2015 strategic plan: Participation, Quality and Innovation.
  8. A similar distinction exists between Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation.