Chapters, fundraising, and “the movement”

I have to say, I’ve never been especially fond of the term “the Wikimedia movement.” Apologies to Anthere, who to the best of my knowledge coined it, but the term “movement” always seemed a little vague, and to connote a certain kind of social movement that isn’t quite right.

But maybe that vagueness is part of the power of the idea of the Wikimedia projects, contributors and groups being a movement, because the term has certainly stuck. And it’s as convenient a shorthand as any to refer to the complex ecosystem of partners, individuals, groups and organizations that make up what we call “Wikimedia” (the network that lies behind what most of the world sees simply as a set of reference websites).

There are many hard problems that come along with this complexity and decentralization. Communication is a major one — collectively we use open internet-based communication tools with more native facility and readiness than any other organization I know of, but it’s still not easy across cultures, languages and time. Determining roles is another — while this has naturally evolved over the years with a kind of “do it yourself” premise, there are real institutional questions facing particularly the Foundation, the chapters, and project groups about who should take on what; see “movement roles“, which has been working on this for some time. Another hard problem is that of how to collect and distribute resources — time, people, and money — among all of the parts of the Wikimedia movement.

The Board has recently begun again discussing this last question, and specifically the piece of it that relates to collecting money — that is, Wikimedia’s fundraising. Stu West, our excellent treasurer and vice-chair, recently started a public discussion by posting a detailed blog post with his thoughts and concerns. SebMol of the German Chapter quickly posted a thoughtful and philosophical reply.

If you are involved in chapters, fundraising, or the Wikimedia movement generally, I encourage you to read Stu’s post, and post your own thoughts and reactions as well. The WMF Board is thinking about this topic because it’s our job — part of the responsibility of the board is to be the ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the Foundation and the projects it runs. (It is not our job alone or exclusively — everyone involved in Wikimedia and fundraising should be thinking about these questions — but it is certainly our job specifically). That means worrying about the lifecycle of all donations that come in through the WMF websites (Wikipedia et al); and worrying about the financial health of the Foundation itself and our ability to keep those projects running. It also means — because we are a movement — recognizing that the Foundation doesn’t stand alone; that we need to think about the financial health of all of Wikimedia’s parts to truly understand and to be effective stewards of Wikimedia’s resources. While the Board delegates the job of running the fundraiser on a day to day basis to Foundation staff and volunteers, from approving banners to working on the various fundraising agreements, and largely delegates responsibility for chapter-collected funds to the chapters — it is our job to look at the big picture, financially, and make sure we are going in the right direction.

Stu raised four questions, all of which are serious ones:
* Is it right that 50% of rich country donations stay in those rich countries? [NB: the 50% figure is arguable, as Sebastian points out; it’s more accurate to say 50% of the contributions made to chapters per the fundraising agreement, which account for the bulk of non-US donations. Regardless, the point is that a lot of money stays in the global north for various reasons]
* How do we establish solid movement-wide financial controls to protect donor funds? How do we ensure transparency of the use of those funds? [this isn’t something we can shirk or put off; as I said, the Board’s job description is to be responsible for finances, and we will be failing at our job to not address it across Wikimedia, painful and boring as that may be].
* Who is ultimately responsible for stewarding donors’ contributions? [A philosophical roles question, but certainly practically related above — if we suggest certain controls, who implements them?]
* How do we address the above questions while maintaining the decentralization that has made our movement so great? [On everyone’s mind; it’s a Wikimedia movement, after all].

The board has been discussing these points on and off for a long time; and they are certainly not new questions for the chapters and the WMF. They are also not questions with especially easy answers. We welcome your thoughts about what you want and need to see happen, from your perspective in Wikimedia. And I personally would love to see some creative thinking about how we can make all aspects of fundraising — from collecting to reporting to distributing — easier, cleaner, more effective and more trackable everywhere, while holding ourselves to the highest ethical, legal and fiduciary standards that we can.

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5 Responses to Chapters, fundraising, and “the movement”

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