Fundraising and Funds Dissemination/The importance of being a Wikimedia chapter

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The Wikimedia Italia board discussed for a long time the “Recommendations to the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees” and in general the fundraising process. This document contains all our remarks.

Premise

Wikimedia Italia supports the statements of principles by Wikimedia Deutschland[1] and Wikimedia UK[2], in particular we believe that the principle of subsidiarity should drive the Wikimedia movement as whole to boost our growth and to reach our goals. In particular, the Board of Wikimedia Italia believes that:

  1. The Wiki model is permeated by collaboration, sharing, openness and diversity. Centralizing and redistributing is not our way.
  2. The sustainability of the Wikimedia projects and the infrastructure related to them is of paramount importance for everyone in the Wikimedia movement and the chapters (Wikimedia Italia included) have been among the first subjects to sustain and support the Wikimedia Foundation. This happened since the beginning of their existence even if not solicited by the WMF itself. This should serve as a clear demonstration that chapters share common goals with the Foundation and will help in reaching them.
  3. While being a global movement we can't ignore the presence of different States, cultures and corpora of laws. Geography-based associations should then exist as organizations of geographically, linguistically and culturally close people, citizens of a same State which commonly share the values of the free and open culture and the will to promote them.
  4. Diversity is a richness for the Wikimedia movement but we can only preserve it by having a more decentralized structure, where people can use their own language, culture and local experience. In this scenario, coordination among the various entities is a necessity, and the chapter could provide a well defined intermediate layer between the Wikimedia Foundation and territorial organizations.
  5. Stability of rules is needed to adequately plan the long-term development of the Wikimedia movement. Continuously changing our means of fundraising will not help the Wikimedia Foundation, since it disorients the donors and supporters of Wikimedia projects, and the other entities of the Wikimedia world. Every year the chapters will be forced to try to adapt to an unstable set of rules.

Since the beginning of the WMF projects themselves, as early members of the communities of those projects, people from the chapters have always been in the front-line to define, promote and spread the values now universally known as the very core of the Wikimedia movement.

The Wikimedia Foundation is not alone in its mission and we, as a chapter, are willing to help bring it forward.

Some facts about fundraising in Italy

1) On average, do Italians prefer to donate to Italian associations? Or not?

The last fundraiser was the most effective ever. Italian donors were compelled to donate by the awareness that Wikipedia is not there and safe forever: it's like a garden that needs to be tended and protected. It.wiki's strike was really effective at this. Thousands of readers realized for the first time how the encyclopedia is built and how much Wikipedia changed their way of reaching for information. When the FR campaign started, many were ready to give, in order to help the project stay free and help culture without censure.
WMI was prevented from joining the fundraiser due to legal issues. There was not a link to wikimedia.it in Wikipedia's banner. Nonetheless 869 donors gave to us just because they chose to support a local chapter. They willingly surfed the web to reach us: only 24% of them (207/869) donated in the previous campaign. We deliberately chose not to drive a separate fundraising campaign to reduce possible confusion between the Chapter and Foundation.
Donors are not aware nor interested in internal disputes, they asked WMI -an Italian speaking association- for assistance, e.g. in understanding the donation process and details about receipts, confirmation emails and such.
According to ASSIF (Associazione Italiana Fundraiser, Fundraiser Italian Association), in Italy 65% of money is still raised by cash: people want to see you, to talk personally with somebody, to interact with other persons. At the end of 2011 WMI embraced these statistics and hired a fundraiser (better: the chair of ASSIF!, see the digression above) to learn how to fundraise in Italy beyond the web, since here it's an uncommon way to reach donors (the biggest Italian charities usually raise funds in public places by selling flowers, fruits, books and such)[3].

2) Is tax deductibility an issue for Wikimedia Italia? Is it requested by donors? How much?

Wikimedia Italia can offer tax deductibility to italian donors, as it did during the previous fundraiser.
As far as we know[4] our donors didn't choose to donate to WMI because of tax deductibility, but we used it as a "plus" to acquire new donors for two years in 2009 and 2010, because the WMF was underlining it as a powerful driver.
This year we had some embarrassing conversations with donors who followed the "Donate" link in Wikipedia, and learned after the donation that they could not have a receipt from us (a one-thousand Euro donation was the most relevant case). They were puzzled and disappointed there was not a clear and transparent statement on the landing page.

3) What are the consequences of frequently changing the fundraising model?

Confusion for donors (as stated above) and a bottleneck in professionalization and maturity for chapters.
The 2011 fundraiser was the most effective ever, because WMF reached a maturity it never had before and also the payment processing chapters were highly professionalized. As a volunteer association it is really difficult to grow with continuously changing goals. Although we do not know what to expect in the future we have decided to proceed, no matter what, in the professionalization of our chapter hiring our first part-time employee. We are confident in our ability to grow.

4) Regarding communication and transparency towards donors, did WMF act better than a local association?

Despite the success in this fundraising, which is definitely not a matter of discussion, Wikimedia Italia still believes that sharing the same language and culture is key in communicating with donors. Although we do not have any numbers to prove it, we want to stand against the conclusion provided by Sue in her recommendations.[5]
Moreover, for the last fundraising drive, WMF did not set up OTRS queues for each language (or even the major ones): chapters and volunteers were informally charged with answering questions and complaints, as well as feedback about issues and technical problems.

5) How could the WMF be transparent as well as communicative with the Italian donors if its only language is English, responds only about US law and has no competencies on local laws of the nations it receives money from?

Transparency and accountability are major issues in the Wikimedia movement. WMI was always committed to this values too. Our budgets and balances are clearly linked in the website. Since 2009 we acquired the APS (associazione di promozione sociale ("social advancement association") status[6]. Every year, in October, we must report to the regulatory authority that reviews our balance, activity and reapproves the deductibility status. We wonder how it could be possible for the WMF to be transparent and communicate with Italian donors by writing only in English, and not being able to assess different requests from donors.


6) Why do we have chapters and want to exclude them, when many international organizations are opening local sections?

Every international organization which fundraises in Italy has an italian local association (Save The Children, Greenpeace, WWF, etc.). Those associations are independent entities: they share the vision, mission and the goals of the international movement, but act in a locally proper manner. Some projects are arranged with the international movement, some are co-financed, all are reviewed by the general assembly and financed by the local fundraising. Sue's recommendation #2 appears to be good, except for stating something that WMF is not allowed to command or forbid: a local organization fundraises accordingly to its legal framework. During 2011 fundraising WMI dropped its offline fundraising campaign, even if we had a dedicated budget and we enrolled a professional fundraiser: we chose not to puzzle donors while the fundraiser was going.
The WMF can't be eligible for some kinds of fundraising outside the USA: Italian's 5x1000[7] is the five per one thousand of IRPEF (Income tax) that each Italian citizen can allocate to a non-profit (compare: Eight per thousand). For every person giving his 5 ‰ the association receives 20 € on average.

7) Why didn't you enter the grant program?

Grants, as they were designed in 2011, were incompatible with APS status, since we can't be funded mostly by a foreign entity. On a legal point of view, our attorney strongly suggests that we do not sign a grant agreement since we can't be subordinated to the law of a foreign country (i.e. the U.S. and the State of California in particular).

Conclusion

We ask the Wikimedia Foundation Board to consider all these points and then find a wise resolution respecting all the actors and values of the Wikimedia movement.

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  1. http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fundraising_and_Funds_Dissemination/Wikimedia%E2%80%99s_culture_of_sharing
  2. http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fundraising_and_Funds_Dissemination/Wikimedia_UK_statement_of_principles
  3. Some examples: oranges and rhododendrons to support cancer research (AIRC), candles for children rights (Telefono Azzurro), nuts for heart disease prevention (Conacuore).
  4. According to Italian law a donor can benefit from deductibility if he uses a traceable payment method, a receipt from WMI is not needed, so only a few donors ask for a receipt and we can't provide clear figures
  5. Sue's paragraph states: "For example, in Italy in 2010 Wikimedia offered tax deductibility via the chapter, and in 2011 we did not. And yet Italy was a very high-growth country in the 2011 campaign. By contrast, in the UK we did not offer tax deductibility for donations in 2010, and in 2011 we did. And yet, in the UK we saw a lower-than-average increase. This is a very small amount of data, and of course there are many factors affecting revenue raised in both countries apart from tax deductibility. But it does suggest that tax-deductibility is not a significant driver of donations. In sum: we don't have evidence that shows us that tax deductibility or other similar incentives are a significant enough driver of overall giving in the annual campaign, for this to be a major consideration tipping the balance towards decentralized payment processing." We consider this statement faulty:
    • in Italy, donors might have thought that donations were still tax-deductible (therefore, they donated. As stated above we have some first-hand reports)
    • in the UK, donors might have thought that donations were still NOT tax-deductible (therefore, they DID NOT donate)
    Obviously this counter-argument is without proof as well as Sue's argument. We want to underline that neither of us has any significant data about trends in donations, thus the whole discussion is about insights and not facts. We simply cannot use this to suggest some evidence about whether tax-deductibility is crucial for donors or not. We just don't know.
  6. Being an APS means that the Public Administration formally acknowledges our association. It provides some fiscal benefits, as well as some obligations. They are regarded as "associations of social promotion" associations recognized and unrecognised, movements, groups and their federations or coordinations set up to carry out socially useful activities for the benefit of members, or third, non-profit in full respect for the dignity and freedom of its members (Article 2 first paragraph of the Law of 7 December 2000. 383)
  7. http://www.wikimedia.it/index.php/Cinque_per_mille