Step-by-step thematic organization creation guide

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This document is intended to be an easy-to-read introduction into the process of creating a thematic organization. While it is not exhaustive and does not take into account differences between jurisdictions, it is the first stop for anyone thinking of forming a Wikimedia thematic organization.

In some circumstances it may be possible (or necessary) to go about thematic organization creation in some other way. Please consult the Affiliations Committee about variations in procedure.

Step 1: Gather the people

Only involved people make a thematic organization!

At the most fundamental level, thematic organizations are about people: a group, bound thematically, which wants to contribute to and support the Wikimedia projects as a whole in ways other than editing.

For long-term sustainability of the thematic organization, the Affiliations Committee recommends that you gather a community of at least 20–25 people who are interested in creating or joining the thematic organization. If you're planning to set up an international organization, make sure to gather participants internationally. Make sure that your group has the required number of people before proceeding.

(During step 3 or 4, you might find out that the laws of your country or the country you choose for incorporation may require a greater number of people to participate in the creation of the organization.)

Step 2: Decide what is the best way forward

Before moving forward, discuss among yourselves the advantages and disadvantages of setting up an organization; organizations take a lot of time, effort and resources once they are set up. Is it necessary to set up a thematic organization to achieve your goals? How will setting up an organization help achieve those goals?

Once you have a group of people interested in pursuing the goals, determine whether there are like-minded organizations in the area (for example chapters or user groups) that might be able to host your projects or provide initial help in setting up. Is there already an existing organization that you can connect to instead of starting your own?

Then you can think about what the mission is of the organization you'd like to start. Is this mission broad and is your group primarily geographically focused, or is it more narrowly defined? Try to draft your mission jointly with the whole group and make sure everybody agrees on that.

Once you are certain that a thematic organization is the right way forward, contact the Affiliations Committee and any other Wikimedia organizations that might be active in the area (either in the same geographic space or with the same or similar thematic focus) and let them know about your plans.

Step 3: Develop your goals and structure

When you have your minimum group of people, start a conversation on your future thematic organization's goals and structure. Try these questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish as a thematic organization? What is your mission?
  • What kind of activities do you want to engage in (e.g. outreach, fundraising, public relations, publishing)?
  • What kind of structure would be best for the organization? Would a board and membership structure be the right model?
  • What would be the roles and responsibilities of the board and your assembly? Who would decide what, in practice?
  • Where would be the best place to incorporate your organization?
  • How do you imagine your organisation in a two years' time? In five years' time?

In determining your goals and structure, you may want to contact existing thematic organizations for advice and ideas.

Agree on a name

Currently, there is no accepted naming template for thematic organizations; therefore the recognized trade name of each organization will be determined case by case through negotiations between the group and the Affiliations Committee. (The trade name can be different from your legal name, but given that incorporation should follow the completion of the recognition process, your group will be able to register under a legal name that corresponds to the trade name.)

Once you have worked out the goals of your organization, contact the Affiliations Committee again to agree on a trade name that fits your group's goals and structures.

Note: After considering your group's suggestions, the naming scheme of other organizations, the composition and goals of your group, the Affiliations Committee might suggest a different name from that in your original proposal.

Step 3B: Run a pilot program (Optional step)

So, you have some interested Wikimedians, and you have some basic idea about the kinds of activities the group would want to have as an officially recognized Wikimedia thematic organization.

This is a perfect time to run a pilot program, which will give your group a concrete experience with running Wikimedian activities/events, strengthen the group's internal cohesion, increase motivation, and potentially draw in additional activists.

Here's a little secret: nearly all activities and programs performed by thematic organizations can be performed by non-thematic organizations. Aside from fundraising and certain types of government outreach, any group of Wikimedians with the will and dedication to execute a program can do so, and the Wikimedia movement has resources in place to help you do so:

The Wikimedia Foundation may grant you ad hoc permission to use the Wikimedia trademarks (e.g. the Wikipedia logo, Wikimedia logo) for specific events or activities; the Foundation may provide funding for your program via the competitive process called the Wikimedia Grants Program; other Wikimedia organizations may offer funding, advice, and other resources.

So select a program you'd like to run in your community or territory, making sure the scope is manageable and achievable for your group and your resources (especially human resources, i.e. time and skills), before proceeding with the legal aspects of thematic organization creation.

The Affiliations Committee and the Wikimedia Board of Trustees are more likely to feel confident about your group's suitability to become the formal representative of the Wikimedia movement in your subject area if your group can show at least one success in organizing Wikimedian work.

Step 4: Draft your thematic organization's fundamental documents

Your thematic organization's bylaws (statutes, or whatever the name of this document is in your language) should define the goals and objectives of your association in time and space. They should be precise and to the point. Avoid definitions that are too vague or restrictive.

When drafting the documents, you need to take several factors into account (in the order given below):

  1. the laws of the country/state chosen for incorporation
  2. Wikimedia Foundation's requirements for thematic organization creation
    • the primary goals of your organization should be in line with those of the Wikimedia Foundation, i.e. to promote free content and support the Wikimedia projects.
    • where possible, a non-profit status (or a status that allows you to tend towards non-profit)
    • avoid ties to political statements/groups that do not fit within the scope of Wikimedia projects
  3. Wikimedia Foundation's guidelines for chapter creation (which apply to thematic organization as well)

To ensure that these factors are taken into account, we advise you to peruse the bylaws of other organisations in your country and then adapt those to the Wikimedia requirements and guidelines. Don't try and translate existing Wikimedia thematic organizations' bylaws, as legal language differs from one country to another and what seems evident in one country may make no sense in another.

If you have a lawyer in your group, make sure he/she is a strong part of the writing process; remember that you are ultimately responsible for the legal compliance of your organisation with the local laws.

In every part of this process, do not hesitate to ask the Affiliations Committee or existing thematic organizations' members for advice.

Step 5: Submit your bylaws for review

When your thematic organization's goals and organization are agreed and your documents are ready (but before you do anything that would make the association official, like opening a bank account, holding a founding assembly, or registering with your country's authorities), you should translate them into English and submit them to the Affiliations Committee for approval.

The Affiliations Committee might ask for a lawyer-approved translation of the bylaws, in which case it will provide the necessary budget to translate the bylaws.

The Affiliations Committee will review your applications and then will submit them to the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation to approve the creation of your organization as a Wikimedia thematic organization. Usually, before final approval, the Committee will ask a number of questions and possibly suggest changes based on experience learned from other Wikimedia and non-profit organizations. In this case, final approval will be given once your group has had a chance to review and answer the suggestions and to make any changes your group has found useful.

Step 6: Register with the authorities

Once you've received Foundation Board approval, you can register your association by the standard means in your country. You will need to sign a thematic organization agreement with the Foundation. At this stage, other agreements may need to be signed between the Foundation and the thematic organization.

Step 7: Get your resources

By this time you will probably need some money or other resources—for example, you may have to pay registration fees, set up a bank account. The first source of funds should be the community behind your organization (e.g. if you have set up a membership organization, now is the time to collect membership fees).

If you need more money than you can reasonably hope to gather from your group, you can ask the Affiliations Committee to provide you with some additional funding to get you on your way. The Wikimedia Foundation also issues grants to thematic organizations, and they are not necessarily limited to money.

The money (or your time) is necessary even if the registered thematic organization does not do anything. Usually after registering the legal entity, you'll need to prepare and provide regular reports to the tax authorities and some other state bodies—even if there are only zeros in the reports.

Step 8: Go!

All done! You can now go about thematic organization business and promote Wikimedia projects in your country.

If you want some hints about possible projects, you can always look at what other thematic organizations have accomplished or are currently doing.

Remember, you can always ask the Affiliations Committee and other thematic organizations for help.

Good luck!