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Chapter and Wikimedia Project Primary Challenges

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This page is a part of personal experience blog post by Siska Doviana during her visit to WMF in November 2010 titled Intrigue: A Wiki Experience in Indonesia

FAQ: Should a community become a chapter?[edit]

FAQ: Should we become a chapter?
  • Should you be or shouldn't you be chapter?

A: Depends, if you have an active, vibrant, and a large number of people in your community - it's logical to get organized and get legally recognized. Otherwise it will be an individual basis efforts and a potential unclear situation created in the future (identity crisis). If the situation is the opposite, you might want to consider trying out a few events and run it with your community before deciding to jump boat to become a chapter.

  • Are there clear guidance or example after you become a chapter on how your chapter could evolve into a strong organization?

A: there are a few sample chapters reports that you can read. Although the reports give you an idea on what the chapter do, these reports doesn't tell you how to do it (technically). So guidance is not concrete since every area have different challenges and opportunities.

  • What are the big lesson learn from previous people who developed a chapter?

A: The downside are: it is time consuming, expensive, and stressful to organize. The upside: you're legal and you can go far together. Remember, if you want to get there fast, go alone, if you wanna go far: go together. Being a chapter, the legal identity helps you to go far - together.


Becoming a Wikimedia Chapter – an independent legal organization – opens up a range of options for your Wikimedia community in terms of management and operations. While Wikimedia is undoubtedly a unique organization with its own set of challenges, leaders of new chapters can learn a lot by looking outside of purely the Wikimedia community and embracing “lessons learned” and “tips & tricks” from the broader nonprofit community.

The following has been created in order to give some brief suggestions on how Wikimedia chapters can fit within the broader nonprofit context. The goal of this is to provide some tips to those either considering starting a WM chapter or just starting WM chapter, by going through:

  1. Key questions pending chapter formalization
  2. How nonprofit organizations operate and are structured (i.e., some different ways of thinking of organizing your chapter)
  3. Typical challenges faced by nonprofits as well as Wikimedia chapters

Nonprofit organization challenges[edit]

Most nonprofit organization have limited employees and budget. This fact multiplies the difficulties the organization face, especially when they are bound to do the things necessary by a large scale community that they serve.

External and internal challenges[edit]

For those new to the nonprofit organization, they often think that since the non profit organizations are small, then the problems faced by a small organizations should naturally be simple. In fact it's the contrary, most organizations (no matter the size is) have the same problem, for example: the challenges in planning, organizing, motivating, and guiding. If these problems occur in a small organization, the organization will become very unstable (dynamic) and complex.

  • Limited employee and budget (an unstable organization and a complex challenges)

As a start up Wikimedia Chapter a lot of volunteers realize after the euphoria of wanting to become a chapter, being legal is, not only a hard work, but it is also expensive. While some chapters establishes legal status independently using their own resources or a very small amount of resources (i.e. funding) - depending on the system to established a non profit organization legal entity in their own country - while some others apply for a grant through Wikimedia Foundation in order to reach a legal status.

External challenges coming from public expectation of what an organization should be able to do, may be overwhelming for the founding members. In the same time the volunteer with a new established organization will have to face a new reality for loosing their most valuable resources: time.

  • An unstable and complex challenges for a new non profit organization

Internal dispute is common for a new non profit organization with complex challenges of planning, organizing, motivating, and guiding. It's a process, like a a growing tooth in a baby. For a new, small, and without enough funding/ resources, internal dispute in Wikimedia Chapters may cause the entire board change dramatically, resulting valuable individual separate themselves, and leaving the organization. At some cases individual continue to support the movement using their individual capacity, in other cases, it is a painful separation.

Based on my experience on community capacity building, a community or an organization could be strong if after the establishment of the community/ group/ organization, they continue to work together for three years. If somehow a dispute take place and the boards change dramatically, the new board must stick together and be strong for another three years, and the cycle continue. A healthy rotation would be, during this three years they need to regenerate, making way for the new generation to learn and transfer their knowledge. A healthy cycle organization/ community would be on the 3rd or the 4th years, public could see that there are changes in the board, not dramatically, but new blood/ face start popping out here and there.

Income: membership fee and fund raising (donation)[edit]

The income or revenue of chapter as a non-profit organizations can be obtained from[1]:

  • The services or prices set for the individual receiving the benefit, say membership fee.
    • Unlike the private sector where prices of products and services should be able to cover the entire cost, non-profit institutions should be able to raise funds and seek additional funding sources. It is important to remember that although many nonprofit organizations useful to society, it is difficult to measure the results of certain services they provide. Changes in attitude to a person or the community may take years to be able to realize its impact. Despite this non-profit organization constantly challenged to be able to demonstrate result because donors increasingly get smarter and more funding sources became limited.
    • Individual donations can also come from membership or fund beneficiaries.
  • Fundraising, nonprofit managers (and boards of directors) should be able to work together to raise funds with the purpose of obtaining funding needs for organization. Even with the assumption that a chapter will be able to professionally pay a managing director, generally, fund raising is not a pleasant task to do for them. Fund raising can be a labor-intensive activities, drawing all the creative ability and social energy. The person who lead the "office" would continually tested to balance the time they spent to raise funds and program management. Too little time spent in one area can make the organization a lack of funds or service quality.
  • Grants may be provided by departments within the government, foundations, or corporations, which are usually given to run a specific program. Grants from private foundations or companies are usually given in advance and demand report will of the program activities are performed and costs incurred at the end of the program grant.
  • Income: membership fee and fund raising (donation)
  • In 2010 income coming from membership fee for Wikimedia Indonesia would be somewhere around 30 x USD 25 or optionally USD 15. The reality is, after the euphoria of having an organization, some of this member refuse to renew and keep paying membership fee since the organization could not provide the benefit of being a member. My rough calculation would be if WMID have 1,000 member paying the membership fee, the organization would be able to hire full time employee to take care of the member on a yearly basis. But like an egg and chicken cycle, yet one can not to without the other and vice versa.
  • Hiring a manager is not even an option to Wikimedia Indonesia. All resources from the membership fee usually drawn out for General Meeting of Member that take place in a yearly basis.
  • Although Wikimedia Indonesia are able to receive and implement grant from Ford Foundation - it is to run a specific program. The sustainability of other program following previous program is at stake, since internally no body is around to address an off line effort like planning, recruiting, and managing existing members.
  • The fact remain that success story with a professional organization like Wikimedia Germany can not be replicated in other countries, especially, developing country. In order to be successful, a different approach must take place to guide and assist existing chapter in regular basis for several countries.

The heart and bloodline of the organization: Leadership and Management[edit]

In any general nonprofit organization, and in this case a Wikimedia Chapter, the heart and the bloodline of the organization lies in the leadership and the ability of the leader to manage. Throughout history all successful nonprofit organizations have an effective chief executive and board (both executive and board of trustee). These leaders must be able to work with a forward looking vision, expertise, and obtain sufficient resources to fulfill the mission of the organization[1].

In the occasion where the control or power to lead are divided (for example instead of lies in one person, power lies in many), control for the critical matters will need to remain at the head of executive. Even so, the board must have a sufficient capability to assist the director work in providing the means necessary in strategic decisions[1].

  • The heart and bloodline of the organization: Leadership and Management
  • Common mistake happened before the establishment of a chapter is, after a chapter established, that one could just pay a professional to run things, while volunteer who established it doesn't have to do anything but chip in suggestions. The absence of funding also amplifies the situation, when the founders/ members in the organization are forced to face this problem, the natural reaction is retract themselves from the already established structure and "do it their own way".
  • In Wikimedia Indonesia case, a moving forward organization need a lot of people. People could consist of volunteer or a paid professional or interns. Both volunteers and professional/interns need each other. A study shows that interns working for Wikimedia Indonesia basically complained when no volunteer from community shows up to greet them, while volunteers complaint if there is no one to take care of them as a group - like contacting and work as a reminder basis.
  • The lesson learn is actually both staff and volunteer need to work close together. This is of course, easier said than done, the path that usually take place is volunteer and staff work individually - in parallel.
  • Working toward one goal, together, need a strong leadership and management skill. Wikimedia Indonesia right now forging some identified volunteer to become professional in the field that they do best or in their area of interest using the organization as their fire power to get recognize. The organization have everything a person need to be recognize: audience, legal status, and possibly: connection.

Core values[edit]

The core values will be the driving force in the non-profit organization.[1]. It is also likely to be a major problem for the ranks of executives.[1]

  • How the program is approved
  • Reviewed progress
  • Success measured? How can priorities be taken and how to reach consensus?
  • How to value the staff and volunteer, and what control systems are available?

Consultants who have experience may be required from time to time to help the team answer questions about the quality, provocative questions, biased and emotional, and focused on which management system fits.

The diversity within an organization should be reflected not only on racial and ethnic different, but also on the values and different perspectives. Strong Diversity is a big advantage for non-profit organizations because of input from various points of view is usually a guarantee that in certain situations has received careful consideration and input new ideas. However, non-profit employees must believe that they develop themselves and stay open to the values and new perspectives.[1]

  • Core values
  • Both Foundation and chapters is come to an agreement that the movement's core values are: "Free Knowledge". Historically, Jimmy Wales as the founder receives a lot of support in the beginning because of this core value. The core value should be a basic of every program being approved, how progress reviewed, how success is measured, and what priorities should be taken to reach consensus. In Wikimedia Indonesia case, most urgent program/ action to be approved is additional quality contents and to support initiative that push forward the contributor base that produce this.
  • The core values should also be central point to decide on how to value the staff and volunteer, and what control systems are available? Since volunteers founded the organization, the identified able and willing volunteer were given priority to incentive available/ provided by the organization. It is easy to underestimate volunteers since some of the identified problems shows that volunteers, although "willing", identified as not able to do the work of the professionals do. However, professional hired are potentially having problems implementing the core values within the organization's program. So Wikimedia Indonesia as organization must carefully made decisions between these potentials.

There are some practical cases arise where the values was under questions, such as;

  • Should a Wikimedia Chapter or Wikimedia Foundation working computer/ prizes incentives for event(s) use a Mac computer/ Windoes vs an open source one for the obvious reason: attractive, more function, quality etc.
  • Should volunteers be paid to write - so some subject/ work get done?
  • Should services be charged to train people so the chapter could generate money?

Not enough money to pay the right leader[edit]

With the lack of money, the ability to attract and retain paid management also become a serious problem. Working hard with little career development opportunities will encourage high turnover of executive director and staff needed to run the operations of the organization. This can clog the work of nonprofit organizations. Expertise brought by these leaders to provide management advice, went with them when the leader leave.

Most nonprofit organizations, even the large ones, are often hesitant to spend money on "administration cost" such as paying for consultants, or experts from outside because it feels like a waste of precious resources for expensive services. Of course, often this is not even an option, since the nonprofit organizations may not have enough money anyway, sometimes there is no way a nonprofit could be able to hire the same consultants who charge the same price as for a "for profit" organization.

A cheap help, based on volunteerism, is often prove to be a more appropriate solution.

  • Not enough money to pay the right leader
  • In Wikimedia Indonesia case, during the implementation of Free Your Knowledge 2010 writing contest, the committee's working skill was so bad, the people requires a full time training sessions. As a side note however, a non-wikipedian prove to be a better trainee than a wikipedian. A wikipedian, for a reason I can not really phantom, is difficult to train at it best. This is a neutral perspective since similar output received from a colleagues trying to organize several wikipedian as a speakers. As I quote: "It's easier to train a dragon than to train a wikipedian". Full time training requires a full time attention from the trainer. I lost all the time I needed to do research and have to face a difficult time realizing all the data that need to be captured withing a certain time window are lost, since I was busy training people for the competition. Not only that I lost precious time, personally I lost USD 4,500 from my own pocket since I deliberately refuse employment opportunities and must support myself during 7 months planning, implementation, and reporting. I receives no help, because I realize asking for help will not be answered. And it is a risk I'm willing to take in the first place.
  • So how many people are willing to do that out there? Judging from previous happening, I'm not even going to be around for long if situation like this remain dormant. Naturally, it will be stupid to do so.

Management training shortage[edit]

The general characteristics of a nonprofit organizations usually that they do not have much time, money, or resources to design a comprehensive and sophisticated strategic planning. These organizations usually just focused to the major problems that they are facing and promptly handle it. Most of the major challenges faced by facilitator is a basic training for the activists on the concept of planning, assisting nonprofit organizations to stay focused, and maintain the limited resources in the planning, and ensure the strategies are truly strategic and not only running under operational measures/ efficient. Facilitators usually help plan smaller more focused meetings that will produce realistic plans that can be done.

Many nonprofit leaders are promoted without appropriate consideration of his/her background. They may not have the adequate management skills to run a nonprofit organization. Training and consultation will help the emerging new leaders and new managers to gain the skills they are looking for - and help them face the colorful turns and difficulties that they need to cope with.

  • Management training shortage
  • Being a new and emerging Wikimedia Chapters management training opportunities is non-existent.
  • However, one of the benefit of being a chapter is the instant and existing global network who are already there. Having colorful background as a chapter: active chapter, not so active chapter, strong chapter, not so strong chapter, chapter from developing countries, chapter from developed country, chapter with volunteer base, chapter with professional base etc - using this strength the capacity building that could take place is exchange and training. Since both Wikimedia Foundation or Wikimedia Germany challenges and resources based are paid professional, both organization success story after several years of establishment may not replicable nor applicable in other chapter's location, especially for those chapters running on volunteer base.

  • The need for management and a low budget technical help

A chapter as a nonprofit organizations are community's valuable asset that need to be manage effectively. The need to provide a cheap management help, accessible, and technical help is very clear for all the above reason mentioned above:

  • the complexity of duties bore by the nonprofit
  • the lack of skill from the board and internal member
  • the lack of time and money
  • the changing need
  • the twist and turn of lesson learn that can only be learn by doing it

As a closure of all of the above is the importance of results after action for the community to reflect. Because whatever it is that has been achieved well is a proven result of something that has been run well.

In Wikimedia Indonesia case, during our first year of establishment we have all of the above. Pushing through an initiative/ program meant a personal financial and social suicide to the person that push it through.

Executive leader wears too many hats[edit]

Executive leader of nonprofit organizations today must be an expert in planning, marketing, information management, telecommunications, property management, human resources, finance, systems design, fund raising, and program evaluation. Of course this is impossible, no matter how large or how small the non-profit organization is. Large organizations may be able to pay experts to work internally, but for a small organization, it is becoming hopelessly difficult. In addition to that, the technology advances, it is growing very quickly for people who are not experts to keep up with the new mindset and new skills, no matter how big or small is their organizations. Experts brought in from the outside organization is sometimes become a necessity for organizations no matter their size are.

  • Executive leader wears too many hats
  • Having Wikimedia Indonesia founders from different kind of background provide enough insight for the executive leader of nonprofit organizations - who is willing to listen in doing the planning, marketing, information management, telecommunications, property management, human resources, finance, systems design, fund raising, and program evaluation. However all of the above will prove to be obsolete if no action is taken, just discussion of wonderful things doesn't mean wonderful things could take place. In Wikimedia Indonesia case, as a small organization, it is becoming hopelessly difficult.

Network of volunteers is too small[edit]

A lot of audiences outside the nonprofit sector wonders, "Why did the directors of the nonprofit organization did not get together more often, sharing experiences, advising lesson learn, and work together in that field?" Lots of reasons. First, running a successful organization (providing a quality service that meets the organization's mission) is not enough.

Some chief executives of nonprofit organizations run additional second businesses in order to support the first attempt. Second, it is an equally complex effort and activities to do since it's time consuming, especially if the executive director concurrently executing a variety of positions. Second, developing a network and/or looking for opportunities for joint efforts is time consuming, expensive, and full of risk.

  • Network of volunteers is to small

In Wikimedia Indonesia's case, we joined the movement around 2006 as volunteers, at that time most of us were in our mid twenties - while the rest were either older or slightly younger. We're young, excited, and yes, stupid and naive - thinking that helps from somewhere over the rainbow will come to us with an organized effort. As reality sink in 2010 and our early thirties, we realize that as an organization not only that our career progresses (and we're getting very busy), so are our personal lives (see pattern from single-> married -> two kids -> additional degree/ education). Making the organization a third (after career and families) or fifth (after career, families, school, and social network). Some of the (very) extreme few, carry on and did the impossible: develop a network, looking at opportunities and joint efforts for project like: Free Your Knowledge 2010 - and realize that it is time consuming, expensive, and full of risk both for their career and their other social circles (see: obsessed in dictionary).

Lack of consistent communication[edit]

While many consulting organizations has been wanting to provide lessons for managers on "how to fish" compare to just "give the fish", ("fishing" here meaning the ability to manage and taking decision) it is not something that can be learn through one meeting. Especially in technical areas such as computers, learning comes from handling problems or managing a problem from time to time. Build internal management capacity requires a lot of time and can not be done through one meeting. Repeated requests for assistance are not signs of failure, but signs of growth - the need of wanting to know has just surface.

  • Lack of consistent communication

In Wikimedia Indonesia case, throughout the year 2009, we already try doing seminar about wikipedia and "how to edit" meetings with almost no result. Conversations end up not having conclusion, and we find ourselves back to square one, until we finally manage to do a successful outreach in February-July 2010 and coined in result in organization recognition. We learn that the public in general need clarity, need time frame, and need visible achievement within that time frame - in comparison to a common gesture of good will with no engagement. For future activities, WMID will try to have a more regular basis meeting in small groups and a more measurable progress in our public approach.

Limited long-term investment[edit]

A lot of funding owners think that funding research activities and experiments is not appropriate, since it is often hard to see any short-term benefits. A joint planning could be improved using computer and telecommunication facilities, but these investments are difficult and expensive to be funded.

The need to conduct research and experiments can be replaced by paying a consultant. In many cases, consultants can run the organization through the planning needed to be able to develop new systems that include cooperation, mergers, or an automatic mechanism that ensures this could be done.

  • Research & experiment

Both chapters and the foundation are experimenting with pilot project of intervention program to support the client.

Why didn't you try this, and why didn't you try that?

  • Without a reliable long time investment, may it be an individual or a group committed their time and skill or even funding, every network developed/or opportunity search for joint efforts is time consuming, expensive, and full of risk. This happened in Wikimedia Indonesia, every meeting we have to tap potential cooperation with other organization is jeopardizing Wikimedia Indonesia's name as inconsistent, a non sense organization - no matter how wonderful the initiative proposed by both side - since there are no fundamental resources provided from our side to begin with.

Wikimedia Project Challenges[edit]

Wikipedia bahasa Indonesia
  • A constant declining of very active contributors (contributors quantity drops)
  • Older, specialists, contributors get replaced by secondary school level contributors (quality drops)
  • Everyone/ every side wants/ need content, but no body willing to change attitude or approach (a need for mediation)

Javanese Language Wikipedia
  • Not enough contributor to be sustainable (very active contributors number vary from 3 to 1 in 2010)

Sundanese Language Wikipedia
  • Dead (very active contributors number is 0 since 2009)

Nonprofit organization key players & function[edit]

Although Wikimedia chapters as a legal organization differ around the world, mostly they are recognized as nonprofit or not-for-profit entities. The purpose of the nonprofit organization is to meet the needs of a person or many people in a community. A chapter is an organization uniting the Wikimedia community within a specific time and region in order to conduct activities and provide a venue to interact. The following are key players usually recognize in non profit organization and the box will show you how compatible the chapters and its key players are using the general guidance.

The key players[edit]

There are several key players for nonprofit/not-for-profit as an organization[1]:

1. Users/clients - all nonprofit efforts ultimately serve the needs of the clients or users of the nonprofit service. Note that this service can mean something tangible (e.g., food, shelter) or intangible (e.g., advocacy work).

Wikimedia project readers and audience
  • Wikipedia bahasa Indonesia have 1,5 million readers in mid 2010.

2. Councils consist of a collection of individuals drawn from the community. Applicable law and theories describes that councils are responsible for their decisions and policies in directing where and how audiences users (clients) of the organization will enjoy the services sought. The authority held by the board were secured by the Articles of Association or Bylaws of the organization. Councils can then determine the best structure of how an organization runs its resources through written regulations which specifically laid out by the bylaw or other regulations. Board members of nonprofit organizations are usually motivated from the satisfaction of serving the community and its own inner satisfaction for being a volunteer. Member of the board may or may not be receiving compensation in form of monetary incentive when they are serving as the board.

Wikimedia Indonesia councils
  • Wikimedia Indonesia board, active Wikimedia Indonesia member, and Indonesian Wikipedia village pump as a mean to measure trend.

3. Chairman of the Board - the role of chairman of the board of supervisors is an important center of coordination of the work for other councils, chief executives, and committees under it. The role of Chairman of the Board may have the power to determine what should and shouldn't be done by the committee - however it depends greatly on what is stated in the regulations. The strength of the chairman of the board are usually born through persuasion and leadership ability.
4. Managing director - the board in general usually decides to ask one person to served as managing director to run initiatives to serve as the councils desires it. The managing director is responsible for the work of staff and support the work of committees under it.
5. Volunteers - Volunteers are workers who are not paid to help staff working in committees and generally work under the direction of the managing director.
Wikimedia Indonesia volunteer/ Wikipedia bahasa Indonesia volunteer
  • Being a Wikimedia Indonesia volunteer is not a good idea, see: why. A structure established within the organization to empower existing volunteer would be: as a full time staff, as a part time staff, consultant, internship, or Wikimedia Indonesia member. Wikipedia bahasa Indonesia volunteer base number usually generate from very active user: 30 people in 2010 maintaining a site read by 1,5 million readers.


In general there are three key aspects on how the nonprofit organization's structured. The three key aspects divided into some major functions covering Central Administration & Programs[1]:

  1. Governance – the governing function on a nonprofit organization is responsible for providing strategic direction, guidance, and control. The effectiveness in the regulation/ arrangements depends highly on the connections between the board and the higher management level.
  2. Programs – in general nonprofit organizations derive their work and basic goals from their expressly stated mission and/or vision. They manage their resources into programs to achieve specific goals that reflect overall organizational mission. The program is considered starting from the input, process, output and outcome.
    1. Input is a wide range of resources needed to run the program; example: funds, facilities, clients, staff for the program, and so on.
    2. Process is how the program is implemented; example: a client given a certain skill, the children successfully treated and cared for, the art is created, association members have the support.
    3. Output is the impact the program had on its beneficiaries (clients); example of increased mental health, increased sense of appreciation of art and the growth of another perspective in viewing life, increased effectiveness among members, and so on.
  3. Central administration is the staff and facilities that are commonly used to run programs. Usually this includes managing directors and employees.

  1. a b c d e f g h McNamara, Carter. Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development With Nonprofits. Authenticity Consulting, LLC. 2005.