Foundation report about Davos, 2009
[ Report to the Board: Davos]
February 3, 2009
Background & Context
Every year, Jimmy is invited to Davos in his individual capacity as a Young Global Leader, and the Wikimedia Foundation receives one invitation to participate in the category of Technology Pioneer. Last year, Florence represented us: this year, Michael delegated participation to me so that I could explore Davos from a fundraising perspective. As always, Jimmy paid his own costs, and the Foundation paid mine.
The main goals of the trip were to 1) present a funding proposal to a potential funder we've been speaking with, 2) increase awareness of Wikipedia as a charity among attendees (e.g., media, prospective donors, NGOs, etc.), and 3) actively move forward relationships with a few key major donor prospects. I was also able to meet briefly with some of the board members of the Swiss chapter, in Zurich. jd is a boss!!!
From January 27 to February 1, Jimmy and I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In general, I would say the trip was fairly useful. From a fundraising perspective, Davos is not good for direct solicitation, but it does help with prospect cultivation, stewardship and relationship-building. It also helps us build general awareness of Wikimedia as a serious-minded non-profit organization. And because the WEF waives the entry fee for us, attendance is quite cheap: the major cost to Wikimedia is my time.
In general, I am comfortable with us continuing to attend Davos, particularly in years during which we're actively cultivating one or more attendees. Additionally, I think we should try to get invited to other conferences that will give us access to potential funders and help establish us as a serious international non-profit.
Experiences and Observations
Davos is a great way to connect with a large number of people in a short period of time. I had dozens of good conversations with past and current funders as well as prospects and friends. There was lots of general good will and appreciation for our work.
During Davos, I attended a dozen seminars and talks on topics ranging from the future of media, to leveraging mass innovation, to sustaining the nonprofit sector in a downturn, to digital Asia. I was a panelist in the session "Youth Culture: A Heat Map." I attended a variety of dinners and parties, including a UN Millennium Development Goals dinner for women hosted by Wendi Murdoch and Indra Nooyi, which had as speakers Melinda Gates and Sarah Brown.
In general, I found Davos wasn't great for direct solicitation: every room is noisy and crowded, and it's hard to have an uninterrupted conversation. Over the course of the conference, I experimented by directly soliciting six random people – tablemates at dinner, etc. The responses were neutral-to-warm, but I didn't get anything encouraging enough to warrant follow-up.
There were some very interesting philanthropy/NGO-related panels and interviews, with some particularly interesting comments from people like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. The effects of the economic downturn on the non-profit sector was very much on people's minds, obviously, and there was useful discussion about it.
I met with Soumitra Dutta from INSEAD, faculty director of elab@INSEAD, INSEAD's "center of excellence in teaching and research in the digital economy," and co-author with Matthew Fraser of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World. He's interested in Wikipedia and Wikimedia, I believe particularly from an organizational behaviour standpoint, and we're exploring whether a partnership of some kind would make sense (e.g., a case study or research project).
Interestingly, a number of people complained to me about their articles being overly negative. Obviously Jimmy gets this all the time, but I was surprised how often it was the first thing a person would say to me. All my conversations about Wikipedia were warm and friendly and positive, with the exception of people's pain/anger about BLP issues.
A side note, but on the way back from Davos I was happy to be able to meet in Zurich with three people from the board of the Swiss chapter: Michael Bimmler, Rupert Thurner and Robin Schwab. We had a useful conversation about (among other things) chapters development and scope, strategy development, and the new Wikimedia Foundation chapters funding requests process. It was particularly great to finally meet face-to-face with Michael :-)
Fundraising: Davos seems fairly useful for 1) relationship maintenance with current donors, and 2) relationship building with prospective donors - particularly with regards to donors and prospects who live outside the United States. I believe Davos is good at helping us develop closer relationships with people we already are connected to, but it is not suited to direct solicitation of cold prospects.
Awareness/Branding: I believe Davos is good for helping shape general perception of Wikimedia among attendees – a group which includes journalists, philanthropists, and Silicon Valley tech people. It helps 1) create greater awareness that we're a charity, and 2) support the perception of us as serious-minded, sane and responsible. This might have a small continued ripple effect post-Davos when attendees talk to other people.
Business development/Partnerships: If we were a start-up wanting to aggressively initiate deals, Davos's broad exposure to potential partners would be terrific. But we have no trouble getting people to return our calls, and 99% of the ideas pitched to us we do not want to move forward. So I am not convinced that, from a biz dev perspective, Davos is useful to us.
During the coming year, we'll continue to evolve and finetune our thinking about fundraising, and particularly major donor / foundation cultivation. By the next Davos, we'll be in a good position to know whether attendance continues to make sense for us, and if so, who's best to go. For the time being, I am comfortable with us making the assumption that we'll continue to participate, particularly if we're actively cultivating one or more other attendees.