Wikimedia, through our contractor OMP, conducted a focus group of past donors in the New York City area in September 2010. It's important to note that this was a single focus group, and in a single city. We'll need to do more to make sure that results correlate universally. But we came out of it with a few important take-away points:
- The most powerful image is of Wikipedia as a global community of people who freely share their knowledge and self-police the product.
- For everyone who participated, the idea of a global community of people sharing knowledge that is accessible to anyone who wants it free of charge is incredibly powerful. Respondents in this group were highly unlikely to be editors themselves; most consider themselves users. They love the idea of the community and want to support it, but they are reluctant to put themselves out there by being more than a user and a donor.
- Keeping the projects ad-free is a powerful motivator.
- Respondents were unanimous that keeping Wiki[m,p]edia ad free should be a priority, even if it meant that Wiki[m,p]edia would be approaching them for money more often. Accepting paid ads could corrupt the values and discourage the free flow of information.
- Independence is critically important.
- These respondents consume a lot of media, and they place a high premium on the free flow of information. They have little patience for “sponsored” news or information that excludes other perspectives. The Wikimedia model of openness and community engagement facilitates that.
- It’s a cause because it’s a tool.
- This may sound a bit like a chicken/egg argument, but it’s actually an important nuance. These folks use Wikimedia every day for things from simple curiosities to serious research. So it’s a tool that lets them get what they need. But it has grown to 17 million articles in 270 languages. Because it has that kind of depth and it reaches so many people around the world, it’s worth protecting what the community so successfully built. And that makes it a cause too.
- Growing isn’t always a good thing, when positioning for donors.
- Like many tech savvy folks, our respondents are a suspicious lot. The idea of Wikimedia growing brings up concerns about what Wikimedia would become, and fears about the path of companies like Facebook. It’s not just a privacy concern; it’s a concern about what would happen to the democratic model of Wikimedia inside a growth strategy. Supporting the organic growth of the community doesn’t raise the same concerns.
- Supporters strongly reject any agenda being attached to Wikimedia, even when that agenda would extend the current offerings.
- An agenda implies ownership, and respondents feel pretty strongly that the community owns Wikipedia. They think of Wikipedia as an organic thing, not like a typical nonprofit, and any attempt to steer it would disrupt that. Community support is one of the key values, and not everyone in the community would support new initiatives.
- There is room to fundraise more aggressively.
- Across the board, respondents were surprised that they didn’t have the opportunity to give to Wikimedia more often. Obviously, there is a balance and a PBS-style solicitation schedule wouldn’t make sense both for Wikimedia’s personality and for this audience, but there is much more space available than we are taking.
- Wikimedia donors are highly suspicious of marketing gimmicks.
- Simple, direct messages are likely to work best. Jimmy’s message worked not so much because he was the founder, but because it was a simple plea for support delivered authentically.
- As we know, that’s something that also needs quantitative testing to prove. Sometimes donor response in a focus group and donor activity don’t line up exactly. But, some things already line up with early tests. The more gimmicky the banner, the less likely it is to drive donations even if it increases clicks.
- Reaction to banners like “572 have donated in New York today” also raised concerns about privacy – not a good reaction in an already suspicious audience. Appeals to “keep us growing” or that highlight a contributor’s work raise earlier concerns about an agenda.