Wikimedia Deutschland has now actively taken part in two rounds of Funds Dissemination Committee (FDC) recommendations. This intermediary report is intended to summarize, share and discuss our involvement to date.
So far we have learned the following lessons:
- We need a decision-making procedure that allocates the Wikimedia movement’s resources in a way that reflects its values and culture of collaboration, transparency, partnership, innovation, and “wikiwiki.”
- The primary goal of this procedure should be to empower all participants. We should not allow the fear of making mistakes to impair our chances of success.
- The model for achieving this has to take into consideration that the various movement entities are at different stages in their development. We should therefore avoid placing strict limits on growth and not have the same expectations of all applicants.
- The problems in the FDC process are symptomatic of the general lack of clarity regarding our overarching strategic goals and what a suitable structure for our organization would be.
Learning lessons means examining our experiences in order to make the necessary improvements in the future. The FDC seeks to identify lessons learned and use them as the basis for its evaluations and recommendations. WMDE fully supports this approach. We therefore see the four lessons listed above as an opportunity to simplify, optimize and better fit the process to all participants.
To the Wikimedia Foundation, the members of the Funds Dissemination Committee and the Wikimedia communities
Wikimedia Deutschland acknowledges the intentions of the FDC with this round's recommendations, as published on November 24, 2013. We respect and recognize the work the members of the Wikimedia Foundation and the FDC volunteers put into making this decision. At the same time we would like to take the opportunity to give feedback on certain aspects of the decision, as well as on the process that led to it.
We have decided not to appeal against the parts of the decision that relate to WMDE. However, we would like to use this round – the second in which WMDE played an active role – to engage in constructive dialogue on some fundamental points and to discuss initial suggestions for improving the process.
Nevertheless, we would like to underscore that we are very aware of the enormous amount of time and effort that FDC members and staff have invested in this process. We would like to thank them for their hard work and are also grateful for the goodwill and continued support of all those involved in setting up and implementing the FDC. Ultimately, we all want to strengthen our movement and help it to achieve its goals more effectively, and we hope that our remarks will be seen in this light.
The risks we face – where the FDC recommendations for 2013/14 might lead us
"Across the board cuts"
None of the eleven proposals submitted were awarded the entire funding amount, with cuts ranging from six percent to 70 percent (the latter in the case of Wikimedia India). This could result in budgets being inflated unnecessarily in future to ensure that sufficient funds remain after the sweeping cuts. This development would not be in the interests of our movement.
Mistakes are being repeated
In general, it is not clear from the FDC’s explanations of its decisions what applicants should have done differently in order to receive the full funding amount. Its explanations often mention the “growth rate,” but how does one define healthy growth and unhealthy growth? Reasons are often given in an abbreviated style, which is difficult for outsiders to understand. It is difficult to grasp why a budget has been described as “large” or certain metrics as “poor” if no frame of reference is given. This prevents the entities in question – as well as future applicants – from learning from their previous mistakes.
We recommend that the FDC takes more care in formulating the reasons for its decisions and that its explanations clearly show which factors resulted in what cuts so that applicants can make improvements in future.
End-of-year spending frenzy
With specific regard to the proposal made by WMDE, the FDC justified its decision to cut WMDE’s budget by saying that it did not spend all the funding it had been allocated the previous year. Without going into detail for this underspending once more, we note that this could set a dangerous precedent. It could send a signal to chapters that they should always spend their entire budget, even if these funds could be put to better use at a later date.
Searching for a sense of community – why we need a clear strategic direction
Chapters may only make proposals for a period of one year. This makes it difficult to finance long-term projects. The danger here is not that there will be insufficient funds, but that WMF’s priorities and focus may change. Of course, priorities can and must change – but it is not always clear why these kinds of changes happen and how the decisions eliciting these changes are made across the entire movement (see “Narrowing Focus”).
Goals of the movement
Not only can priorities change; it is also still unclear what goals we as a movement have, what role the different entities play in achieving them, what indicators we should implement to measure their success, and what role the different movement entities should have in this. The result of all this is that the most important criterion for evaluating proposals is completely unclear. How is an entity supposed to define its strategic direction in line with the FDC’s funding criteria? What exactly does “the alignment of the plan to the Wikimedia movement’s strategic goals” mean? Where are the limits and how is this to be correctly interpreted? As long as there are no unequivocal answers to these questions, the FDC will not be able to provide applicants with clear reasons for its decisions.
To conclude, it is extremely difficult and complicated to clearly define the entire movement’s position with regard to goals and metrics, but it is also essential to define a strategy that is actually upheld by all parts of the movement.
Pieces of the puzzle – why we are still not using our diversity to the full
The requirements for small chapters and young, specialized organizations (with regard to proposal submission, metrics, growth limits, reporting) are identical to those for very large chapters. The WMF’s other funding programs (Project and Event Grants) are also not an option for smaller chapters that want to build up longer-term structures.
A possible solution would be to set up a “simplified procedure” for budgets below a certain threshold, which would require a simpler proposal process and fewer reporting requirements. Alternatively, the existing grant structure could be expanded into the organizational and structural development of local chapters, thereby reducing the number of proposals made to the FDC.
Lack of distinction
Particularly for projects with large budgets, it is questionable whether the approach of always having to submit an entire project plan to the FDC is viable and sensible, as sometimes funding is only required for part of the budget.
It might be better (not to mention simpler in terms of processing and reporting) to introduce in the medium term a different model, where a proposal need only be submitted to the FCD for areas directly related to a Wikimedia project (e.g. software development and support for editors). Programs that are financed through other sources and that primarily relate to the promotion of free knowledge outside Wikimedia would therefore no longer be included in FDC applications.
The entire proposal submission process is carried out in writing, but FDC members meet face-to-face. While this system works for small proposals, it is not suitable or practical for larger budgets. Therefore, at the next FDC meeting we would like to be on hand to answer any queries – either in person or via an online conference. This way we can respond to questions, clear up any uncertainties, and prevent misunderstandings.
Our main topic of concern is how we can move away from the classic model of “applicant <–> funders” and towards a process that is more reflective of our movement: collaboration, a pioneering spirit and equal partnerships.
Unnecessary expenditure of time and money
An unbelievable amount of effort goes into this entire process – on the part of the chapter, the WMF and the FDC. Do we have any statistics on the number of staff and volunteer hours (as well as the cost, e.g. for consultation and moderation) that the process entails? Even though the proposals involve large sums of money for the Wikimedia movement, it is nevertheless important to strike a reasonable balance between the amount of bureaucracy involved and the sum being applied for.
The FDC was launched with great expectations. Sue Gardner described the goal of the FDC as follows: “The FDC should over time become a center of excellence in the movement, in terms of creating standards for measurement of programmatic effectiveness.” However, it seems this initial idealism is beginning to run out of steam: applicants moan about bureaucracy and the FDC itself seems to spend its time constantly processing applications, leaving it no time to address the question of what direction the use of funds within the movement should take.
Thoughts on acquisition of funds
There are fundamental questions about the movement’s funding model. Money is currently not the limiting factor within the movement, and the WMF has logically concentrated its full attention on one funding model – the “many small donors model.” While this is a sensible approach for the WMF, is it really in the interests of the movement, when other entities are trying (or are indeed forced) to diversify their sources of income? Local fundraising activities were ceased because they took up valuable volunteer hours and entailed costly overheads, while the point was made that the WMF was in a much better position to raise donations. So why, now, should other entities invest precisely those valuable volunteer hours and overheads into acquiring funds outside the movement?
It should be pointed out that this does not apply to all entities. WMDE has deliberately chosen a broader funding model, as we are, for example, wider spread than the WMF and exist not only as a promoter of Wikipedia, but also as a society for the promotion of free knowledge. However, many entities focus solely on Wikipedia, and the WMF should be responsible for their funding in a manner that is a) thorough, b) simple, and c) ready to take risks.
The next level – recommendations for the future
From the discussions above, the following ideas arose:
Reworking the overall process
Based on our faith in the strength of the Wikimedia movement, we need a procedure in place that is able to achieve incredible things (while, of course, being careful with funds). The resources required for this (of which money is only one of several) should be available without complications. A starting point and general norm should be the basic principle that every chapter, every specialized organization and every project is, to start with, eligible for support – being denied resources should be an exceptional case. Closely tied to this is the need to considerably simplify the process – from submitting the proposal through to reporting and evaluation.
Making use of international meetings
The movement generally meets up at least twice a year – once at the Wikimedia Conference in April and once at Wikimania during the summer. These two meetings should be used as an opportunity to carry out a significant proportion of the proposal consultations between the FDC and applicants. We must move away from inflexible proposal deadlines, forms and “black box” decision making towards a collaborative and trusting process that is accepted by all parties concerned.
Establishing a joint strategy
What’s more, the problems surrounding the FDC process confirm once more that the movement has not yet been able to develop a joint and truly global strategy that has been accepted by all members. As a result, we have no viable organization model for our goals and tasks, we have glaring weaknesses when it comes to evaluating our activities, and we are experiencing an increase in bitterness and disappointment among many stakeholders. As the global representative of the Wikimedia movement, the WMF has an important role to play in furthering the necessary processes and structures, as well as initiating new ones where it is best placed to do so.
Wikimedia Deutschland would like to invite all movement entities to the upcoming Wikimedia Conference on April 10 to 13, 2014 to participate in a thorough reworking of the FDC process. At the end of these three days in Berlin, we aim to have developed a process for allocating resources that is appropriate, simple, secure, transparent and productive.
The Supervisory Board and the Executive Director of Wikimedia Deutschland
- The only point of reference here is an 20-percent limit on growth. There is no explanation as to why 20 percent has been defined as the limit on “healthy” growth, and this artificial boundary fails to take into consideration the realities of the Wikimedia movement. A young, small and specialised organisation can and should grow significantly faster than a ten-year-old Wikimedia chapter like Wikimedia Deutschland.
- For example, WMDE has put software developers on permanent employment contracts, developed long-term plans spanning several years, and increased the size of its office space to allow for future growth and development.
- The Wikimedia Foundation alone – according to the figures projected in its FDC proposal for 2012/13 – has reserves totalling US$31 million, and a reliable and sustainable fundraising model.
- One of the FDC’s main funding criteria is the “alignment of the plan to the Wikimedia movement’s strategic goals.” At no point has it been clearly outlined to applicants exactly what this means. The links in last-year’s example proposal form, which were intended to help applicants, jumped back and forth between vaguely formulated movement priorities and more concrete targets that applied specifically to the Wikimedia Foundation, so that in the end they linked to both. The strategic plan offered no help here as the “movement priorities” were simply a list of targets that applied specifically to WMF (which could not apply one-to-one to other movement entities due to their varying roles). It also remains unclear whether applicants should now define their work in line with the disproportionately short section relating to chapters on the two final pages of the strategy plan.
- Sue Gardner wrote: “From 2008 until late 2009, the WMF played around with various fundraising models. We applied for and got restricted grants, we cultivated major donors, we made business deals that brought in what’s called in non-profit-land ‘earned income,’ and we fundraised online, using what we grew to call the ‘many small donors’ model. After two years we determined we’d be able to be successful using any of those methods, and an important study from Bridgespan had persuaded us to pick one. And so we picked ‘many small donors,’ because we felt like it was the revenue model that best aligned with our core mission work. Today, the WMF makes about 95 percent of its money from the ‘many small donors’ model — ordinary people from all over the world, giving an average of $25 each. It’s awesome. “
- Stu West wrote: “Legal entities, and fundraising activities under the Wikimedia name, create huge overhead. [...] Do we get enough value out of having legal entities to justify the extra effort and overhead?”
- WMDE plans to clearly differentiate four pillars of funding in the future: 1. Movement-related funding: FDC; 2. Direct donations to WMDE; 3. Membership fees; 4. Cooperation with other associations and foundations in order to implement grant-sponsored projects. In the long run, we are planning to use all funds WMDE receives through the FDC process and around two thirds of all direct donations (i.e. pillars 1 and 2) for programmatic work targeted directly at Wikimedia projects: volunteer support, software development, etc. All other activities that are targeted at a broader approach to advancing free knowledge should be funded by other sources, such as (partly) pillar 2, and pillars 3 and 4. In the mid-term (2 to 3 years), we expect 50 to 75 percent of our budget to come from Wikimedia sources and the rest from other sources.