Grants:APG/Funds Dissemination Committee/Additional Information and Analysis/Interviews/Sue Gardner

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What do you believe is the most effective model for the FDC?

  • What is most critical from a design perspective is that the FDC is designed to do what only it can do, and relieved from having to do everything else, what someone else can contribute. We want to reserve the time of the FDC to focus solely on where it will add significant value, which is decision-making about how to disseminate funds in ways that are consistent with the mission, vision, values and goals of the Wikimedia movement. Its purpose is to evaluate proposals for spending money, and make decisions about where investments should be made.
  • It is a voluntary group, so will be incredibly time constrained. It should be resourced by the WMF, such that the WMF is doing all the staff support (collection and assessment of information, analysis, etc.)
  • We may want to attach to the FDC people who will support it as volunteers --- the “clerk” role that has sometimes been used in the Wikimedia movement.
  • The FDC is a deliberative body whose role is to farm out the dollars in ways that will best serve the movement, the strategy, the priorities.
  • The problem is that right now the money is being distributed without reference to any strategy or goals.
  • The key competence of the FDC is a thoughtful understanding of the mission of what we are trying to get done here. FDC members will need to be constructive, farsighted, wise and judicious. It is not a role that makes sense for someone with a strong personal opinion: it's a role that makes sense for people who want to take a broad view, incorporate the perspectives and best thinking and input of others, and aim to reach responsible, thoughtful conclusions.

What should membership look like?

  • I am not sure we need grantmaking expertise and evaluation expertise on the FDC. We might be able to supply that expertise to them from the outside.
  • I see the FDC as somewhat similar to the “ArbCom” which is sort of like a Supreme Court inside some of the Wikimedia projects. The Arb Coms are a group of wise, respected Wikimedians who solve difficult problems. The Arb Coms tend to serve long terms, and they accrue authority and expertise –as individuals and as a collective body-- over time. They do training and succession planning in helping people learn what it means to be a member of the group, provide opportunities for members to grow into their role.
  • What is challenging here is that we don’t have clearly established expertise on various objectives, like editor retention. Many of the projects and proposals the FDC will be evaluating will be experimental – they are exploratory. Return on investment will not be obvious, and it won't necessarily be possible to draw a straight line from A (investment of dollars) to B (moving the needle on our objectives). Really it is a about the deep down values of the Wikipedians that will serve on the FDC. We need people with long track records of thoughtful engagement on the projects. There is a risk that the FDC might make rash decisions; it might tend to micromanage grant requests, or duplicate oversight that is already being provided by governance bodies such as chapter boards. The FDC will need to be able to make judicious thoughtful decisions – trying to say yes wherever it can, and no where it needs to.
  • Personally, I see membership on the FDC as somewhat similar to membership on the ArbCom or on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. I think that the FDC would create a good pipeline for people who might eventually want to be on the Board (or who the Board might eventually aspire to recruit to join it), and I also see it as a place where departing Board members might usefully continue to be involved in a significant leadership role in the movement. All the roles I'm describing here are ones that are suited to people with a broad set of interests, a long view, a strategic orientation and a solid sense of the Wikimedia mission. People also who have a strong sense of personal integrity, and who are understood to be uncorruptible.

What scope of authority should the FDC have? What should be their relationship with the Board?

  • The WMF Board cannot legally delegate its fiduciary responsibility. Also, the Board is a governance body not an operating body or working Board. Its “arms and legs” are the staff of the Wikimedia Foundation: these are the resources it directly controls and can assign and performance manage (via the ED). Therefore, the WMF Board needs the WMF staff to ensure that the FDC funds are distributed consistent with the fiduciary responsibilities of the Wikimedia Foundation. That doesn't relieve the Board of its responsibilities, but the purpose of the staff is to support the Board in making good decisions and living up to its obligations.
  • The FDC will make recommendations for funds distribution to the Wikimedia Foundation. Its role is to evaluate grantseeker requests in light of their likely effectiveness and usefulness at helping the Wikimedia movement work towards its mission, vision and strategic goals. The Wikimedia Foundation will support it in making those evaluations, in two ways:
    • By leading the assessment of grantseeker adherence with all legal and compliance obligations. If grantseekers are not compliant with their obligations, the WMF will inform the FDC that the grantseeker is not eligible for an FDC grant
    • By supporting the FDC in making programmatic evaluations of grantseeker requests, for example by handling communications to ensure all necessary materials are received from the grant-seeker, inputting grant-seeker input into FDC-friendly formats, etc.

What type of grants should go through the FDC?

  • The FDC should disseminate unrestricted grants designed to offset or fully fund the operating costs of WMF-Board-recognized Wikimedia organizations, including the Wikimedia Foundation, chapters and partner organizations.
  • Funds excluded from the FDC purview:
    • Requests for restricted grants: these should go to the GAC
    • Other grant-making groups individual reimbursements/”participation” grants/event costs: these should go to the GAC or elsewhere
    • Funds designated for organizations’ operating reserves: reserves should be built out of membership fees or other sources funds designated for organizations’ endowments: endowments should be built out of membership fees or other sources.
  • In order for the FDC to responsibly allocate large sums of money, given that it’s made up of time-constrained volunteers, it needs to be responsible for a pool of grant-seekers that is
    • limited in overall size
    • pre-vetted to have attained a certain level of organizational maturity
  • Therefore, the FDC should consider only grant requests from entities that, three months prior to the beginning of the fiscal year in question:
    • Have been formally acknowledged by the Wikimedia Board of Trustees as an official chapter or partner organization; and
    • Have a non-expired signed agreement with the Wikimedia Foundation (e.g., chapter agreement); and
    • Have a track record of receiving at least two prior grants from the Wikimedia Foundation and meeting standard Wikimedia Foundation compliance and reporting requirements for those grants, OR who have participated in two fundraising campaigns as a payment-processor, and met those requirements, OR one grant plus one year payment-processing; and
    • Have not received in the 12 months prior to submitting a grant request, and do not receive during the grant-seeking process itself, any formal sanction or warning from the Wikimedia Foundation for lack of compliance with contractual obligations such as those contained in chapter agreements, fundraiser agreements, grant agreements, or any other formal agreements.
  • If a grant-seeker meets those four conditions, they are eligible to apply for a grant from the FDC. If they do not meet any of the four conditions, they cannot apply to the FDC, and should apply through the existing Wikimedia Foundation GAC process.
  • My understanding at this moment is that the following organizations are likely to be eligible for FDC funding, if they choose to apply for it: Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Sweden, Hungary, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Serbia. Also the Wikimedia Foundation itself. I don't believe there are any partner organizations eligible for FDC funding at the moment, because no partner organizations have been formally approved by the Board, to date.
  • Grant-seekers would/should submit to the FDC their annual plan for the year in question, while requesting funds for whatever portion of the annual plan they don't expect to be funded elsewhere. So maybe their annual plan calls for spending of 150K, and they anticipate raising 20K through membership fees, and 10K through event sponsorship. In that case, they would submit a plan to the FDC saying that, and requesting 120K in total for the year in question. Or, they might submit a plan asking for 130K, if they wanted to reserve 10K of the membership fees revenue for an operational reserve. These are trusted movement entities. The important part is transparency: their total revenues and spending need to be clear, so the FDC understands the big picture of what it's being asked to fund.
  • Then, the FDC's only decision is how much funding to provide. Let's say our hypothetical chapter wanted to spend 50K on a conference, 70K on a staff person, 20K on t-shirts for volunteers, and 10K on miscellaneous administrative items. The FDC would not be able to say: 'we will give you 100K, but none of it should be spent on t-shirts.' The FDC's only decision would be the amount of money to be allocated. It could allocate 130K or 0K or anything in between. But it would not be empowered to make line item decisions, approving or rejecting specific elements of the organization's plan. Grants given by the FDC would not be restricted to particular types of activities: they would be unrestricted operating funds.
  • At the beginning of the FDC's year (July) it will be given an envelope, approved by the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, to disseminate. It will be able to choose how much to disseminate to entities that are seeking funds, and how much to give to the Wikimedia reserve. Currently, the Wikimedia Foundation aims to keep the reserve at six months of spending at the low point of each fiscal year (which is immediately before the funraiser begins, in October). Keeping the low at six months would continue to be the responsibility of the Wikimedia Foundation, as it develops its annual plan. But, the FDC would be empowered to make contributions to the reserve, as it sees fit.
  • So let's say the FDC has an envelope of $100, and receives funding requests for $90. In that case, the range of options open to it are as follows: It could choose to give out $0-90 to grant-seekers, and contribute the remainder ($10-100) to the reserve. Obviously it would likely bias towards funding requests from grant-seekers: it's near-impossible for me to imagine the FDC rejecting all, or even the majority, of funding requests from qualified movement entities, who by definition are trusted and who by definition have a track record of competently handling funds. But, the FDC is expected to exercise judgement about funding requests, and it's not impossible to imagine it funding grant-seekers at a lower level than requested, and choosing instead to contribute the variance to the reserve.
  • A different example: let's say the FDC has an envelope of $100, and receives funding requests for $110. The range of options open to it are as follows: It could choose to give out $0-100 to grant-seekers, and contribute the remainder ($100-0) to the reserve. It could not choose to give out more than $100, because in this hypothetical example its total allocation is $100.
  • Inside its own allocation for dissemination, the FDC should and would do whatever it thinks is best. So in this hypothetical example, the FDC, with a total envelope of $100, receives let's say six funding requests totalling $110: Entity A asking for $50, Entity B asking for $25, Entity C asking for $20, Entity D asking for $10, and Entity E asking for $5. The FDC could make any allocation it likes, as long as it lives inside its total $100 envelope of funding. So for example, it might choose to do this: A $30 B $25 C $20 D $10 E $5 Reserve $10. Or A $43 B $22 C $9 D $10 E $4 Reserve $12. Making that decision about the allocation of funds is the core purpose of the FDC: that is its primary and most immediate deliverable.
  • I would guess that 90-95% of the movement’s spending (if you back out the WMF spending) happens in the Global North. This is a problem, because one of the key findings of the strategy project was that the Wikimedia projects are flourishing in wealthy countries (in North America and Europe), and are doing less well in terms of both readership and number-of-editors, in the so-called Global South – mainly in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. That is completely understandable and not surprising, because those countries have spottier internet access, less device ownership, possibly lower literacy levels, possibly less post-grad education, possibly people have less leisure time, and in some cases there is internet censorship. But what it means is that we need to invest in non-North America, non-European regions of the world, so that we can recruit new readers and editors there. It's important, because there is enormous potential for the Wikimedia projects to reach people and provide them with access to information that they don't currently have. The trouble is, our funds allocation right now is not walking our talk. We say we want to support readers and editors in Global South countries, but we are not doing it. We can’t make a sudden change initially, but over time set the lead.
  • The FDC’s job is to share funds within the Wikimedia entities—those entities can share funds with others outside the movement if they choose—that is not the FDC’s job. So, requests for funding from an organization like Creative Commons or the EFF or OpenStreetMap would not go through the FDC: those would go elsewhere.
  • Some people have asked whether the creation of the FDC means that chapters and other organizations can no longer operate their own grantmaking programs. I don't think that's true: I think that absolutely chapters and other Wikimedia organizations should be able to continue offering grantmaking programs for other entities (Wikimedia and non-Wikimedia) and for individuals (the programs that are sometimes called “reimbursement” or “participation” programs). I think those entities should be transparent about their regranting programs when they apply to the FDC for funding – meaning, they should be explicit that they will be running a grantmaking program, in their funding request. But I think it's completely fine for them to re-grant: this will enable grant-seekers to have multiple avenues for funds, which is a good thing.
  • The FDC should not disseminate funds for activities that don’t primarily have the goal of advancing the Wikimedia mission. For example, it should not fund organizations whose main activities are “saving dying languages” or “lobbying in the EU against internet censorship.” These are laudable goals and they support the Wikimedia mission, but they are not not core to our mission.
    • Vetting for mission alignment will happen upstream of the FDC work, when organizations are approved by the Wikimedia Foundation Board. Once an organization is formally recognized by the Board, no further vetting will be required to determine mission alignment. So for example, if a chapter is a Wikimedia chapter and also a Creative Commons chapter, that will not prevent it from applying for FDC funding. The fact that it is a Wikimedia-recognized chapter in good standing is sufficient – on that basis alone, it will not be excluded from FDC funding due to not “primarily having the goal of advancing the Wikimedia mission.” If you are an acknowledged Wikimedia chapter, that is assumed to be your mission.
  • I want to create a world where it is easy to get money for good ideas—it should be REALLY easy to get small amounts of funding for small, innovative projects, via grantmaking operations such as the GAC, the participation grants, the various reimbursement programs. Larger entities should have a higher burden of proof for why their higher expenses are justified, but they should also be extended an assumption of trust – that they are responsible partners, allies in the movement.

What is the role of the FDC in driving “standards of excellence” in the movement?

  • The FDC should over time become a center of excellence in the movement, in terms of creating standards for measurement of programmatic effectiveness. This suggests that the FDC membership requires significant programmatic experience in the Wikimedia movement, and possibly also in grant-making. FDC members should have long track records in the movement, and should be trusted.
  • The difficulty is that we do not currently have standards for measurement of programmatic effectiveness, because much of the programmatic work the movement is doing is exploratory and iterative. Therefore, I think the FDC will focus in the beginning, and should focus, on the big picture --- what kinds of activities are we spending on, and are they the right activities. Not so much, in the beginning, focusing on effectiveness, but focusing on overall emphasis, are we spending on the right things, and exploring in the right areas.
  • We need to ensure that money gets to where it is needed most. How can we help under-developed organizational entities develop their teams? We are spending very little money in the so-called Global South: how can we support the development of entities and activities there?
  • There is a tension between the focus on accountability and effectiveness and trying to help under-developed entities build capacity. There is a danger we will end up supporting excellence in proposal writing, versus developing capacity to execute in important areas.

How do you envision the funds flow process working in the new model?

  • The Wikimedia Foundation, as well as the payment-processing chapters, will raise a pot of money that will be shared across the movement. Sources of funds that will be included in this pot will include:
    • All funds payment processed through the sites, whether the donations are processed by the Wikimedia Foundation or by payment-processing chapters. All funds payment-processed via the annual campaign will go into the movement pot of money;
    • Potentially, all other non-restricted funds raised by the Foundation (this is still being discusssed by me and my Board).
    • Restricted funds, membership dues, earned income, and other locally raised funds within chapters or other entities would not be included.
  • Each year, the Board of Trustees would take this shared pot of money and earmark three different categories:
    • Funds to be distributed by the FDC
    • The Foundation’s core operating expenses
    • An operating reserve for the movement
  • Note: We are currently in the middle of the plan development cycle for 2012-13. That means the Board will be finalizing the allocation for the FDC in June of 2012. The FDC will be giving out a significant amount of money in 2012-13, and it will be very difficult in its first year, because it's not yet clear how all of this will work --- there are important questions currently unanswered, such as will there be one deadline for funds requests, or will entities be able to apply anytime throughout the year. A question like that sounds simple, but of course has significant implications for entities seeking funding. In the first year of operation, the FDC will need to bias towards accommodating the needs of funds-seekers, because this first year will be tough on them – it will feel risky and uncomfortable.
  • I think it is likely that in 2012-13, the FDC will accept grant requests from the moment it (the FDC) is created and kicked off, roughly in August. I am guessing that it will start reviewing requests in October. Ideally movement entities will be able to submit their requests in the winter months – October, November, December. But I know that will probably not be possible for everyone. For entities that cannot submit their requests before the end of the calendar year, I would suggest it might make sense for them to get in touch with Barry to flag that specifically, so we can incorporate it into our thinking as we design the FDC.