Grants:APG/Funds Dissemination Committee/Advisory Group/Recommendations/2014
Advice to the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation from the Funds Dissemination Committee Advisory Group
The FDC advisory group (AG) had its final meeting on May 25 and 26 in Frankfurt. According to the FDC Framework, the AG’s main goal was to assess whether the FDC process has been successful and to provide recommendations for the future of funds dissemination within the Wikimedia Movement. In particular, the AG was ‘to advise the WMF Executive Director on improvements to the process based on updated assessment and learnings’.
The FDC advisory group unanimously agreed:
- that the FDC successfully reached its goal of better fund dissemination in our movement, and
- to recommend to the ED that the FDC continues with some improvements to the process and structure.
We would like to thank the FDC and other involved volunteers, staff and Sue Gardner (former Executive Director, WMF) for designing the FDC process and making it a success in its first two years. It is only through their efforts that we are currently able to look back on the great start of this committee.
During the meeting the AG defined 9 main topics that should be addressed to improve the FDC process:
- Simplified renewal or continuing funding for applicants
- Segmenting proposals or ‘bands of funding’
- Flexibility in the process
- Metrics and evaluation of the impact
- Grantmaking diversity across regions
- Diversification of funding sources for Wikimedia organizations
- Capacity building of applicants
- Eligibility for FDC membership
- WMF’s involvement as a fundseeker in the FDC process
Simplified renewal or continuing funding for FDC applicants
To reduce the workload for the FDC and applicants, the FDC process should have a simplified approval for renewal of existing annual grants. An organization asking for an annual grant review would have to demonstrate its impact to our mission each year, and additional instalments would be based on this progress. The funding renewal would be for annual plan funds, not for individual projects. A pilot should be conducted to assess the effectiveness of this approach.
Segmenting proposals or ‘bands of funding’
Proposals for funding might be segmented into bands or groups divided by the size of the requests, the age of the organization or other criteria. If implemented it should be clear how the segments are divided and for what reasons. There may be a benefit to building peer groups that can support one another. This system can include incentives for the groups to develop in an appropriate way within their segment, but there is a danger of creating the perception that the segment including the larger organizations is preferred or more desirable. We recommend that this question be considered by the ED, but there was no consensus on the preferred outcome.
Flexibility in the process
The "guardrails" system which limited the increase or decrease in funding over the previous year may no longer be helpful. Rather the growth or progress of each organization should be considered separately, with the organization itself presenting long-term growth plans, with a focus on planned and sustainable growth.
Larger organizations can present their funding requests in detail, but organizations making smaller requests should be allowed to present less detailed plans.
We propose the creation of a "Grantmaking Advisory Group" that can help support an integrated strategy for the different WMF grantmaking programs and review their impact on a periodic basis (2-3 years), while the current "Fund Dissemination Committee Advisory Group" may be discontinued.
Metrics and evaluation of the impact
We recommend that the WMF define a set of global metrics and indicators that every applicant should use in their proposals and reporting, and encourage applicants to self-define other quantitative and qualitative metrics that are pertinent to their context and strategies.
As applicants define their own metrics to show the outcomes of their programs, they should bear in mind alignment with the Wikimedia mission and strategic goals. Organizations should strive to measure how their offline activities impact online work.
Grantmaking diversity across regions
It is important to ensure that movement resources (which include but are not limited to funds) be distributed across diverse geographies, including to the Global South, which is currently under-represented in the FDC process. Even so, we believe that organizational readiness, rather than geographic location, should remain the primary criteria for the FDC’s funding recommendations. WMF grantmaking currently provides support to individual volunteers and entities through diverse mechanisms including individual engagement grants and project and event grants. Some of these may be more appropriate to increase the geographic distribution of resources across the movement, which remains a long-term goal.
Diversification of resources for Wikimedia organizations
Development of diverse funding sources as well as other resources in Wikimedia organizations is to be encouraged if this additional funding supports the Wikimedia mission and is in alignment with the movement's values. These resources should not be seen as being solely financial.
We acknowledge that our movement is privileged to have relatively easy access to financial resources through the online fundraiser. The AG believes that there are benefits to increasing the diversity of funds supporting our movement, including promoting long term financial security, strengthening local focus, and allowing some independence from the foundation. However, the AG also wants to caution against organizations spending significant time and resources on fundraising, which can distract from online and offline, mission-related program work. In order to support a sustainable balance, we therefore offer the following guidelines:
- Outside fundraising is a donation intended to support our community. We should seek support that is consistent with our movement’s mission and values.
- Local partnerships can lead to high impact program activity and expand our volunteer communities. Any fundraising component should be nominal so the focus remains on program work, or focus on in-kind resources.
- The focus of movement organizations should be on program activity. As a result, movement organizations should be cautious in hiring dedicated fundraising staff.
- To the extent organizations fundraise through membership fees, they should be nominal so as to not exclude anyone from participation in movement organizations.
Capacity Building of applicants
While many of the existing Wikimedia organizations developed fairly independently from the WMF, we recommend that the WMF actively support the capacities of new and existing organizations to increase their effectiveness. Nevertheless, this capacity building should not be the main interest of the FDC. Rather, movement organizations, the Affiliations Committee and WMF staff - including staff assigned to aid the FDC - should share in the responsibility of guidance to organizations. The FDC process should continue to serve as a center of excellence for showing the results of this increased organizational effectiveness.
Eligibility for FDC membership
The FDC AG believes that the FDC’s strength is in being a wholly volunteer committee. While acknowledging that staff are also often Wikimedia volunteers, the AG suggests changing the FDC Framework so that staff members of FDC-funded organizations are not eligible to join the FDC.
While there was no consensus on the way in which nominations and elections to the FDC should occur going forward, the AG advised the ED to consider the issue that 50% turnover every year is considerable. The AG also strongly recommended that there continues to be diversity in the FDC in a number of ways, including gender, region, language and Wikimedia projects.
WMF’s involvement as a fundseeker in the FDC process
The consensus of the AG was that there should be public review of WMF's annual plan before its approval. However, there was no consensus on whether it should be through the FDC process. Currently, the FDC reviews the WMF's first version of its annual plan and budget, without a dollar allocation, and provides feedback to the Board. The AG recommends to the ED that she review all the different suggestions provided by the AG, the FDC and other community members in order to proceed with the best possible solution that balances the intense efforts needed by both FDC and staff with the value of community review.
Appendix to the Advice from the FDC Advisory Group to the WMF ED
The FDC Advisory Group had long and intense discussions on many aspects of the FDC process. The AG decided to offer the WMF ED some of the diverse ideas that emerged in these discussions, even if there was no clear consensus, so that they may be considered going forward.
Changes to the proposal and reporting formats
- Accept alternative proposal and reporting formats.
- Reporting should articulate what is the reality within their groups.
- Reports should look for consistency - not too much variation.
- There isn’t an either/or: there could be some pieces for comparability.
- Financials and metrics should be consistent.
- There should be more time between the Board decision and the grant date (for e.g., July 1, 2014 is when the decision is published, and the grant date can be from August 1).
- Better guidelines for proposals and reporting.
- Simplify reporting requirements.
- Avoid 50% turnover in FDC every year.
- Select (or nominate) and elect FDC members to happen every year simultaneously.
- Have no voting whatsoever: only 1,500 votes is perhaps not worth it.
- Have increasing diversity.
- Term lengths: should they be changed from 2 to 3 years?
- Have 3 year terms staggered by ⅓ every year (with measures to deal with inactivity).
- Stay at 2 because of how intense the process is; there are no term limits, so people can re-apply if they want to.
- Think of more off-wiki processes (as has already been piloted) by both FDC and staff.
- Possible interaction by phone/skype/etc. during the process to clarify questions.
- Counterpoint: there has been a lot of discussion around this, but to be fair to the global community (especially in terms of ease with English and online memory), as much as possible should be on-wiki. Moreover, some organizations prefer to write rather than speak.
Staff, mentoring and capacity building
- How should the movement assess the high overhead and fixed costs of Wikimedia organizations in the FDC process?
- The most important issue is impact and effectiveness: staff is not just administrative, they contribute to programmatic work, but the assessment should be on how much value the organization (with its staff and other fixed costs) is contributing to the movement. Right now, we don’t know if the cost of implementation of programs and the growth of organizations has enough value-add.
- Mentoring is something that needs to happen, but need to be careful of the scope creep of the FDC and see who should be responsible - WMF staff, AffCom, others.
FDC complaints and appeals process
- The Ombudsperson system is working well for complaints on process. The appeals process, on the other hand, should be clarified and used strictly for extreme situations. There was no consensus regarding keeping this process or eliminating it.
- Suggest that the Board lays out criteria that make it clearer when appeals can result in overturning an FDC recommendation.
- Suggest that the appeals process is eliminated altogether. In the current process, “Appeal” means “I want to have the decision reopened.” “Complaint” is “I think there is a procedural problem that the organization needs to address in the future.” An appeals process sends a signal to the FDC that you don’t entirely trust their process.
- Make formal complaint process to the ombudsperson, who can then decide whether to bring it as an appeal to the Board.
- Perhaps clarify that the appeals should be limited to suspicion of bias, rather than not liking a decision.
- Original goal behind the appeals process was to allow for accountability.
- Clarify the point of appeals and the criteria.
Diversification of Funds
- Consider developing metrics to measure / quantify in-kind donations (such as space, materials etc), we know that they are an important resource to organizations and is not yet assessed.
- Organizational staffing should not necessarily be required for fundraising.
- A study could be undertaken by Wikimedia organizations to determine the average fees for membership based organizations in their context to use as a benchmark for their own fees.
- Additional guidelines may be needed on the use of our community's trademark in local fundraising.
Simplified renewal or continuing funding
- For small funding requests, 100% funding should be commonly expected in cases of approval.
- Some guidelines for multi-year/renewal funding:.
- Continuation of annual plan process, but with conditionality based on performance at the half way mark.
- Multi-year funding should not be project based, though annual plans can be adjusted to reflect projects with different time horizons.
- Reduce the amount of work for both applicants and the FDC, but continue to maintain accountability and impact measures.
- Limit renewals to two year processes, not more.
- Conduct pilot with existing grantees.
Metrics and evaluation
- One key metric that we, as a movement, should tackle is way to measure the offline activities and their online impact. This could be done through the use of anonymised aggregated geolocalised data.
- Suitable metrics should include key performance indicators (KPI), and address both quantitative as well as qualitative impact, and online and offline work.
- The Board might periodically suggest a strategic priority or goal that FDC applicants primarily focus on with WMF funds, even as they have organizational flexibility to cover a range of issues and strategies.
WMF as part of the FDC process
- One option is to simply continue this process.
- The value of the FDC’s output relative to the proportion of time and effort required of FDC’s committed volunteers is controversial. One estimate is that the FDC spent nearly half of its face-to-face meeting time in the past round reviewing the WMF proposal, a significant commitment. Those volunteer hours might be better focused on reviewing annual plan proposals.
- Alternately, the Executive Director could consider establishing a different process for receiving public review and feedback of the WMF proposal. We invite the Executive Director to be creative in coming up with ways that not only allow for a review of the annual plan, but an active involvement of the community while trying to minimize organizational overhead on the WMF.
- Suggest having an open, public evaluation of the WMF proposal, conducted by a neutral organization. There are consultants who can do this, however, it can be an expensive (resources, time from WMF staff for orientation) process and the movement will have to be aware of this cost.
- Can have this as an impact evaluation, rather than a review of the annual plan. For e.g. what is KPMG’s evaluation of our grantmaking strategy after a year?
- Wish that the FDC would be willing to review the WMF proposal without a dollar amount: their feedback was really good.
- The FDC does a good job of synthesizing information, but misses important information if not supported by the CFO.
- The value of an evaluation like FDC’s is very different from the value of a review of the operations of WMF. An operations’ review does not need to be a community review: the community could be involved in the process. Perhaps the WMF’s annual plan can have two forms of review:
- once as a general review by professionals;
- secondly in terms of implementation, with suggestions by the FDC.
- Impact analyses can be conducted in different ways around grantmaking and engineering.
- Strategic evaluation is most important: is the foundation achieving on its commitments, and does the community think these are good ideas.
- We should work with partner organizations other than Wikimedia organizations.
- We should build capacity for diverse organizations to be included.
- Capacity building should be provided to increase the diversity of skills of FDC members.
- It is important to be careful not to expect too much from the FDC; they should be focused on funds dissemination and not about every issue within our movement.