Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking turns 10 this year.
We began giving out grants in 2009, and have grown significantly in a decade. But as our movement turns its sights toward the 2030 strategic direction, Community Resources (the fourth iteration of the grants team) wanted to take a big step back and reflect on the past and the present before considering the future.
We wanted to understand the status quo: what is true today after 10 years of building, growing and evolving our grantmaking system? What are we proud of and what is challenging?
To this end, we’ve published our reflections so that others can understand the perspective we have about “where we are today”. Within it you can find:
- An orientation to who we are, what our values are, the roles we have played within the Wikimedia Foundation and within the larger Wikimedia movement, and what we do (in addition to making grants).
- An insight into the impact we have had, specifically describing how that impact is larger than the transactional metrics of articles and editors.
- The current trends we see today from our role, values, and programs, both in terms of the opportunities and challenges emerging from our current working environment.
- The ways in which we think our current grantmaking system (not the grants themselves) further equity or hinder it.
We have used the 2030 strategic direction as the guiding lens for how we look back on our work, especially using the lens of equity. While we have done our best to share factual information, we decided not to be neutral in sharing our opinions and our team’s conclusions. This reflection is a point of view, and we realize it is only one perspective of many.
Here are the top five things we think you should know
- The annual WMF grants budget has largely remained constant over 6 years, but we have significantly diversified our funding in terms of geography, language, thematic areas, and size of grants. Our grantmaking budget has been roughly ~$7M USD per year. However, today we award almost twice as many grants (~200 grants in 2013 to 400+ grants in 2018) and serve 20 more countries with the same budget. 
- The system of Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking today is largely reactive, with Community Resources playing the steward of movement money. But within this role is a set of conflicting expectations: on one hand, we expected to be “grantmakers”, making strategic choices and trade offs, prioritizing one issue or audience over another. On the other hand, we are expected to be a kind of steward (or more tangibly, a treasurer), trying to ensure all parts of the Wikimedia system have access to movement funds. These two roles create conflicting expectations about who we are, what we are authorized to do, and what “success” means. Within the system we built, we are not able to be as focused or strategic as we need to be to achieve our new strategic direction.
- Due to this reactive nature, while we have been able to shift some resources toward work that increases diversity in content, participation and leadership in our movement, the amount of resources shifted over all is marginal. For instance:
- Only 2% of all money awarded since 2013 has gone to gender focused grants. This is true in spite of our team’s desire to support gender diversity in our movement.
- While more grants go to emerging communities today (272 grants in 2018 vs. 115 in 2013), there has only been a 10% increase in the total amount of money going to those communities year over year (20% of total budget in 2013, compared to ~30% today).
- Today’s grantmaking system has both furthered equity, and has also hindered it. For instance:
- On the positive side, we have endeavored to find pathways to fund communities in closing spaces: As an increasing number of governments restrict and pressure civil society, organizations and individuals struggle to receive government accreditation or registration, or receive funding from outside of their country. Indeed they are at times targeted, surveilled, harassed or even attacked. These trends affect Wikimedia communities and volunteers. However, we have been committed, alongside our colleagues in Legal & Finance, to finding solutions to getting funding to communities in countries
- However, we have not provided sufficient enough support for marginalized communities (i.e. “the people who have been left out”) attempting to integrate in the Wikimedia culture. These communities are critical to achieving the 2030 direction: Though our programs are open to marginalized communities and we aim to support them, we are not currently doing enough to prepare those communities to cope with the implicit and explicit biases in the Wikimedia culture. Without this support, they are more likely to be harrassed, have this contributions rejected, become discouraged, and then leave.
- Urgency often displaces equity: Significant Community Resources staff time is devoted to addressing situations that require urgent intervention, rather than the slow and nuanced work of cultivating high value partnerships that support equity (e.g. allyship with marginalized communities).
- We’ve done this by running grants rounds focused on diversity, by creating new grants programs like Rapid grants and by emphasizing diversity criteria in existing grants programs