Grants:Strategy/Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking review/Our model

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10 years of Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking


We support a growing number of volunteers and organizations with grants to support projects, programs, and leaders.

Rapid Grants

Quick support for individuals, groups, and organizations under USD 2,000.
Project Grants

Comprehensive project support for individuals, groups, and organizations over USD 2,000.
Conference Grants

Funding and planning support to host local, regional or thematic Wikimedia conferences.
Simple Annual Plan Grants

Supporting initial annual planning and operational capacity of movement affiliates and other organizations.
Annual Plan Grants

Funding the annual budgets and mission objectives of mission-allied groups and organizations.

Our grantmaking work involves the following key activities:

  1. Development of prospective projects, programs and leaders: Program Officers (POs) work with prospective grant applicants, emerging movement leaders, and other organizations to develop project or program ideas, network within the WMF and the broader movement to identify potential grantees, understand good practices and learning to date, and provide support on developing measures of success.
  2. Providing information about available resources - We maintain 5 grants portals on meta-wiki with up-to-date and useful information for prospective and current applicants, and regularly communicate with individuals and groups across the broader movement to share information, communicate processes and deadlines, and field questions.
  3. Grant request review: POs review plans and requests for funding throughout the year. This includes giving early input on drafts, eligibility review, gathering or producing input on requests, making assessments or decisions about each request, facilitating volunteer review processes and publicly posting assessments and rationales. The Grants Administrator (GA) checks grantee eligibility as required by WMF for grantees to receive grants and communicates with POs as needed. This includes past due reports pending grantee submission or unsettled unspent funds from previous grants. In 2017/18, the team handled 427 funding requests, not including Wikimania scholarships, which are several hundred more.
  4. Grant processing: GA works with legal, finance and the grantee to process the legally required paperwork to get funds to grantees. This includes grantee screening as required by US regulations, providing guidance to grantees, drafting and completing agreements, ensuring payments are processed, maintaining accurate information about each grant in our grants management system in keeping with US regulations, and working with individual teams and grantees to find solutions to edge-cases that meet community needs while ensuring that WMF remains in compliance with regulations. In 2017/18, the GA processed 464 grants, and we made 356 payments to grantees. Given our level of commitment to getting funds where they are needed (including to individuals in emerging communities around the world), significant hours are spent on the smallest grants.
  5. Ongoing support during the grant period': POs work closely with grantees over the grant duration to support their work, maximize impact and address sensitive issues that may affect the grantee and their projects. For some grantees this means monthly calls, for others this is done on an ad hoc basis. This work includes processing change requests, reviewing and giving feedback on progress, and even conducting site visits for the grantees that receive operating support.
  6. Grant report review - POs review grantee reports to understand the impact of grant requests, giving feedback as input for future development, working with the GA to ensure completeness and appropriate use of funds, and conducting larger program evaluations for assessing impact of programs overall. POs also work to share the work of grantees with others who may learn from that, within the foundation and the movement at large.
  7. Learning and improving grants programs: POs create, manage and analyze results from surveys about processes and inputs and make revisions and decisions about programs, processes and systems as a result.
  8. Devolve power to community voices in funding decisions through participatory decision-making: We work with five grants committees (Simple Annual Plan Grants, FDC Annual Plan Grants, Project Grants, Conference & Event Grants, and Wikimania Scholarship Committee). These 70+ people make or inform recommendations or decisions, or perform specific community functions. Our work with them includes:
    • Supporting participatory decision-making for grants: POs work with committees to ensure their review of applications and make recommendations or decisions. We design and steward the process and timelines to ensure effective action from volunteer groups, create and coordinate inputs to committee decision-making, facilitate discussions to make recommendations (including 2 annual in-person meetings for the FDC, regular calls for SimpleCom, and intensive communication periods for the Project and Conference Grant committees during their respective rounds), and regularly share relevant updates and information about grantees and WMF.
    • Committee recruitment and training: POs recruit candidates for 4 committees (SimpleCom, FDC, Project Grants committee and Conference Grants committee) and work with Trust and Safety to provide input regarding appointments or oversee elections. POs oversee orientation and training for new committee members, which may involve in-person trainings or online modules. The FDC goes through an annual training and recruitment once a year, including a community wide election or Board appointment process. Understanding and mitigating bias has been an important training topic.

Capacity building[edit]

We support grantees to conduct activities that enable them to build and share the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to do their Wikimedia work.

WMF’s past attempts at a more systematic approach to capacity building have been housed with the Community Resources team (or its previous iterations, such as GLEE), viz. WMF’s early attempt at providing organizations with a tool to map capacities through the Organizational Development Tool, and the development of a framework for emerging communities to grow their capacities (work now housed in the Community Development team). This reflects CR’s longstanding prioritization of capacity building and mentorship work as an aspect of grantmaking.

Coaching and mentorship of grantees and committee members is also a deeply ingrained part of CR’s grantmaking processes. We have made this systematic, by integrating this approach into our workflows. For many grantees, WMF is the sole or primary funder of their Wikimedia activities. The CR team works with grantees to help them increase their effectiveness in the long term and sustain their involvement in the Wikimedia projects. As part of this, they also guide grantees through periods of conflict or crisis. Where trusting relationships are established, they are often able to work with grantees to identify potential problems before they become major issues.

Examples of the type of coaching & mentorship we offer grantees:

  1. Good governance & financial practices for organizations. We assess gaps and provide specific guidance on how organizations can make improvements. We provide regular feedback as part of our grant proposal assessment processes.
  2. Program planning & evaluation. Grantees gradually build their capacities to plan and execute individual projects and events with the support of program officers, and if appropriate they are guided through the transition to organizing their annual plans into distinct programs. CR staff connect grantees with peers with relevant experience about the program work they are doing, and offer specific guidance from their extensive knowledge base. We offer frameworks for how to evaluate projects and programs.
  3. Human resources management. The hiring of professional staff, or the growth of an organization’s volunteer base, may be critical tools to increasing that organization’s capacity in a sustainable and long term way, but it is not easy to make the transition from an all-volunteer to an organization with paid team members. CR provides specific guidance to organization about how and when hiring staff is recommended, and coaches them through the process of developing the appropriate policies and setting up good practices in the area of hiring. When problems with staff do occur, organizations often approach CR staff to troubleshoot these issues.

While CR staff work in service to the movement, this is not a one-sided transaction. Rather, committee members and grantees are constantly challenging our team and requiring us to learn and evolve as we work with them, expanding our own capacities and clarifying our own vision of what we can and should be doing to serve the movement.

Resourcing infrastructure[edit]

See the Community Resources page for more information

In addition to the seven Program Officers who manage the grants portfolios and the volunteer committee members that support these programs, there is a large group of people who make up the vital backbone of our resourcing efforts. These include the following teams:

  • Grants administration: Two full-time grants administrators process all of our grants. They processed 464 grants at $7,865,471 USD in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. They update and maintain the grants database, assess eligibility, conduct background checks and other due diligence requirements, review financial documents, process grant agreements, ensure payments, track underspends and reporting requirements, and liaise with the finance and legal teams. They are regularly investigating complex regulatory barriers in international finance transfers. While our grants reach many countries around the world there are still some where we are not yet able to send resources because of regulatory, legal, compliance, or risk barriers. These barriers vary greatly by country, are often highly technical, and can change quickly. These challenges are often a direct result of the closing space of civil society globally. In the cases where the Foundation has invested the resources to conduct significant research and/or hire an outside firm to provide expert analysis for a specific country, we have found previously unknown opportunities to fund communities there. This is meaningful impact—where we once were unable to fund, we now have some options. Our experience leads us to believe that there are other opportunities to send resources to countries where there are significant barriers. In coordination with the finance and legal teams, CR is identifying a list of these countries, prioritizing the list according to a framework of impact and risk, and investing in understanding the barriers, options, and solutions.
  • Finance: The Finance team oversees grant payments and remittances, plays a key role in managing risk in grantmaking and options for financial transfer, and conducts the financial review portion of affiliate site visits. They provide direct capacity building support to grantees regarding best practices in financial management through in-person workshops and one-on-one consultations.
  • Legal: The legal team reviews standard grant agreements as well as specific issues that may affect grantees. They are sometimes involved in supporting grantees who are having a serious governance challenge or who are involved in a legal case.
  • Travel: The WMF travel team plays an essential role in coordinating and booking travel (flights and hotels) for Wikimania scholarship recipients. In 2017-18 this included 101 individuals traveling from tens of countries around the world. The team has also supported travel for scholarships to other grant-funded conferences, such as Iberoconf, WikiWomen Camp, and more.
  • Trust and Safety: The Trust and Safety team (T&S) provides best practice education for grantees, incident support at funded events, reviews all scholarship lists for WMF-funded conferences, and provides context and advice on T&S issues on and off-wiki.
  • Technology and Audiences: Many staff members from the Technology and Audiences departments participate in the review and oversight of software and research-related grant proposals and projects.