Grants:Strategy/Wikimedia Foundation grantmaking review/Our role
Within the Wikimedia Foundation
The “front line”, or interface between the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia communities
CR is often the first (and at times the only) Wikimedia Foundation touch point for volunteers, groups and organizations hoping to turn their ideas into reality. This means that we often have to explain the decisions of Foundation staff to volunteers, and amplify the needs or concerns of volunteers to Foundation staff. This role isn’t unique to CR; in fact, many teams in the Foundation’s Community Engagement department play a similar role, since we are all in regular contact with Foundation staff and volunteers.
But because we are an interface, we are the equivalent of the “front line” for the Foundation. On the positive side, this means we have cultivated relationships with a vast array of individuals, groups, and organizations. Our rich networks have allowed other Foundation teams to benefit from the breadth of our expertise and insight. Similarly, we can help transfer staff expertise to volunteers when needed. However, when the needs of Foundation staff and other Wikimedia communities are not aligned, we can find ourselves straddling multiple and sometimes incompatible needs. It can become very challenging--and sometimes impossible--to skillfully represent and effectively respond to all parties involved.
CR (and its previous iterations, such as Grantmaking and Global Development) has long been an advocate for non-English as well as non-technological communities within the Foundation. We have pushed for more attention, understanding, and empowering of Global South communities, emerging Wikimedia communities, and Wikimedia Affiliates, as well as topics like gender diversity.
While there is a great deal of organizational focus on these topics today, this is a shift from 10 years ago when the Foundation’s overarching focus was on large Wikipedia communities (e.g. English Wikipedia) in familiar geographies (e.g. North America and Western Europe).
Because of our vast network, CR team has been able to provides advice or context to the Foundation about the movement’s activities in different countries or languages. We’ve advised on movement and organizational strategies, cross-departmental programs (e.g. New Editors and New Readers), critical and escalating community situations (e.g. Turkey ban), and on an array of smaller projects.
Within the Wikimedia movement
Ten years ago, the original role of this “grantmaking” function within the Foundation was to respond to volunteer requests for money. All the structures and intentionality of “grantmaking” came later, as more and more requests were made. But until 2012, the Foundation’s “grantmaking” function was still largely based on this underlying role: “we are here to respond to your requests”.
In 2012, this role shifted to one of a steward. The Wikimedia Foundation Board had centralized fundraising and so the Foundation needed a mechanism to redistribute movement funds back to the organizations who could previous raise funds themselves. The APG programs and FDC committee was born from this decision. Within this fraught era, the role of CR was not to make judgements of value; it was not to prioritize one organization over another. The role was to steward the movements money, to provide a level of movement accountability and oversight as movement funds were allocated. And in many ways, this role as a steward has shaped the Wikimedia grantmaking ecosystem we have today.
But this role as a steward has meant that our title as “grantmakers” or “funders” is a bit of a misnomer; in many ways, we act more like a treasurer than a philanthropic funder. A philanthropic funder has the ability to make choices and tradeoffs, to judge value and prioritize one issue or audience over another. No funder has to serve everyone, which enables them to be strategic. Grantees typically also have choice: if one funder doesn’t give them money, they can go somewhere else for funding. But in the Wikimedia movement, neither of these scenarios happen easily (or sometimes at all).
We often advise our grant applicants and recipients on a wide array of issues, including: goal setting, program development, budgeting, governance, Wikimedia resources and tools, among many more. You can find out more detail about this in the section on #Our model.
We are faced with mediating difficult problems often out of our sphere of control. For example:
- conflicts among affiliate organizations
- conflicts within affiliate organizations (board or staff)
- conflicts within communities
- on and off wiki standards for behavior not being adhered to
Beyond the movement
The CR team has had some interactions outside the Wikimedia movement. In addition to funding for projects involving non-Wikimedia organizations (like funding for Art+Feminism, or Global Voices), CR has also partnered along the axis of professional grantmaking, with other like-minded (and particularly, participatory!) grantmakers, collaborating on work to document the practices of participatory grantmaking, recently producing this Grantcraft report.