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Sub-national chapters

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Wikimedia Foundation: A Framework for Encouraging the Development of Sub-National Chapters

Background & context


Currently, Wikimedia volunteers are known to have expressed the desire to form sub-national chapters in the following locations that have no national chapter:

  • China:
    Hong Kong [since founded]
    Macau [since founded]
  • USA:
    The New York City area [since founded]
    The Washington, D.C. Area [since founded]
    California, and/or the San Francisco Bay Area

(A similar desire was expressed by people in Quebec, but as of 2011, now that a national Wikimedia Canada chapter exists, any Quebec-area organization would be developed in coordination with that chapter.)

Before 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation was silent on the question of development of sub-national chapters, and implicitly discouraged their development.

However, in April 2008 the Wikimedia Foundation announced its intention to encourage sub-national chapter development. In July 2008, the Board of Trustees asked the Executive Director to have a proposal developed to outline a framework for such chapters, to be brought to the October 2008 board meeting for discussion. This document is that proposal.

Please note this document has not yet benefited from feedback and input from the Affiliations Committee and other key stakeholders such as sub-national chapters-in-development. It should therefore be understood to be a starting point for discussion. Please also see Next Steps at the end of the document.

Guiding Principles


The Wikimedia projects are premised on the idea that volunteers create value; that people, of their own free will, will work to create and disseminate high-quality educational materials for the benefit of others around the world. The Wikimedia Foundation feels that its role is to facilitate, support and encourage the work of those volunteers, not to restrict it. Therefore, the Wikimedia Foundation wants to encourage volunteers to self-organize in support of the Wikimedia projects. There are lots of ways for volunteers to do this. One is by forming a chapter.

The scope of chapters' work is defined by geography. Therefore, each chapter, including sub-national chapters- must articulate a defined geographic boundary for its scope of work. Acceptable boundaries could include “the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area,” “the city of Philadelphia” or “the state of Pennsylvania.” Loosely-defined, disputed or unclear boundaries would be unacceptable.

Each chapter is different because it operates in a different cultural and legal context: therefore, neither the Wikimedia Foundation nor the chapters aspire to strictly define the purpose of a chapter. However, all chapters share these characteristics:

  1. Their scope of activity is geographically defined;
  2. They are official Wikimedia entities, and therefore may represent Wikimedia to governments and other potential partners;
  3. They have non-profit status or its equivalent;
  4. They fundraise (or, in the case of a young chapter, aspire to fundraise).

Sub-national chapters in general are identical to nation-based chapters, except with regards to the following:

  1. Sub-national chapters should focus their program and revenue-generating activities on a defined sub-national region rather than an entire country;
  2. Because business partnerships are rarely suited to sub-national activity, chapters should focus instead on other forms of revenue generation, particularly fundraising. Unsolicited deal proposals should be directed to the Wikimedia Foundation and to the nation-based chapter where one exists.

Process for Sub-National Chapter Development


The Affiliations Committee has previously developed and implemented a five-stage process for approval of new chapters which works well.

  1. Gather the people
    (optionally: run a modest program, with ad-hoc permission from WMF for trademark use, and grant money for any needed funding)
  2. Write the bylaws
  3. Submit bylaws to the Affiliations Committee for approval
  4. Register with the authorities
  5. Get some money

This process does not need to change for sub-national chapters.

Next Steps

  1. Create a small working group to develop answers for sub-national chapter questions from the Affiliations Committee, as they arise. This group should contain one representative from the board of trustees (appointed by the board), one representative from the staff of the Foundation (appointed by the ED), and one representative from the Affiliations Committee (appointed by the Affiliations Committee).
  2. Disseminate this document to key stakeholders: the Affiliations Committee, sub-national chapters in development, and the internal community, and request feedback. The working group will adjust this document as required based on input from those key stakeholders.
  3. Request sub-national chapters-in-development to begin working their way through the chapter approval process. The “sub-national chapters working group” should be available to the Affiliations Committee and to sub-national chapters-in-development, to help provide information and guidance as requested.

Appendix A: General Questions and Answers

Main article: Movement affiliates FAQ

Q.What do chapters do?

A. Currently, each chapter carries out a unique mix of activities as it sees fit. Most chapters engage in the following program activities: 1., Public outreach, advocacy and media relations work on behalf of the projects; 2., volunteer recruitment and coordination; 3., development and execution of non-monetary partnerships designed to increase quality (e.g., A TV program donates 100 interviews under a free license); 4. technical work such as MediaWiki software development and provision of dedicated hardware and software infrastructure which supports the local community. In order to fund those activities, chapters generally aim to bring in revenues, typically via some combination of fundraising, grant seeking and business development.

Q. Where do chapters exist today?

A. In all continents: see http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Local_chapters for the complete list.

Q. Is the main argument in favour of sub-national chapters geography (meaning, the United States is so big that people from Florida and California will never naturally work together)?

A. Some very large countries have formed chapters (e.g., Russia, Australia, Argentina) and some very large countries have not (e.g., China, Canada, the United States, Brazil, India): it's hard to separate out the role that geographic size has played. However, anecdotally, we do know that Canadian and American volunteers have cited geographic size of their countries as inhibiting their ability to form a nation-based chapter, which has led to their wanting to form sub-national chapters. So it probably does play some role, for some countries.

Q. Should countries be required to form a nation-based chapter before sub-national chapters can be formed?

A. No. Where sub-national chapters are formed, we shouldn't presuppose that a nation-based chapter is necessary or even desirable.

Q. Should we distinguish in any way among different types of sub-national chapters, such as state-based versus city-based?

A. No. All sub-national chapters should have the same status. There's no compelling reason to differentiate between for example a Wikimedia Banagalore (city) and a Wikimedia Karnataka (state).

Q. Should the Wikimedia Foundation allow sub-national chapters to form where geographic boundaries are disputed?

A. Provided that the local community can form an organization with legal standing, there is no reason not to form a sub-national chapter in regions with disputed geographic boundaries. It's important to note that Wikimedia does not take a point of view on contentious political issues, so it should not be part of the purpose of any chapter to advocate for or against resolution of a particular political dispute one way or another.

Q. Aren't we setting up sub-national chapters to compete for funding with nation-based chapters?

A. Thus far, our experience suggests that lots of people and organizations want to help fund Wikimedia. We have not had a challenge finding potential funders – our challenges have centred around our lack of capacity to cultivate and steward funders. In other words, more organizations mandated to solicit funding would be a good thing for the Wikimedia movement.

It's also true that every funder has different interests and motivations. Many are constrained to a specific geographic area or a specific field of interest. Sub-national chapters may be effective at securing regional funding that a nation-based chapter could overlook or be less suited to.

However, we shouldn't rule out the possibility that in the future sub-national chapters may be in competition with nation-based chapters, or even with the Wikimedia Foundation, for funds – resulting in a kind of 'natural selection' process in which some entities thrive and others do not. In our view, that is not a terrible outcome.

Q. In the United States (and possibly other countries), it is possible to take advantage of something called the “group exemption” - which allows an existing non-profit to act as the parent organization for its sub-groups, thereby allowing the sub-groups to exist as non-profits without themselves needing to file the necessary paperwork. Should the Wikimedia Foundation, or a Wikimedia U.S. organization, act as the parent organization for U.S.-based sub-national chapters, enabling sub-national chapters to take advantage of the group exemption?

A. No, for a number of reasons.

It is true that the Wikimedia Foundation could serve as the parent organization for any prospective U.S.-based sub-national chapters. However, we feel that would be inadvisable for the following reasons:

The chapters are intended to function independently from the Wikimedia Foundation. However, the group exemption requires the affiliated entities to be “subordinates” “under the control” of the parent organization. This is inconsistent with how we view the relationship between the Foundation and the chapters.

The Wikimedia Foundation is an international organization based in the United States. The experience of the U.S.-based sub-national chapters should, as much as possible, be protected from distorting influences due to the Wikimedia Foundation's presence in the same country. As much as possible, we want the U.S.-based sub-national chapters to travel the same path and have the same experiences as sub-national chapters elsewhere. To do otherwise would be to risk unintended negative consequences to both. There may be legal issues. We would not want to create legal exposure for U.S.-based sub-national chapters, due to association with the Wikimedia Foundation. It doesn't actually save that much paperwork. For example, under a group exemption, each sub-national chapter must still file tax returns.