Wikimedia Foundation board agenda 2013-11/FAQ

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During the November 2013 meeting, the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees made two decisions relating to movement funding and groups. These are recorded in the Board's meeting minutes as follows:

  1. Starting now, the Board seeks to make the following requirement for approval of new chapters and thematic organizations: All organizations wishing to be recognized as a chapter or thematic organization must first be recognized as a (not necessarily incorporated) Wikimedia user group for at least two years. The WMF Board will only approve new chapters and thematic organizations that have been a user group for two years with demonstrable programmatic results, and whose application is supported by the Affiliations Committee. Applications for recognition of chapters and thematic organizations that are pending as of this date before the Affiliations Committee will be reviewed by the Board on a case-by-case basis, and the Board may waive this requirement for those pending applications as it seems appropriate.
  2. We expect to be capping the allocation for FDC Annual Plan funding at approximately its current amount, for the years 2014–15 and 2015–16. We want to make the FDC and all recognized movement entities aware of this now, so they can plan accordingly. The amount allocated to the FDC process will be revisited during the Wikimedia movement's next strategic planning cycle, and the number may therefore change in 2016–17.

This FAQ attempts to anticipate and answer related questions.

User groups[edit]

  • What is this decision?

We are asking that movement organizations who want to be recognized as new chapters and thematic organizations first have two years of programmatic work as a user group, and be approved by the Affiliations Committee (AffCom).

Currently, groups do not need to be formed as a user group first before they apply to AffCom for potential chapter or thematic organization status; the existing process focused almost entirely on incorporation and bylaws, rather than on a history of programmatic work.

  • What has led to this decision?

The Board recognizes the need to affiliate with one another for outreach and training, to organize work on the ground, and to support work on the projects. We support this, and want to make it less bureaucratic. We are concerned about new groups focusing on the formalism and paperwork of group structure, rather than focusing on what they want to do together. Becoming a chapter or thematic organization involves more overhead and reporting than becoming a user group, and is more work for volunteer groups that are just getting started.

We also know from our history that not every group has been able to maintain their activity as a chapter. While many chapters have consistently done fantastic work, others have become inactive or have trouble sustaining activity. We hope that the user group structure will help new volunteer groups gain a firm foundation as Wikimedia entities and do their work with a flexible and independent structure, and that applying for chapter or thematic organization status will reflect the quality and consistency of program work.

  • Why now? Was there new information or new developments that led to this decision?

There was no single event that prompted this decision; the Board reviewed its duty to the movement in recognizing movement entities, and decided that this deserved more attention. This decision was made possible by the simplified user group approval process and trademark policy, which were recently revised to make it easier for anyone to organize Wikimedia groups and events.

This decision is coordinated with the resumption of the strategic planning process, which will begin in the northern summer of 2014. During the planning process, we hope to develop a strategy which also covers movement roles and structures, and the rights and duties of different parts of the movement, in collaboration with the Wikimedia community.

We hope that this decision will give us some time as a movement to help enable us all to consider if our movement structure is on the best possible path. We see the next two years as the time to reflect and deliberate on whether incorporating many entities is the best way forward for a movement like ours, which relies on large numbers of individual volunteers who are mostly online.

  • Does the WMF support chapters and thematic organizations as a model? Does the WMF think chapters are a good idea?

Yes. The movement's chapters and thematic organizations are trusted pillars of the movement; they support the projects and project communities. They enable outreach, awareness, and communication across the Wikimedia projects and languages, in a way that would not otherwise be possible. The Foundation supports both this sort of highly-structured movement work, and more decentralized and ad-hoc initiatives.

In some situations, incorporated organizations with their own staff can be the right way to empower volunteers. However not every group of volunteers wanting to coordinate large projects or do work "on the ground" requires this structure. We now recognize that the overhead of incorporating and having full-time staff is not always helpful or necessary. Each group should determine the best structure for their work, based on their experience in pursuing projects.

  • What if groups form a user group, but then lose their initiative after this waiting period to form a chapter?

If a group cannot maintain energy over a period of two years for putting on programs as a user group, maintaining the legal requirements of being a chapter (including filing reports and paperwork) would also be difficult. All groups should do what's right for their situation, but should recognize that becoming a chapter involves greater responsibility.

It already takes months to a year for groups applying to be a chapter to complete the application process, form an organization, and get their application and documents reviewed by AffCom. We expect groups interested in this to first apply to be a user group, which is a much faster process, and continue their work as a user group while exploring how to structure their organization and their work.

  • What does this mean for groups currently applying to AffCom?

We will look at each group that has already applied, and AffCom's recommendation for them, on a case-by-case basis. We do not want to change the rules mid-stream for these groups. We do want all groups to demonstrate programmatic activities and that they have the capacity to fulfill the expectations of a chapter or thematic organization.

  • What does this mean for groups planning to apply to AffCom soon?

New groups considering forming a movement entity should apply to form a user group. This is a lightweight process. Groups should also apply for grants to support their work, as needed; we are committed to funding the grants program as much as is necessary to support these groups.

  • What if a user group doesn't make sense for us? We want to do a specific project, and really feel we need chapter or thematic organization status for our situation.

Please tell us what part of user group status is problematic, and for what reasons. We do not want to hinder planned or ambitious projects; we also do not know of any current cases where this would be a problem.

FDC funding[edit]

  • What is this decision?

For the next two years, we expect to keep the level of funding for Annual Plan Grants via the FDC roughly the same; we do not expect this budget to either increase or decrease significantly.

  • Was there new information or developments that led to this decision?

There was no single specific incident that led to this decision; however, we were concerned about the proposed and actual rate of growth for many Wikimedia entities as requested in FDC grants, and the absence of a clear way to evaluate ambitious growth against the impact of related work.

The Board wanted to set a level for the next two years of FDC funding, to set expectations now for the FDC, applicants, and the new incoming WMF Executive Director. While final funding for the FDC and other grant-making programs will be determined in the annual planning process as usual, we are making and conveying this decision now so that entities can plan ahead. We feel it is important to convey this decision well in advance of budgeting for entities to give groups plenty of time to plan.

This idea was discussed with the current FDC members, advisers, and support staff, and we took their advice and the current WMF Executive Director's advice into consideration when discussing this proposal as a board. We also had a successful first year of the FDC process to look at. The results of the FDC review later this year, and the start of the strategy process next year, will advise future FDC scope and funding.

  • What does this mean for organizations seeking funding through the FDC?

Our advice is for organizations to continue to focus on programmatic work (rather than building administrative infrastructure), and to plan for FDC grants within the growth range outlined in the FDC process. This means that organizations receiving annual plan grants should not plan to dramatically increase their expenses in the coming two years unless they are also expanding their outside funding.

This has always been the case – both in the FDC guidelines and empirically, looking at the growth of grants to date. We are reiterating and reinforcing it with this decision. Keeping funding levels the same for two years means that there will not be unanticipated dramatic change in the FDC budget.

  • I thought we had plenty of money. Isn't the WMF growing as well? Is this just an effort to curtail chapter growth?

The WMF's pace of growth has slowed considerably in the last couple of years, as we are trying to identify how we and the movement can be most effective.

We are taking the long view – today we have ample funding thanks to public support, but we want to ensure that we are not growing just because we can. We have a responsibility to ensure that our donors' money is spent well. As we explained in our Guidance for the FDC (published in the April 2013 Board meeting), we encourage a prudent rate of growth and institutionalization for all Wikimedia organizations, including the WMF.

  • What if a new entity applies for FDC funding in the next two years – won't that increase competition for FDC funds? What if an entity that had been receiving major grants "converts" to FDC funding?

This decision is not meant to increase competition among entities. While we expect the overall total of FDC funding to remain approximately the same, we can increase the total of Annual Plan Grant/FDC funds if there are new applicants in the next two years that had previously been receiving significant grants from another process. In other words, we expect grant money to travel with any new FDC entities, to accommodate entities moving between funding paths.

  • Why did it take so long to publish these two decisions and this FAQ?

We made these decisions in our November 2013 board meeting, and subsequently shared them with with the FDC and AffCom before making it public. AffCom had concerns about our decision, which they shared with us. We are grateful for the time and comments from both the FDC and the AffCom, which play a vital role as advisory committees. We wanted to take ample time as a Board to discuss concerns in advance of publishing our decisions, and to clarify the language we used and this FAQ accordingly.

If you have additional concerns or questions, please share them, and we will answer.