Wikimedia France/Letter from Thierry on accountability-August 2011
We could also have the case where a chapter does better than the foundation for some parts of its accomptabilty. Even if they are "a small band of individuals unaccustomed" they have no choice than to respect the local laws in some countries much more demanding for the charities that the U.S. laws.And they are motivated volonteers to do so.
Let's give two examples with the WMFr accomptability.
If as WMFr treasurer I'd like to release for French members and donators the same kind of certified report than the KPMG stamped WMF financial report, it would just be impossible under the French laws. Because under this laws, this report is not enough precise, not enough understandable (for example, try to know, if you have no US accountings knowlegde or even if you have, how much the foundation spends for servers, programmers wages and all of the IT stuff in the KPMG report...).
As treasorer of a French general interest association which collecting donations from public, I have to provide a financial report far more accurate than the WMF one but also supplemented by a document understandable by people with no accounting abilities (call "Compte Emploi Ressources", could be roughly translated by "Use and Ressources account"). This document must shows in a simply but very precise way how much have been collected, how much have been used and for what. And this document, as the financial report, must be certified by our public auditor ( "Commissaire aux comptes" aka accounting commissioner). Our public auditor presents his reports to our general assembly, answers audiences questions (his responses to this questions have the same official commitment than its writtens comments of our accounts and governance and must be recorded) and then our general assembly vote to approve, or not, this two documents.
This public auditor not only certifies our accountings, he also checks and certified for stakeholders (donators, members, states autorities, etc.) that we respect the laws, the differents contracts and agreements WMFr has signed and our goals as defined in our statutes. For 2010, he particulary focused to check if we had got tax lawyer advice before our funds transfer to the foundation and that both WMFr and the WMF follow this advice, if all our donators have received their tax exemption receipt, if we have paid all the social insurance, retirement funds for our employee, ask me to explain how WMFr checks all the credit card donations go to our bank account or how I had calculate the number of volonteers hours written in our documents, and few others things I do not have in mind now. He has a mandatory access to all documents the WMFr board releases to all its stakeholders (members included so, he has an access to our internal wiki)
If we keep too much money collected by a appeal for donations on our bank account, he will made a written comments that will ask us not to fundraise until we have spent the money for the use we ask donations. And not respect this kind of written comments could lead us to lose our charities status and the tax deductability.
And no way for the WMFr board to fire its Commissaire aux comptes because he is too demanding or too picky. The appointment of this public auditor is validated by a vote of all the members during a general assembly and he is appointed for 6 years, not revocable during this time, to avoid any pressure from the board.
As you can see, lots of legal constraints. And I believe some of this legal constraints, are quite the same in several European chapters as the rules for charities using donations from the public have been hardened this last few years in the European Union. And as far as I know, this rules are harder than those applied to US charities 501 (c).
That's means, if a small group of volonteers could reach a such level of certified information for donators, WMF, much more staffed than any chapter, could also reach it or even do better, even i'ma aware that the WMF accountings is more complex than a chapter one. In my opinion, in a wikimedian good practices assesment, WMF should implement a such certified "Use and Ressources account" easely understandable by everyone, with no accounting knowledge. Release this certified understandable report in the 5 or 6 most used languages in the world will also show that WMF is not only an american or anglo-saxon foundation. Not obvious to everyone.
I could also take the example of employeees salary and benefits transparancy.
Lodjewick (believe it's him, sorry if wrong) in an another thread mentioned that he has had to answer in his chapter on the issue about Foundation high executives wages. We had a similar and quite hash debate on WMFr mail lists in the past, partly based on spooky ideas about foundation salaries. But this i nformation is not easy to find for a simple donator. As Wikimedia France has now 4 employees and hopes to be able to recruit new ones in the future, the WMFr board are thinking how to give a high level of transparancy so that our donators could see the fairness of our wages policy. France is culturally not comfortable to make public such salaries. And WMFr has no legal obligation as a charity to do so. Our commissaire aux comptes just checks that salaries granted to employees by the WMFr board are not a misuse of the organization assets. And we haven't reached the limits, especially as we have not yet states or local governements subsidies, forcing us to declare our main wages . It's just that if we can, we want to improve our transparancy for our donators. The WMfr board is curently discussing this issue. We are looking what other French associations best practices are, for example some give the 3 high salaries and group statistics for the other ones, all easely accessible directly from their web site. Personally, I would support a full transparency and that a donor could know the salary of all positions within the association.
I guess the other chapters also have ideas for better governance and transparency (and I'm interesting in), because of the background of some of their members, history of the chapter, practices in their own countrie or others reasons. They will implement some, and the fundraising is a good school for that. They could share with the movement and that will allow the chapters and the foundation to improve their accomptability practices.
Sorry for this long mail but we are speaking of accomptability, Not a lighly subject.
Speaking for my own
-- Thierry Coudray Administrateur - Trésorier Wikimédia France <http://www.wikimedia.fr/>