This is an easy-to-read introduction into the process of creating a Wikimedia thematic organization. While it is not exhaustive and does not take into account differences between jurisdictions, it is the first stop for anyone thinking of forming a thematic organization.
What are Wikimedia thematic organizations?
- Main page: Wikimedia thematic organizations
Wikimedia thematic organizations are independent non-profit organizations founded to support and promote the Wikimedia projects within a specified focal area. Like the Wikimedia Foundation, they aim to "empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally". Thematic organizations use a name clearly linking them to Wikimedia and are granted use of Wikimedia trademarks for their work, publicity, and fundraising. Currently, 2 thematic organization exists.
Recognition from the Affiliations Committee allows a group to apply for using the Wikimedia trademarks, access to unique grants, and additional affiliate support; however, recognition is not required to do any of the work a typical Wikimedia user group, and groups are encouraged to consider that model if they do not yet meet the requirements of a thematic organization.
Recognition from the Affiliations Committee allows a group to apply for using the Wikimedia trademarks and to get grants; however, recognition is not required to do any of the work typical user groups do or might do, it is an optional extra step with connected benefits and some requirements.
Benefits of becoming a recognized Wikimedia thematic organization includes:
- Use the Wikimedia logos consistent with the Wikimedia Foundation's Trademark Policy without any additional approval. Thematic organizations may use other logos not part of the Trademark Policy (such as the Wikimedia Foundation logo) pursuant to a trademark license with the Wikimedia Foundation and approval by the Wikimedia Foundation legal team.
- Receive large, but limited, quantities of Wikimedia merchandise for use in activities and outreach efforts.
- Public recognition of the group's affiliation with the Wikimedia Foundation.
- Affiliations Committee Liaison support during and after the approval process.
- Apply for Annual Plan Grants after successfully completing two other Wikimedia Foundation grants and meeting other eligibility requirements.
- A short name clearly linking the group to Wikimedia.
- Exclusive use by a thematic organization of the Wikimedia name and brand within the group's thematic focus area.
- Communications and public policy support from the Wikimedia Foundation.
- Two scholarships to attend the Wikimedia Conference, held annually in Berlin for Wikimedia movement affiliates.
Without recognition, groups may still:
- Engage in group activities to promote, build, and support the Wikimedia movement and its projects.
- Utilize the Wikimedia Community logo.
- Request one-time use of Wikimedia logos consistent with the Wikimedia Foundation's Trademark Policy pursuant to a trademark license with the Wikimedia Foundation and approval by the Wikimedia Foundation legal team.
The requirements to set up an officially recognized Wikimedia thematic organization are designed to be help groups meet the movement's expectations for them once they are recognized.
- Wikimedia supportive mission
The mission of the organization must be in line with the mission and vision of the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as the guiding principles of the Wikimedia Foundation and principles of movement affiliates. Regardless of the chosen legal form or incorporation method, the thematic organization must have goals similar to those of the Wikimedia Foundation, and its activities should not stray from them.
- Thematic focus
The thematic organization has a clear cultural, linguistic, or otherwise thematic focus. Thematic organizations need a clearly defined and unique scope. Wikimedia is an international movement, therefore, when setting up a thematic organization questions of language, geographic area of operation, and membership criteria need to be determined. While there can be multiple user groups serving a similar or single focus area, there can only be one thematic organization covering their designated thematic focus area.
- Legal structure
The thematic organization must have a legal structure/corporation that is legally independent from the Wikimedia Foundation. Thematic organizations are meant to give a real-life structure to projects that might arise from contributors or external parties in line with the goals of the Wikimedia Foundation. However, thematic organizations are not meant to operate the Wikimedia projects nor to be legally responsible for the content of the projects. In order to achieve that, it is necessary that the legal structure chosen for the creation of a thematic organization is clearly independent from the Wikimedia Foundation. The organization's governing documents, generally by-laws, must be reviewed and approved by the Affiliations Committee.
- Critical mass of active Wikimedia contributor involvement
The thematic organization must involve at least ten, preferably at least twenty, active contributors to the Wikimedia projects. An active contributor is defined as a members with 300 or more contributions to a Wikimedia project on a registered account that has existed for more than 6 months in good community standing (meaning they are not currently suspended or otherwise prevented from participating). While thematic organizations should welcome the input of people who are not active contributors to the Wikimedia projects, they should not stay too far from the community. The active involvement of contributors to the Wikimedia projects is necessary for a thematic organization to be able to bring real-life initiatives tied to the Wikimedia projects to life. Initial membership should broadly reflect the intended scope, thematic and geographic area of activity and chosen languages of operation of the organization.
- At least two years of activities
Groups must have two years of demonstrable programmatic results prior to applying for thematic organization recognition. Ideally these activities should be done as a recognized Wikimedia user group. These activities, and their results, must be documented on-wiki, ideally on the group's Meta-Wiki page. Wide outreach efforts to encourage participation and involvement in setting up and shaping the organization are necessary. Activities should be a mixture of online and offline activities designed to encourage participation on the Wikimedia projects. The group must be up to date on its activity and financial reports prior to being considered for recognition.
- Capacity, or planned capacity, to meet the future expectations
Something that makes thematic organizations and chapters unique from user groups are the increased expectations. Does your group have the capacity to meet the expectations of thematic organization once you receive recognition? This will be something both the Affiliations Committee and Board of Trustees will consider in reviewing your application. If your group does not have a track record of activities which indicate that you will successfully be able to meet these expectations, that can cause your application to be denied. Consideration will be given for the financial circumstances of the group, realistic demands in your group's focus area, and plans to secure future funding to meet these expectations.
Step 1: Gather the people
At the most fundamental level, thematic organizations are about people: a group, bound thematically, which wants to contribute to and support the Wikimedia projects as a whole in ways other than editing.
For long-term sustainability of the thematic organization, the Affiliations Committee recommends that you gather a community of at least 20–25 people who are interested in creating or joining the thematic organization. If you're planning to set up an international organization, make sure to gather participants internationally. Make sure that your group has the required number of people before proceeding.
(During step 3 or 8, you might find out that the laws of your country or the country you choose for incorporation may require a greater number of people to participate in the creation of the organization.)
Step 2: Decide what is the best way forward
Before moving forward, discuss among yourselves the advantages and disadvantages of setting up an organization; organizations take a lot of time, effort and resources once they are set up. Is it necessary to set up a thematic organization to achieve your goals? How will setting up an organization help achieve those goals? Can you accomplish those goals as a Wikimedia user group?
Once you have a group of people interested in pursuing the goals, determine whether there are like-minded organizations in the area (for example chapters or user groups) that might be able to host your projects or provide initial help in setting up. Is there already an existing organization that you can connect to instead of starting your own?
Then you can think about what the mission is of the organization you'd like to start. Is this mission broad and is your group primarily geographically focused, or is it more narrowly defined? Try to draft your mission jointly with the whole group and make sure everybody agrees on that.
Once you are certain that a thematic organization is the right way forward, contact the Affiliations Committee and any other Wikimedia organizations that might be active in the area (either in the same geographic space or with the same or similar thematic focus) and let them know about your plans.
Step 3: Develop your goals and structure
When you have your minimum group of people, start a conversation on your future thematic organization's goals and structure. Try these questions:
- What do you want to accomplish as a thematic organization? What is your mission?
- What kind of activities do you want to engage in (e.g. outreach, fundraising, public relations, publishing)?
- What kind of structure would be best for the organization? Would a board and membership structure be the right model?
- What would be the roles and responsibilities of the board and your assembly? Who would decide what, in practice?
- Where would be the best place to incorporate your organization?
- How do you imagine your organization in a two years' time? In five years' time?
In determining your goals and structure, you may want to contact existing thematic organizations for advice and ideas.
Step 4: Select your user group name
When you set up your pages on the wiki, you'll need to give a name to your thematic organization.
Thematic Organizations should adopt uniquely descriptive names which specifically states their relationship to the movement. Subtitles may serve to clearly link the groups to the Wikimedia movement.
The trade name can be different from your legal name, but given that incorporation should follow the completion of the recognition process, your group will be able to register under a legal name that corresponds to the trade name.
Examples of acceptable names:
- Editors on Wikisource for Natural Sciences
- Wikipedia Editors of the Rod of Asclepius
- Friends of Indigenous Languages at Wikipedia
Not acceptable to use:
- Wikimedia Foundation's Natural Science Editors
- Wikipedia Natural Science
- Wikimedia Advocates
In all cases the Affiliations Committee is tasked with ensuring that the name matches the four criteria suggested by the Wikimedia Foundation's legal department, to protect the movement and the members of the user groups. In case of doubt, please contact the Affiliations Committee if you need help finding a good name.
Step 5: Set up a wiki page for your group
Once you have a group of interested people, it's time to document who you are and to set up some means of communications. For the external world, you need to designate two contact people who can be identified to the Wikimedia Foundation; within the group, think about setting up a wiki page where people can join; perhaps set up a mailing lists or talk page or other forum to discuss your projects.
Step 6: Receive recognition as a Wikimedia user group (Optional step)
While not required, groups interested in becoming thematic organizations are strongly encourage to first begin as a Wikimedia user group. The requirements and expectations for user groups are intentionally designed to allow for less resource intensive operation of a group. A two year track record is required of all thematic organization applicants, and both the Affiliations Committee and Board of Trustees are more likely to feel confident about your group's suitability to become the formal representative of the Wikimedia movement in your subject area if your group a track record as a recognized user group in good standing.
Step 7: Conduct online and offline activities for at least two years
So, you have some interested Wikimedians, and you have some basic idea about the kinds of activities the group would want to have as an officially recognized Wikimedia thematic organization.
This is a perfect time to begin running programs, which will give your group a concrete experience with running Wikimedian activities/events, strengthen the group's internal cohesion, increase motivation, and potentially draw in additional activists.
Here's a little secret: nearly all activities and programs performed by thematic organizations can be performed by non-thematic organizations. Aside from fundraising and certain types of government outreach, any group of Wikimedians with the will and dedication to execute a program can do so, and the Wikimedia movement has resources in place to help you do so:
The Wikimedia Foundation may grant you ad hoc permission to use the Wikimedia trademarks (e.g. the Wikipedia logo, Wikimedia logo) for specific events or activities; the Foundation may provide funding for your program via the competitive process called the Wikimedia Grants Program; other Wikimedia organizations may offer funding, advice, and other resources.
Applicants are required to have developed and conducted offline and online activities over at least two years prior to seeking recognition as a thematic organization.
So select a program you'd like to run in your community or territory, making sure the scope is manageable and achievable for your group and your resources (especially human resources, i.e. time and skills), before proceeding with the legal aspects of thematic organization creation.
Step 8: Draft your thematic organization's fundamental documents
Your thematic organization's bylaws (statutes, or whatever the name of this document is in your language) should define the goals and objectives of your association in time and space. They should be precise and to the point. Avoid definitions that are too vague or restrictive.
When drafting the documents, you need to take several factors into account (in the order given below):
- the laws of the country/state chosen for incorporation
- the primary goals of your organization should be in line with those of the Wikimedia Foundation, i.e. to promote free content and support the Wikimedia projects
- where possible, a non-profit status (or a status that allows you to tend towards non-profit)
- avoid ties to political statements/groups that do not fit within the scope of Wikimedia projects
To ensure that these factors are taken into account, we created a Bylaws guidelines resource page to assist you. we advise you to peruse the this guideline as well as the bylaws of other organizations in your country and then adapt those to the Wikimedia requirements and guidelines. Don't try and translate existing Wikimedia thematic organizations' bylaws, as legal language differs from one country to another and what seems evident in one country may make no sense in another.
If you have a lawyer in your group, make sure he/she is a strong part of the writing process; remember that you are ultimately responsible for the legal compliance of your organization with the local laws.
In every part of this process, do not hesitate to ask the Affiliations Committee for advice.
Step 9: Apply for recognition
Once you've gathered the group, the wiki page, legal documents, and the big ideas on what you want to do, follow the steps below to apply for thematic organization recognition.
1. Create a subpage on your meta user group page using the space label “/Application for ThOrg Status” for chapter applications. There you should:
- 1.1 Apply the template Template:Chapter or Thematic Org Application by copying all the mark-up from the "Edit Source" view or tab and pasting it to your new subpage.
- 1.2 You then need to work through the template instructions on your subpage to replace the instructions in red, with your evidence of meeting the criteria. Please be sure to include descriptive text along with any links shared.
2 Next you need to create a subpage on your meta user group page for your bylaws using the space label "/Bylaws". There you should:
- 2.1 Use the Bylaws guidelines to draft your organization's bylaws that will govern how you will run your organization.
- 2.2 Bylaws are legally binding documents required to set up legal entities in your country. You may need to engage the service of a lawyer to ensure that your bylaws meet other specific local legal requirements.
3 Finally, use the Chapter/Thematic Organization application form to officially submit your application page and bylaws to the Affiliations Committee.
The committee will begin their review and comment period for the bylaws as you continue to complete your application. Once the committee sends feedback regarding your bylaws, please be sure to revise bylaws as appropriate, based on committee feedback.
The Affiliations Committee will review your application and governing documents, and then will submit them to the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation to approve the creation of your organization as a Wikimedia thematic organization. Usually, before final approval, the Affiliations Committee will ask a number of questions and possibly suggest changes based on experience learned from other Wikimedia and non-profit organizations. In this case, final approval will be given once your group has had a chance to review and answer the suggestions and to make any changes your group has found useful.
Keep reading below for help on applying for recognition.
Step 9b: Submit your bylaws for review
When your thematic organization's goals and organization are agreed and your documents are ready (but before you do anything that would make the association official, like opening a bank account, holding a founding assembly, or registering with your country's authorities), you should translate them into English and submit them to the Affiliations Committee for approval.
The Affiliations Committee might ask for a lawyer-approved translation of the bylaws, in which case it will provide the necessary budget to translate the bylaws.
Once you've received Foundation Board approval, you can register your association by the standard means in your country. You will need to sign a thematic organization agreement with the Foundation. At this stage, other agreements may need to be signed between the Foundation and the thematic organization.
Once you've gathered the group, the wiki page, legal documents, and the big ideas on what you want to do, contact the Affiliations Committee and request to apply for thematic organization recognition. The Affiliations Committee will ask you some questions, review your application, and if appropriate will recommend the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees recognize your group as an official Wikimedia Thematic Organization. The Board of Trustees will then vote to approve or grant recognition based on the application, discussions with the Affiliations Committee, and recommendation from the Affiliations Committee. Recognition automatically renews each year. Recognition can be suspended or removed if necessary if a group becomes inactive or is no longer compliant with their agreement.
Delays during the application approval process most often arise from incomplete applications or applications that need to be modified before they can be approved. To prevent this from happening and help expedite your group's approval process, please double check this list before submitting your application:
- Does your name meet the affiliates naming requirements? Group discussions amongst Wikimedia thematic organizations regarding their name can take time, and generally you want to avoid having to re-engage in that conversation after your application has been submitted. You may contact the Affiliations Committee to seek input on your name before submitting your application.
- Does your group have a clear scope and purpose that is consistently and clearly explained? If your Meta page explains your thematic organization in a way that differs from your application, and if those differ from the activities your group is undertaking – that may delay the application's approval as a clear scope and purpose is required for the resolution to approve the thematic organization and the thematic organization agreement which the two primary contacts will be signing with the Wikimedia Foundation. Your scope and purpose statement should clearly and concisely explain what your group hopes to accomplish and who would be interested in joining. We recognize this may evolve over time, but you should have a clear commitment to a specific statement at the time of your application.
- Are your two primary contacts willing to identify themselves with the Wikimedia Foundation? Sometimes privacy concerns might cause someone to change their minds, which can delay the final steps in the user group recognition process.
- Is your group ready to accept new members and already include at least ten active Wikimedia contributors in good standing? Groups which have a closed or limited membership model may require more discussion and review. Groups which do not have at least ten active members who are also active Wikimedia contributors in good standing will not be approved.
You can now focus on your day-to-day business and promote Wikimedia projects according to your mission. In the coming days, you will be put in contact with Wikimedia Legal and asked to sign the Wikimedia thematic organization agreement. While you are required to sign this agreement, you do not need to wait until the agreement is signed to continue planning and implementing activities and ideas.
If you want some hints about possible projects, you can always look at what other organizations have accomplished or are currently doing.
By this time you will probably need some money or other resources—for example, you may have to pay registration fees, set up a bank account. The first source of funds should be the community behind your organization (e.g. if you have set up a membership organization, now is the time to collect membership fees).
If you need more money than you can reasonably hope to gather from your group, you can ask the Affiliations Committee to provide you with some additional funding to get you on your way. The Wikimedia Foundation also issues grants to thematic organizations, and they are not necessarily limited to money.
The money (or your time) is necessary even if the registered thematic organization does not do anything. Usually after registering the legal entity, you'll need to prepare and provide regular reports to the tax authorities and some other state bodies—even if there are only zeros in the reports.
Remember, you can always ask the Affiliations Committee as well as other affiliates for help, and it's possible for Wikimedia user groups to apply to the Foundation for many types of grants. On the other hand, the Affiliations Committee and community would also like to hear from time to time about your activities; you can publish public reports or contact your Affiliate Liaison.