Long time no speak. :)
As explained on Meta, it is inaccurate to think of the endowment as "an
investment that the WMF is the beneficiary of".
The endowment is there to
support the Projects, rain or shine.
I don't think you can separate the WMF from its projects, which are the
WMF's wholly owned property and its whole raison d'être.
The Wikimedia Endowment page on Meta actually states very clearly in its
lead paragraph who benefits from the Endowment. It says,
"The funds may be transferred from Tides either to the Wikimedia Foundation
or to other charitable organisations selected by the Wikimedia Foundation
to further the Wikimedia mission."
The Wikimedia Foundation alone controls how the funds are used (limited
only by whatever UPMIFA or donor-specific constraints apply).
Moreover, as I'm sure you know, the Endowment is actually about to be
returned in full to the WMF, to be placed into a new 501(c)(3) organisation
the WMF will set up. If anyone familiar with the matter could outline the
envisaged legal structure of that future organisation, that would be great.
To quote from my initial proposal
<https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sj/endowment> (*NB: past proposals
may not reflect current or future endowment goals; among other things I
don't know that we've ever tried to narrowly define and optimize core
services ;*) :
"The endowment should be large enough to sustainably support the basic
operation of the Projects (see iii. below), able to grow with inflation
while supporting any needed central server farms and technical support with
its interest, and of a size that we can raise."
Including the $100 million endowment, the WMF will now have investments of
around $200 million (excluding cash and cash equivalents), for an annual
investment income of over $10 million. That is already enough to run core
services. Wikimedia posted total expenses of $3.5 million in 2007/2008, a
year after Wikipedia became a global top-ten website.
The problem for me – and many other rank-and-file volunteers – is not the
idea of an endowment as such, but fundraising messages saying "Wikipedia
really needs you this Tuesday" to donate money so Wikipedia can "stay
online", "protect its independence", etc., or "to show the volunteers
The WMF creates the impression that it struggles to keep Wikipedia up and
running; people then feel scared or guilty, think Wikipedia is struggling,
or dying, or will soon put up a paywall; and the WMF does little to
correct that mistaken impression, even when directly asked about it as in
Katherine's recent The Daily Show interview. One is left with the
uncomfortable conclusion that the WMF creates and fails to correct that
false impression because it benefits financially from it.
If tens of millions of dollars of the money collected under that false
premise, that Wikipedia is struggling, then end up in an endowment grown to
$100 million in half the time originally planned for, that is unseemly. No
one should beg for money claiming to be penniless if what they're actually
doing is building up a $100 million investment portfolio in record time.
The last phrase ("show the volunteers their work matters") is objectionable
for a different reason, and people at the WMF I think are well aware that
volunteers object to it. Nevertheless, it just ran again on fundraising
banners in Brazil, only to be withdrawn after complaints from the pt.WP
community. I would love it if this one could really be phased out now!
2. Would it be possible to provide, say, monthly
updates for the Endowment
Once a year is standard and would suffice here, I should think.
I disagree, SJ. The Meta page has a blue progress bar showing how much
money is in the Endowment. To me it is incompatible with the idea of a wiki
– a website designed to support continuous updates – for such a progress
bar to be up to a year out of date. It's not what a reasonable reader of
that page would expect.
3. Could a mention of the Endowment, and the fact that
the posted expenses
include $5 million paid to the endowment, be
added to the FAQ?
(The FAQ refers to the most recent audited accounts, and thus is still a
live document. For Awards and grants, which includes the $5 million paid to
the endowment, the FAQ summary is: "We increased our awards and grants as
we continue our commitment to support our Affiliates, Organized Groups, and
I agree with clarifying the 'Awards and grants' category. I try to keep
track of the % of total global donations that are redistributed as awards
and APG or other grants (*current guess: 9%
and must remember to subtract the endowment transfer each year. It would
be excellent if that were called out as its own line item.
I am very happy that we agree on this, at least, SJ! It's not right to pay
millions into a Collective Action Fund set up for your own benefit, and
then declare it to the public as an expense – without so much as an
explanation in the FAQ.
If you could help to make that FAQ update (and change to the format of
future financial statements) happen, that would be great!
* I remain of the opinion that the endowment should be doing even better,
as a hedge against the growth in complexity and maintenance cost of our
toolchains and services -- that we should implement a policy assigning a
minimum % of all windfall gifts or donations over the expected target to
the endowment. But it may make sense to revisit that in earnest once the
Endowment org & what it supports are more crisply defined.