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
(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 their work matters".
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 on Meta?
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 Community Members."
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.