(Sending this as a personal opinion, albeit one informed by my work on revenue strategy in the past few years.)

Discussions about fundraising in the Wikimedia movement often involve the same arguments over time. My theory, after observing and participating in those discussions for 15 years, is the following.

Objections to Wikimedia fundraising (and, more broadly, revenue generation) tend to stem from three main sources:
* the moral superiority of financial disinterest
* outlandish budgets and fundraising goals
* improper means used to raise money.

The first one is relatively simple. A significant number of us find any relationship between money and free knowledge viscerally disgusting. We've been editing as volunteers for years, devoting our free time to the advancement of humankind through knowledge. We have done so through countless acts of selflessness. Our financial disinterest is inextricably woven into our identity as Wikimedians. The Foundation should only raise the minimum funds required to "keep the lights on." Anything more is an attempt to profit from our free labor, and that's revolting. 

This is not unlike discussions of business models in the libre software community; we can also see those arguments surface in discussions around paid editing. I will leave the moral argument aside, because little can be done to change individual identities and moral judgments of money. But let's name them explicitly, in hopes that we can separate them from more fact-based arguments, if we are willing and able.

The second point of contention is how much we raise. To those of us who remember the early years ("May we ask y'all to chip in a few dollars so we can buy our second server?!"), raising $150+ million a year these days seems extravagant, and probably always will. The much smaller budgets from our past act as cognitive anchors, [1] and in comparison recent budgets appear greedily outsized. Instead of being outraged by the growth of the budget, we should instead ask ourselves how much money we really need.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring_(cognitive_bias)

And the fact is that, as a movement, we need as much money as we can get to advance our mission. Our vision is so ambitious and expansive that it is also bound to be inevitably expensive. This is something that the Board understood: shortly after endorsing the Strategic Direction in 2017, they directed the Foundation to prepare to raise more funds than usual, to be able to move towards our collective vision for 2030. [2] My fellow members of the working group on Revenue Streams for movement strategy also understood the scope of the movement's ambitions: the first guiding question for our work was how to "maximize revenue for the movement". [3]

[2] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_noticeboard/November_2017_-_Statement_endorsing_future_resourcing_and_direction_of_the_organization
[3] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Strategy/Wikimedia_movement/2018-20/Working_Groups/Revenue_Streams#Guiding_Questions

People who attended the meeting of strategy working groups in Berlin in early 2018 might remember a thought exercise led by the Revenue Streams group. In it, we estimated that coming closer to our vision would probably require an annual budget for the movement in the vicinity of a billion dollars. There is nothing intrinsically outrageous about that amount, as long as the money advances the mission efficiently and equitably. The International Committee of the Red Cross had a global budget of $1.6 billion in 2016.

And that's the heart of the argument about fundraising goals; it's less about how much we raise, and more about what we spend it on. Moral argument aside, the problem is rarely that the movement is raising too much money, but rather that people feel that they're not getting their fair share of it, whether in cash, attention, support, or something else. At the Wikimedia Conference in 2018, literally no one wanted to talk about revenue; very few people wanted to be part of the working group. What people were arguing over was whom the money should go to, and who should decide its allocation. If volunteer contributors felt that they were properly supported with features, tools, and programs, and if affiliates felt that they had access to the resources they needed to grow their efforts and impact, I venture that we would all complain a lot less about the size of our fundraising goals.

This brings us to the problem of impact and accountability. The Wikimedia Foundation is in the very privileged position of having very little individual accountability to its donors: the choice of the "small-dollar donor model," in which an enormous number of people donate very small amounts of money, makes our financial model extremely robust. But it also dilutes the accountability to each individual donor.

Nonprofits usually have a much smaller donor base; they need to convince their donors that their money is put to good use, and that it has the maximum impact in service of the organization's mission ("the best bang for the buck"). But we are an unusual nonprofit with the ability to reach billions of people, and those numbers work in our favor. This is also why disintermediation (meaning third parties like search engines and smart assistants providing Wikimedia content directly to people, without sending them to our sites) is such a risk to the model we have relied on for most of our existence.

For the most part, and leaving aside major donors, people support us because we provide them with utility, and they want to give something back in return. This dynamic frees us from having to woo and please donors, and enables us to instead work on what we think advances our mission the most. But it also makes it tempting to assume our impact without really ever having to prove it. Which means that the impact of movement funds ends up being a matter of personal interpretation, and we have no shortage of variety when it comes to individual opinions.

Without direct accountability from donors, who else is left to hold the movement (and the Foundation) accountable for the impact of our spending? The Board would be an obvious candidate, but Trustees have historically encouraged us to spend more, not less. The Global Council might think differently, but it's still a long way away. And as much as volunteer communities may demand accountability, the truth is that without mechanisms to enforce it, their competing claims of authority are just that: claims.

Discussions on this mailing list and elsewhere are a classic example of the concept of voice, as formalized by Albert Hirschman in his work on responses to decline in organizations. [4] We are unhappy with a decision but reluctant to simply exit the group, either because we don't see an alternative, or because of the sunk costs of emotional investment, or because of the sense of identity that comes with belonging to the group, or because ultimately we can live with the decision. And so, with exit not available as an option, we use our voice instead, even though it has proved to only have a very limited effect on making different decisions. (And also because we *do* love to argue.)

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit,_Voice,_and_Loyalty

Of course, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where fundraising "too much" could lead us to making bad decisions. Indeed, you don't even need to imagine it: I wrote just that scenario a few years ago. [5] But that's a matter of how we spend, not how much we raise. Another reason for caution is that excessive fundraising might conceivably jeopardize our future ability to raise funds (the "crying wolf" argument). But it's also likely that sources of revenue that are available to us today might not be available to us in the future. 

[5] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/2018_Revenue_strategy/Futures#2031:_Success_into_oblivion

So now we're left with how we raise money, and the common complaints about the size, frequency, and tone of fundraising banners. The argument is that fundraising messages use unduly alarmist language, and that donors are therefore misled into thinking that Wikimedia is facing imminent danger. I do believe that not enough credit is given to the people who craft those messages in banners and emails. These people care an extraordinary amount about doing the "right thing." They have literally spent years doing A/B tests to soften the tone and figure out the least alarming language possible to raise the required amounts. All that while enduring constant criticism of their work. They are heroes.

But beyond that, there is also a real sense of urgency that the most vocal of us here generally do not sense. There are very real threats to our mission, much closer in time than we imagine. [5] Assuming that, just because we've been around and successful for 20 years, we'll be around and just as successful for the next 20, is wishful thinking underpinned by normalcy bias. [6]

[5] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/2018_Revenue_strategy/Summary
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normalcy_bias

There's a fine line between thriftiness and privation, and in today's fast-changing world, denying ourselves the resources we need is harmful to our mission. As emijrp would argue, there is a deadline, [7] especially if we look beyond privileged communities and we strive to make up for historical oppression. The modesty of financial ambitions reflects a certain privilege and ignores the vast resources required to actually focus on communities left out by structures of power and privilege. If we are to live up to our commitment to epistemic justice, we must give ourselves the financial means to do so. The longer the injustice persists, the more compounding harm is done. Our work *is* urgent, even if it's not the same urgency that drives donors.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:There_is_a_deadline

In a nutshell: by all means, let's better assess our impact, instead of just assuming it. And let's discuss accountability mechanisms. But let's also be realistic about the resources required for a mission as broad as ours. And let's understand both the urgency of our endeavor, and the financial demands of our collective promise of Knowledge Equity. Misery is no more virtuous than opulence if wealth is distributed equitably to advance our mission.

Guillaume Paumier