Andreas, you are entitled to an opinion. But it is your opinion. When
others say things about the WMF, what it is there for, its challenges, when
they build an argument you can and you do ignore it. The consequence is
that it invalidates your refutations and your opinion is only that at best.
A case in point is: Guillaume makes a statement about the WMF and you
reduce it to his opinion. In this way you take the liberty to ignore what
is said and continue with the same, same, same.
The Wikimedia list is not your platform, it is not about Wikipedia. The
whole of your point is as I perceive it, built on your perception of a
"checkered past". Nowhere is it about what we as a movement will be in the
future, the challenges we face. What I miss in all of your writing is what
to do for our future, how are we going to tackle the biggest bias we face
(English, not gender). How are we going to tackle our biggest blind spot
(the non-AngloSaxon world).
As I pointed out before, your opinion is your own. The arguments of others
you ignore and you are entitled to your opinion. Sadly, your point of view
does not bring us forward.
On Sun, 26 Sept 2021 at 17:33, Andreas Kolbe <jayen466(a)gmail.com> wrote:
Thanks for a thoughtful, perceptive, enlightening and multidimensional
post that's been a pleasure to read. I think we grow as people when we can
see things from more than one perspective, and there is much in your post
that is worth pondering.
I will try to add some complementary perspectives in this post.
There are two – closely related – assumptions in your mail that strike me
as particularly worthy of being examined.
First, you say, "as a movement, we need as much money as we can get to
advance our mission".
I would argue that this is not something that you objectively "need", but
something that you "want". Which leads me directly into the second
assumption, underlying your assertion that your co-workers "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."
The key word here is "required". You present your colleagues as people
trapped in a system where they are condemned to desperate efforts to, as
you say, figure out the "least alarming language" that will "do the
(while not getting them hated on too much).
That means you are looking at the question of banner wording from one end
only (one anchor, to use the phraseology you introduced in your post):
whatever amount is "required" this year. In doing so, you tacitly accept
and endorse the need for "alarming language" – you're effectively saying
that reducing it to the level of the "least alarming language" possible is
all your team can be asked to do, and enough to fulfil their ethical
This isn't right. You are unmoored from the other end of the equation,
i.e. to what extent the fundraising banners would still be considered
consistent with your actual financial situation by an average person in
full possession of the facts.
This unmooring is how you end up, year after year, based on your A/B
testing, with messages that prominently paint a picture of Wikipedia being
threatened. These messages have been about "keeping Wikipedia online and
ad-free", impressing on people the need to make "a donation this Sunday"
the WMF can "continue to protect Wikipedia's independence", and so on.
work not because donors share your ideas about the ever more comprehensive
and costly global mission the WMF has set itself, but because they love
Wikipedia and would not like to see it fail or disappear. It's as simple as
You also elided the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation, in the 2020/2021
financial year alone, took at least $65M, but perhaps as much as $85M more
from donors than its own budget "required":
– Actual takings were $157M+ for the Foundation and $40M? for the
Endowment (the Endowment stood at $62.9M on July 1 2020 and has now
exceeded $100M, as we've just been told; the June 30 2021 year-end figure
is still not available, as you still haven't published the fourth-quarter
tuning session deck).
– Revenue targets at the beginning of the financial year were $108M for
the Foundation and $5M for the Endowment.
Clearly, the budgeted amounts could have been taken with "less alarming"
I have asked before who sets these "required" amounts, and who directs
staff to continue fundraising well after publicised targets are met. I have
not received a straight answer. Where, please, does the buck, literally,
stop? Who has the final word?
And are Advancement managers' salaries, which appear to have a startling
upward mobility (just like the CEO salary in the past five years), indeed
tied to increases in Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia Endowment and
Wikimedia Enterprise revenue? Do you use such incentives?
I would really appreciate it if you could be open about these questions. I
don't think they are unreasonable questions to ask a donor-funded
organisation that regularly takes public pride in its transparency.
Elsewhere in your post you speak eloquently about the urgency of your
global mission. I would encourage you to base your fundraising messages
around this vision. Then people will know what you want the money for, and
the funds will be used the way donors imagined they would.
I assure you that to many people's minds this is not currently the case.
This tweet had over 1,750 likes and nearly 1,000 retweets, at a time when
there were no English fundraising banners on display:
It speaks to this.
The fundraising is part of a pattern. Throughout WMF history, there have
been ethical lapses and stark management failures at the Foundation and its
subsidiaries. This is an opinion shared, I believe, even by a good number
of WMF staff.
Off the top of my head, I would count among such lapses:
– Jimbo's early indiscretions,
– the Stanton Foundation/Belfer Center affair and the handover of the
Kazakh Wikipedia to a repressive regime,
– ignoring the fascist takeover of the Croatian Wikipedia,
– the obfuscation and lies about the Knowledge Engine and James Heilman's
– the appointment of Arnnon Geshuri to the board,
– the rebranding effort,
– unpaid Indian volunteers being asked to create Wikimedia content
according to search engine query lists supplied by Google,
– the lack of transparency surrounding the Knowledge Equity Fund, and
– the now infamous German parliamentarian project.
To be honest, and please don't take this as a figure of speech, this
history does not inspire me with confidence. What is striking is that many
of these failures and eventually uncovered secrets were probably the result
of good intentions. The way to hell is paved with them, people say. As long
as the fundraising carries on unchanged, I will feel that there has really
been no improvement, and the organisation's ethics have not matured enough
to be up to its job.
Other aspects that concern me are how the WMF often appears like a
sidekick to Big Tech, whose intentions for the global south are entirely
self-serving and, if realised, will increase rather than diminish
inequality. No one should be under any illusions about that, and indeed you
touch upon this in some of the dystopian scenarios you linked to in your
post. (It was really great to read about a joint WMF project with
DuckDuckGo the other day, surely a much more congenial bedfellow than
Google, Amazon or Facebook.)
Then there is the somewhat opaque influence that consultants with close
ties to the Clintons and the Council on Foreign Relations have had on
long-term strategy. Just more openness about these links would help
actually. So, yes, maybe just naming things is a help.
Again, thanks for your post.
On Sat, Sep 25, 2021 at 9:51 PM Guillaume Paumier <gpaumier(a)wikimedia.org>
(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,  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.
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.  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". 
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.  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.)
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.  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.
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.  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. 
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,  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.
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.
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