[Foundation-l] board candidacies

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Fri Aug 11 20:33:26 UTC 2006

On 8/11/06, Jimmy Wales <jwales at wikia.com> wrote:
> Let me clarify, that did not say what I wanted it to say.
> Jimmy Wales wrote:
> > George Herbert wrote:
> >>
> >> That is not to minimize the question - if we generalize, if Joe Random
> >> Billionare comes to the WMF with a million dollar donation check and
> >> asks
> >> for a board seat in return, it's still a completely valid policy
> >> question.
> >> And could well be a realistic problem.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> > Well, for us today, $1 million is not very much money.
> In the early days of Wikipedia, I worried a lot about how we might
> survive.  It seemed to me that if someone came
> and offered $1 million, then of course we would offer them a seat on the
> board.  Nowadays, we are strong, we are strong because
> we have broad support from the general public and from ourselves, our
> own community.  We do not fear about surviving.  Therefore, to give
> up any of our independence for $1 million would be a bad decision.
> I did not mean to imply that $1 million is not a lot of money.
> Obviously it is. :)  But our principles are worth more.
> --Jimbo

The question of whether it would really be giving up independence is valid,

If it really were Bill Gates and he really did demand a board seat, there
are certainly a lot of people who would worry about his motives: though they
could be benign, it would certainly be controversial.

What if it was (purely random example) Elon Musk, though, and he just said
that he wanted to make sure that the organization was being run well after
he donated that much money?  What if it was Mitch Kapor, also saying that he
just wanted to make sure it was spent well?  Or Sergei or Larry from Google?

Part of the reason for large donators to want involvement is to get
assurance as to the continuing management of the organization.  Which is
legitimately a concern, not in particular to Wikimedia, but generally
regarding nonprofits.  Some donations are structured as a committment over
time, with the ability to back out of future donations if the organization
fails to continue to perform well.  With others, the donator just prefers to
have a board seat level of involvement.

Is it in the best interests of the Wikimedia foundation and the various
subprojects that the policy now be that the board has to stay completely

Some benefactors have helped the management and productivity of nonprofits
significantly, when they engaged and spent a lot of time helping with
management and planning and such.  There is value beyond money (management
skills, contacts and additional in-kind resource donations that they can
generate, etc) in some of these people who might conceivably be interested.

I think it's worth thinking about and talking about.  It's hypothetical now,
but if it stopped being hypothetical some day, making those decisions on the
fly would probably be bad decisionmaking process.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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