[Foundation-l] bylaws (second call)

Erik Moeller eloquence at gmail.com
Tue Aug 15 00:19:37 UTC 2006

On 8/14/06, Elisabeth Bauer <elian at djini.de> wrote:
> and I have yet to see a clear rationale for a foundation with members.

There are three primary reasons that seem to be cited in favor of
legal membership:

1) Stable and permanent governance by the community. The idea here is
that without legal membership, the Board is more likely to do whatever
it wants. I'm not convinced by this argument: the Board has the final
organizational authority in any case, and if we cannot trust the Board
to do the right thing, legal membership will not make a difference.
Moreover, it is perfectly possible to hold community elections without
having legal members.

2) Membership could be a better mechanism to select users who are
allowed to vote in Board elections, project votes, and so on. I don't
have to tell you why edit counting is a poor model of trust. That
said, it is not clear to me that membership does not suffer from its
own problems (mostly that the number of members may always be too
small a subset of the number of active volunteers). There may be
alternative methods which scale better, such as an additional layer of
trust between admins and new users.

3) Legal membership could be a social filter to engage only those
users who have a clear understanding of the organization's purpose,
and who do not confuse e.g. a Board election with some local vote on
the English Wikipedia. This is perhaps the strongest argument I can
see for legal membership: defining a group of people who genuinely
care about the organization.

But there are counterarguments to this as well. Requiring membership
may exclude users who care about their anonymity. It is also not clear
that the number of users who think Wikimedia==Wikipedia is large
enough to negatively affect decision making processes. Perhaps it is
more imporant to raise awareness of the activities of the Wikimedia
Foundation within the community, than trying to single out the slice
of users who know and care about them already.

> For not having members, I see several reasons:
> * adds one more organisational burden on the already strained office
> resources of the foundation (it would need a membership management then,
> letters to the members, lots of paperwork)

Why would we have to send letters to members, rather than just
e-mails? For those who donate, I can see the motivation. But that is
already done anyway.

> * what about the chapters? Should their members become automatically
> members of the Foundation? How do you deal with the injustice of
> different membership fees then (polish chapter has no fees, germans
> pay)? Or should they have to choose between single memberships and
> double memberships? What would be the incentive for becoming a member of
> a local chapter then?

I like the idea that membership anywhere (Foundation and/or local
chapter) would give you the right to participate in Foundation-level
votes. Chapter membership would, logically, be necessary to
participate in chapter-level decision making.

You could compare this to the EU model: being a citizen of an EU
country gives you the right to vote in that nation's elections, and
also to vote in the EU parliamentary elections. The main difference
would be that you could also be an "EU citizen" only.

> * How do you deal with the injustice of membership fees in general? One
> dollar is much more money in Pakistan than in the US...

If we choose to create a Foundation membership, I believe that only
effort, not money, should be _required_ to become a member. From the
discussion so far, it seems that there is rough consensus about this.
This could be established as a standard for chapters as well. How much
do membership fees currently contribute to the budget of the German

> * Would people in Pakistan even think of becoming members in an US based
> foundation? Or would it turn into a totally US centric organization,
> contrary to its international and multilingual goals?

If membership in the Pakistani chapter gave them all rights of
participation in the Foundation, it wouldn't matter. This might then
actually be an incentive to create new chapters.

> and last but not least, what would be the relation between the countless
> members of the projects and the paying foundation members? Should only
> the latter have the right to vote for board members and influence
> foundation decisions?

No -- there should be no distinction between paying members or
volunteers in terms of their rights within the organization.

I haven't seen a strong enough case for membership to unambiguously
support it. For now, I would already be happy with a strong
Board-level commitment that the majority of the Board will be


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