[Foundation-l] bylaws (second call)

Anthony wikilegal at inbox.org
Tue Aug 15 02:00:06 UTC 2006

On 8/14/06, Erik Moeller <eloquence at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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.

Under the Florida Statutes, the members of a non-profit have a right
to remove any board member upon a majority vote.  (Florida Statutes
617.0808)  So no, legal membership would make a difference if a few
board members did something outrageously stupid.

> Moreover, it is perfectly possible to hold community elections without
> having legal members.
"If a corporation has no members or its members do not have the right
to vote, the directors shall have the sole voting power."  (Florida
Statutes 617.0721).  If "it is perfectly possible" to do so, then I
for one would like to see an example of a US non-profit organization,
with no members, that elects its directors - preferably a Florida one.

> 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.
What would you consider too small a number of members as compared to
active volunteers, and why would you consider this number too small?
Right now, the organization is in the hands of just 5 people.
Presumably the number of members will be greater than 5.

> 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.
Regarding anonymity, I think that keeping Wikimedia governance
separate from Wikipedia editing (for example) increases anonymity.  In
order to have elections you have to have some sense of identity,
otherwise sockpuppetry would run rampant.  But that identity doesn't
have to be connected to your edit history.

And remember, pseudonymity is exceedingly different from anonymity.
While pseudonymity might keep a casual observer from coming up with a
list of your Wikipedia writings with a google search, once you've made
100 or 1000 edits it's going to get easier and easier for anyone who
really cares to tie your pseudonym to your person.

> > * 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
> chapter?
In case someone reading this didn't catch my repeating of it, I
completely agree with your statement that only effort, not money,
should be _required_ to become a member.

In fact, if I got the feeling that more people cared about membership
(right now it seems me and Ant are the only ones who really do care),
I'd consider dropping the idea of paying money even being an option.

But one of the reasons I wanted paying dues to be an option is because
of the anonymity.  Someone, like me for instance, who makes a lot of
edits to Wikimedia projects, but doesn't do so under a consistent IP
address or pseudonym, could still be a member.  The other reason I
threw the option for paying dues in there is because it's an easy way
to bootstrap membership.  Ultimately it's the members that are going
to make up the committees which decide what level of volunteering is
required for the members who are exempt from paying dues.

> > 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.
Again, I completely agree.  In fact, when I ran for the very first
board election, getting rid of the distinction between "contributing"
and "volunteer" members was pretty much the single issue I ran on.

> 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
> community-elected.
> Erik

If I could be shown that there is precedent for a community-elected
board of an organization with no members, if the bylaws were adapted
to include a board with a majority elected by the community, and if a
change in the bylaws required a majority vote of the community, then
membership wouldn't matter to me.

But right now membership is what the bylaws claim we have, and those
other things are nonexistent.  Maybe we should just start pushing the
board of directors to start enforcing the bylaws that are already in


More information about the foundation-l mailing list