[Foundation-l] Sub-national chapters Q&A

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Mon Oct 20 00:10:28 UTC 2008

These are some questions and answers the staff suggested on sub-national 
chapters. As mentioned, these are more preliminary than definitive. The 
observant will detect that they were prepared before the board met, 
because it refers to Brazil as a large country without a chapter, but 
the board approved a chapter for Brazil at its meeting.

Q What do chapters do?

A Currently, each chapter carries out a unique mix of activities as it 
sees fit. Most chapters engage in the following program activities: 1., 
Public outreach, advocacy and media relations work on behalf of the 
projects; 2., volunteer recruitment and coordination; 3., development 
and execution of non-monetary partnerships designed to increase quality 
(e.g., A TV program donates 100 interviews under a free license); 4. 
technical work such as MediaWiki software development and provision of 
dedicated hardware and software infrastructure which supports the local 
community. In order to fund those activities, chapters generally aim to 
bring in revenues, typically via some combination of fundraising, grant 
seeking and business development.

Q Where do chapters exist today?

A Chapters exist in 17 countries. See 
http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Local_chapters for the complete list.

Q Is the main argument in favour of sub-national chapters geography 
(meaning, the United States is so big that people from Florida and 
California will never naturally work together)?

A Some very large countries have formed chapters (e.g., Russia, 
Australia, Argentina) and some very large countries have not (e.g., 
China, Canada, the United States, Brazil, India): it's hard to separate 
out the role that geographic size has played. However, anecdotally, we 
do know that Canadian and American volunteers have cited geographic size 
of their countries as inhibiting their ability to form a nation-based 
chapter, which has led to their wanting to form sub-national chapters. 
So it probably does play some role, for some countries.

Q Should countries be required to form a nation-based chapter before 
sub-national chapters can be formed?

A No. Where sub-national chapters are formed, we shouldn't presuppose 
that a nation-based chapter is necessary or even desirable.

Q Should we distinguish in any way among different types of sub-national 
chapters, such as state-based versus city-based?

A No. All sub-national chapters should have the same status. There's no 
compelling reason to differentiate between for example a Wikimedia 
Banagalore (city) and a Wikimedia Karnataka (state).

Q Should the Wikimedia Foundation allow sub-national chapters to form 
where geographic boundaries are disputed?

A Provided that the local community can form an organization with legal 
standing, there is no reason not to form a sub-national chapter in 
regions with disputed geographic boundaries. It's important to note that 
Wikimedia does not take a point of view on contentious political issues, 
so it should not be part of the purpose of any chapter to advocate for 
or against resolution of a particular political dispute one way or another.

Q Aren't we setting up sub-national chapters to compete for funding with 
nation-based chapters?

A Thus far, our experience suggests that lots of people and 
organizations want to help fund Wikimedia. We have not had a challenge 
finding potential funders – our challenges have centred around our lack 
of capacity to cultivate and steward funders. In other words, more 
organizations mandated to solicit funding would be a good thing for the 
Wikimedia movement.

It's also true that every funder has different interests and 
motivations. Many are constrained to a specific geographic area or a 
specific field of interest. Sub-national chapters may be effective at 
securing regional funding that a nation-based chapter could overlook or 
be less suited to.

However, we shouldn't rule out the possibility that in the future 
sub-national chapters may be in competition with nation-based chapters, 
or even with the Wikimedia Foundation, for funds – resulting in a kind 
of 'natural selection' process in which some entities thrive and others 
do not. In our view, that is not a terrible outcome.

Q In the United States (and possibly other countries), it is possible to 
take advantage of something called the “group exemption” - which allows 
an existing non-profit to act as the parent organization for its 
sub-groups, thereby allowing the sub-groups to exist as non-profits 
without themselves needing to file the necessary paperwork. Should the 
Wikimedia Foundation, or a Wikimedia U.S. organization, act as the 
parent organization for U.S.-based sub-national chapters, enabling 
sub-national chapters to take advantage of the group exemption?

A No, for a number of reasons.

It is true that the Wikimedia Foundation could serve as the parent 
organization for any prospective U.S.-based sub-national chapters. 
However, we feel that would be inadvisable for the following reasons:

*The chapters are intended to function independently from the Wikimedia 
Foundation. However, the group exemption requires the affiliated 
entities to be “subordinates” “under the control” of the parent 
organization. This is inconsistent with how we view the relationship 
between the Foundation and the chapters.

*The Wikimedia Foundation is an international organization based in the 
United States. The experience of the U.S.-based sub-national chapters 
should, as much as possible, be protected from distorting influences due 
to the Wikimedia Foundation's presence in the same country. As much as 
possible, we want the U.S.-based sub-national chapters to travel the 
same path and have the same experiences as sub-national chapters 
elsewhere. To do otherwise would be to risk unintended negative 
consequences to both.

*There may be legal issues. We would not want to create legal exposure 
for U.S.-based sub-national chapters, due to association with the 
Wikimedia Foundation.

*It doesn't actually save that much paperwork. For example, under a 
group exemption, each sub-national chapter must still file tax returns.

--Michael Snow

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