[Wikimedia-l] Setting up a Wikimedia Trust (was: Endowment)

Nathan nawrich at gmail.com
Fri Mar 15 14:24:37 UTC 2013

Nemo, can you explain what the benefits would be? What I see is a
massive future headache over bureaucracy and roles, and no tangible
benefit to separating a "Trust" from the actual ownership and
management of the Wikimedia projects. I read the meta page, but don't
see an outline of why this would be a good idea.


On Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 10:14 AM, Federico Leva (Nemo)
<nemowiki at gmail.com> wrote:
> Creating a new thread because the other is apparently running in circles
> now.
> phoebe ayers, 14/03/2013 21:38:
>> Yes. In an university context, which is what I'm most familiar with (and
>> where endowments are very common in the U.S.), there is often a specific
>> "endowment campaign" to plan for and build the endowment that is separate
>> from normal fundraising -- for instance, you might have a dedicated team
>> that would work on the endowment, solicit wealthy donors, etc.
> Thanks for this, you reminded me that I sometimes should try to put at
> profit some 12 months spent writing the bylaws of the most important
> university of Italy (by LERU standards). :p
> (Some) universities can have endowments because they are multi-centuries
> insitutions with stable stuff to do and because they're deeply rooted in
> their territory (be it a country or a region or whatever).[1] On the other
> hand, they often have to set up different structures for more ephemeral
> tasks, so they may own foundations or for-profits.[2]
> The WMF has the opposite problem than a university, i.e. it's busy with
> mostly short-term goals (few years) and that's most of its budget, because
> Wikimedia projects are innovation and without that they die etc. etc.
> So why not use the same approach, just reversed? Make a spin-off for the
> long-term purposes that are currently not covered anywhere. For once I did
> an attempt at being a bit imaginative, consider it just a thought experiment
> if you wish:
> https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Trust
> Nemo
> [1] Harvard, for instance, is a special case because it aims at being not
> only the best USA university but the center for the best minds of the world,
> so "the world's university".
> [2] Big donors and investors want to see some effect for their donation
> (that ideally is not selfish). For instance, if I'm a rich widow with, say,
> 50 million € to give away in my will, I may choose to donate to a university
> because it's important and all, but if it goes to the general budget I don't
> want the money to be consumed by usual operating expenditure (especially
> wages) where it would be a drop in the ocean, so I may set some very strict
> requirements... that however are very 19th-century-sounding and end up
> making the money impossible to use, so that it will just rot on some bank
> account (true story).
>> And in turn, the endowment is not meant to fund all expenses or to preempt
>> normal fundraising. It can fund some expenses, and provides long-term
>> stability for the organization. Endowments often come about when you
>> either
>> have a very wealthy donor who is setting up a foundation, or when you have
>> a humanitarian institution that wants to be in business essentially
>> forever
>> (as is the case with most universities).
>> There is complicated law and best practice around endowments that I don't
>> pretend to understand. I do know it's more complicated than setting up a
>> bank account and calling it the endowment fund, at least to do it well.
>> Having an endowment would ideally be a part of the WMF's strategic and
>> long-term financial plan, with some dedicated resources (i.e. staff time
>> to
>> manage the fund and solicit donations) applied to it. And we would want to
>> be clear on what we wanted the endowment to do -- what its role would be
>> over time -- and how it would interact and perhaps affect annual
>> fundraising.
>> All that said, I strongly support the idea, on the principle that what we
>> do is important for the long-term and needs to be supported as such. We
>> did
>> discuss the idea during my time on the board, a year or so ago, and it
>> sounds like it's coming up again, which is great!
>> -- phoebe
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