[Wikimedia-l] Let's accept Bitcoin as a donation method

Matthew Walker mwalker at wikimedia.org
Thu Jan 9 04:38:14 UTC 2014

I will probably regret saying this[1] -- but the figure we like to throw
around here in fundraising tech is that a new payments gateway [2] is not
even worth considering unless it is likely to make us at least 500K USD a
year[3]. Or, in the case that it is not an immediate payoff, if it is
strategically relevant for the future of our income stream (think our
recent forays into mobile). It's also worth stating that at this time we
only use four gateways (we get the hundreds of currencies through gateways
that serve multiple methods and countries.)

It is a significant undertaking to integrate a new gateway with our current
code (think several man months of time related to coding, code review,
donor services preparation, and testing; not including contract negotiation
and legal review.) In addition, every gateway incurs additional
maintenance, auditing, and troubleshooting costs on an ongoing basis.
Because of these costs, we have only four gateways (Adyen, Amazon,
GlobalCollect, and PayPal); with active plans to add another (already
determined) gateway this year for common methods and regions we don't
already serve.

Formally the dept has not conducted a cost/benefit analysis of accepting
bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. Nor have we asked the legal dept to
look into it from a compliance point of view. I have been attempting to
gather data for an informal blog post on the topic and I have found no
indication that if we were to conduct such a study formally that it would
come out positively.

I will state again the contents of our FAQ: "We do, however, strive to
provide as many methods of donating as possible and continue to monitor
Bitcoin with interest and may revisit this position should circumstances
change." I would encourage those who are put off by the Wikimedia
Foundation's non acceptance of cryptocurrency donations to consider
alternative methods of donation and promoting of free knowledge; namely by
becoming active editors.

[1] <personal hat>
The bitcoin community should be aware that their persistent and often times
aggressive, rude, and vulgar messaging towards me and my fellow coworkers
is not appreciated; nor does it help their cause. If the goals of the
cryptocurrency movement include shedding the world of fiscal dictators,
centralized control, and autocracy; then perhaps it is time for some
introspection. From my standpoint the actions of the movement (or at least
the actions of a significant number who are public on the internet that I
have read) are scarily similar to those whom the moment stands to replace.
</personal hat>

[2] A payments gateway can be simply thought of as a collection of APIs,
coupled into DonationInterface, our backend CRM, and financial software,
that can accept payments and remit them in an auditable way to the
Wikimedia Foundation in one of our working currencies.

[3] This number isn't set in stone and should not be considered a formal
estimate, but consider that the Wikimedia Foundation's yearly budget is
~$50M. As fundraisers ideally we want to focus effort on things that can
provide a significant portion of that. We also do not wish to spend money
on things that would increase our useful spending to overhead spending

~Matt Walker
Wikimedia Foundation
Fundraising Technology Team

On Wed, Jan 8, 2014 at 7:05 PM, John Vandenberg <jayvdb at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thanks Erik for a well written overview.
> Would it be possible for the WMF to give an estimate on what it would cost
> to build and/or what the threshold of annual bitcoin donations would make
> it worthwhile building. Someone might be interested in donating
> specifically to have this built, or we could obtain pledges to donate to
> see if the threshold can be reached.
> On Jan 9, 2014 9:06 AM, "Erik Moeller" <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> > On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:54 PM, Steven Walling
> > <steven.walling at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > > In general, I would personally like it if the WMF avoided accepting
> > > bitcoin. Today, bitcoin isn't really a functioning currency of exchange
> > --
> > > it's actually used more as an investment tool to create wealth that
> > > naturally appreciates in value, like playing the stock market or buying
> > > gold. Avoiding lots of risky investments is something our very
> competent
> > > financial managers already steer clear of, and I see no reason to start
> > > taking on more risk now.
> >
> > While this is true, a more pragmatic view is that, as long as BTC has
> > value to some people, there's no harm in accepting it and transferring
> > it to USD the moment we receive any, provided legal/financial issues
> > can be addressed with reasonable effort.
> >
> > The strongest counter-argument is that we might not actually get a
> > donation total that makes this worth our time. The Internet Archive
> > has a single-use Bitcoin address that's received a total of <$30K at
> > current (insanely high) exchange rates.
> >
> > But for me, the main reason not do this sooner is that it would have
> > significantly fueled the Bitcoin speculative bubble, and WMF should
> > remain neutral on the utility of Bitcoin. At this point though,
> > whatever WMF does or doesn't do is just a small drop in the bucket of
> > the overall Bitcoin mania, so I'm personally fine with a decision
> > being made on pragmatic grounds alone.
> >
> > My own view is that Bitcoin has significant design flaws (built-in
> > economic inequality, most rational actors will hoard rather than
> > spend, doubtful long-term scalability, questionable value as an actual
> > currency due to crazy volatility, tendency to centralize power with
> > miners, rampant security attacks against BTC holders, etc.), but as
> > long as no more severe technical flaws are discovered/exploited, at
> > least some value will likely attach to BTC for some time to come, even
> > if it's dramatically less than the current exchange rate.
> >
> > With that said, I fully defer to our fundraising team on this since
> > it's a decision that should be made purely on cost/benefit grounds,
> > perhaps by also comparing with other currencies that see relatively
> > little use.
> >
> > The one unambiguous positive that I see coming out of Bitcoin mania is
> > a renewed interest in peer-to-peer networks; the last time that
> > happened was about 12 years ago, and it resulted in technologies like
> > BitTorrent, Tor, various file sharing networks and many others being
> > developed. Experimenting is, overall, a good thing, and no matter how
> > this one plays out (and how exhausting a topic it can be given the
> > idiocy of coverage about it), I'm optimistic that we will see positive
> > ripple effects for the free culture movement.
> >
> > Erik
> >
> > [1] https://blockchain.info/address/1Archive1n2C579dMsAu3iC6tWzuQJz8dN
> > --
> > Erik Möller
> > VP of Engineering and Product Development, Wikimedia Foundation
> >
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