Changes are coming to grantmaking
Most fundraising in the Wikimedia movement is handled directly by the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikimedia Germany also raises significant funding, much of which is forwarded to the Foundation). Though declining readership numbers have brought concerns about the future, the Foundation's fundraising has continued its success: this financial year's $58.5 million target was reached just halfway through the year. Part of these funds, mostly garnered through annual fundraisers, pay for the operations of the servers and of the Foundation itself; and part of it returns to the movement through one of the Wikimedia Foundation's four grantmaking operations.
The grantmaking system in place today came about as a result of a broader discussion about movement roles that took place in 2012–13. There are four kinds of Wikimedia grants: Travel and Participation Grants, which fund individuals representing the movement at primarily non-Wikipedian events; Individual Engagement Grants, which fund individual or small-group research projects related to the Wikimedia movement; Project and Event Grants, for projects and events conducted by individuals and groups; and Annual Plan Grants, which provide annual-cycle funding to "eligible" affiliates such as the largest chapters.
Community grant-making is a complex and inherently political process. The Wikimedia community is a large and divisive place—one in which organic and systematic growth vie with each other. A variety of funding schemes have been tried, to target a variety of needs emerging at a variety of times and garnering a variety of results. Each process has its own adherents, its own community, and its own review body, resulting in a large number of complicated but important details difficult to penetrate for all but the most experienced onlookers.
So it is significant news that this week the Foundation's fundraising team put forward an IdeaLab proposal aiming for a complete refresh of the system as it exists today (the IdeaLab is the WMF's central fundraising incubator for providing community review ahead of grant submissions). The proposal lists three weaknesses in the current system:
|People with ideas don’t know how to get the support they need. It is difficult for people with ideas to know where to get money and support for their ideas. Once they get started, a clear path with support for growing successful programs or technology is often missing.
Processes are too complicated and rigid. Each program has different processes for getting money and support, and there are both gaps and overlap between these programs. We need to make a lot of exceptions to ensure everyone gets what they need. Most requests that need an exception get pushed to Project and Event Grants where systems aren't designed to handle them.
Committees are overwhelmed with current capacity. Committees reviewing the widest range of grants aren't able to give all requests a quality review. The most robust committee processes are time-intensive and won't be able to scale as the number of requests grow.
The proposal prescribes replacing the current fourfold system with a three multi-tiered platforms. First, there would be project grants for both individuals and smaller organizations; these would consist of seed funds for experimental purposes and growth funds to sustain growing projects. Second, there would be event grants, which would fall into three subcategories: travel support for event attendance, micro funds for small community events, and logistical support (the case study is ordering pizza and stickers for a local meetup), and large event support for large conferences—up to and including, it seems, the annual international Wikimania itself. Third, annual plan grants for affiliates would continue, but would now deal with two categories: a rigorous system for larger bids; and a simpler process for smaller bids (provisionally capped at US$100,000 and one FTE staff member employed under the grant).
WMF Grantmaking, in March 2014
How can the community participate in the dialogue? A significant reworking of fundraising is an immensely complicated process to engage in—so much so that the IdeaLab proposal comes with not only its own calender but an entire page on how to direct feedback. An FAQ has been provided, which attempts to answer common questions. The consultation is scheduled to last until 7 September, with the requisite changes discussed expected to start to come into effect from 31 October, when the APG process split would be piloted, through 2016. For further discussion see the talk page. For more information on how grants are managed and disbursed, start here.
For more Signpost coverage on grantmaking see our grantmaking series.