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Governance updates from, and for, the Wikimedia Endowment

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By Lisa Seitz-Gruwell

This article was first published on October 26, 2022 on the Wikimedia Foundation's Diff blog, with the title "Governance updates for the Wikimedia Endowment", CC-BY-SA 3.0. Lisa Seitz-Gruwell is President of the Wikimedia Endowment, as well as Deputy to the CEO and Chief Advancement Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation.

A year ago we announced that the Wikimedia Endowment reached its initial $100 million fundraising goal. Launched in 2016 to support the future of Wikimedia projects, the Endowment is a permanent fund that helps protect Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in times of uncertainty and enables long-term investments to support their growth. This early achievement was a testament to the generosity of Endowment donors and the value of Wikimedia projects in today’s world.

Today, we’re sharing more updates on the progress of the Endowment since last year, including new governance and operational policies to set the Endowment up for success to serve Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects.

Renewed support from Amazon

The Endowment itself has performed well despite significant fluctuations in the global economy this past year, and our generous Endowment donors including individuals, corporations, and foundation donors have continued to support its growth.

As part of this continued support, Amazon has renewed its annual $1 million gift to the Endowment again this year, bringing the company’s donations to the Wikimedia Endowment to a cumulative $5 million since 2018. Commensurate support from companies like Amazon helps sustain our projects and mission of delivering free knowledge to the world.

“Since 2016, Amazon has supported our mission to ensure that the free knowledge movement thrives. We are thankful for their continued commitment to Wikimedia, which helps to build a more sustainable future for our projects,” said Lisa Gruwell, Chief Advancement Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation.

To learn more about our benefactors and their contributions, please visit our Benefactors page.

Endowment status updates

Last year, we announced our plans to establish the Wikimedia Endowment as its own independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States. This year, our application was approved and we are in the process of setting up the Endowment’s strategic and operational policies and systems. This will help solidify and protect the independence of the Endowment, allowing its management and investments to be aligned directly to the needs of the Wikimedia projects.

The Endowment Board has also formed several new committees to establish strategic and operational planning for the Endowment as a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This includes:

In addition, we have added new policies to better direct the work of the Endowment. This includes a new Open Access policy pledging that any research supported by the Endowment will be published freely and openly for reuse, and the Endowment Gift policy to provide greater transparency into how gifts to the Endowment are received.

As we get closer to 2030, there is still much work to be done to advance our strategic direction and address the challenges that lie ahead for our movement. This foundational governance work will help to ensure the Endowment is set up for success to meet these challenges and support Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects and communities in the ways that will best serve them over the long term.

More details about the new policies and committees are available on the Endowment Governance Wiki. We invite you to ask questions and join the conversation via the Endowment’s talk page on Meta where Fundraising staff will be reviewing and responding to comments and questions.

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Who in The Signpost approved this article from the WMF? I can only assume it was accepted with irony so that the volunteers have even more proof that "Commensurate support from companies like Amazon helps sustain our C-Level celebrity salaries while we continue to tell the volunteers they are not going to get the software they want". Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 08:00, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Guilty as charged. I proposed it as we had covered the delayed arrival of the lo-o-ong-promised 501(c)(3) organisation for the Endowment here in the Signpost a few months ago (see Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2022-05-29/Opinion).
So with this update we now know that at some point in the now slightly less distant future, we will have at least the minimal public accounting involved in a Form 990 disclosure along with audited financial statements. However, the first Form 990 will not be due before late 2024, I reckon, given that (as far as I can make out) the Endowment has not yet been transferred to this new organisation but for now is still with the Tides Foundation.
So if the new 501(c)(3)organisation files its first Form 990 in late 2024, there will have been almost an entire decade in which over $100 million entered a fund that has never published any audited accounts whatsoever – because if you look at the Tides Foundation's Form 990, there is not even a mention of the Wikimedia Foundation or the Wikimedia Endowment anywhere to be found. (As always, I am grateful for any corrections.) Best, Andreas JN466 09:52, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I appreciate where you are coming from Kudpung. but I for one welcome the WMF submitting Signpost articles. Even if early attempts look like blog posts intended for an external audience rather than a communication with the community. The current relationship between the WMF and the community is unhealthy and a bit more communication would at least clear the air and establish what the differences are and will be in the future. I would like the WMF to start thinking how large the endowment needs to be before we can announce to current and potential content donors that WikiSource and Wikimedia Commons at least have the finance to be around for the foreseeable future. Longer term, I would like the WMF to calculate how large the endowment needs to be before it can suspend the annual fundraiser for the foreseeable future. In the short term, I'd like to see us talk about who if any external bodies we should consider funding. I don't know if they need money, but the Internet Archive, Creative Commons and the Geograph all strike me as external not for profits that many of our donors would understand our funding. Digitisation of newspaper archives in parts of hte world where we lack online sources also seems like a good idea. ϢereSpielChequers 21:13, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@WereSpielChequers: The WMF did not submit this article. They announced it on the mailing list, and I thought it would be of interest in the context of past reporting here on this topic. Cheers, Andreas JN466 22:17, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the explanation Andreas. I let my optimism get ahead of me there. Well I for one am delighted to see the Signpost republish the WMF's version of affairs, I just wish that the WMF were submitting stuff here directly. ϢereSpielChequers 23:17, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

A general question to anyone knowledgeable about the topic: do corporations donating to Wikimedia get to claim a tax deduction against the donated amount? If yes, I don't think the corporations deserve any kudos for these "donations". How much would the government be losing in tax revenue? Ciridae (talk) 14:22, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I'd be surprised if corporations, or any other US taxpayer couldn't get a tax deduction for giving to a recognised US charity. But I don't see why anyone, company or or individual should lose kudos for giving money to charity in a tax efficient way. They are still donating money to an organisation recognised as a worthy cause. ϢereSpielChequers 20:54, 31 October 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Leaving aside that the donated funds aren't being used correctly or transparently, and are being requested on false pretenses, I still believe that it is undemocratic to give such power over something as instrumental as tax revenue especially in the case of large corporate donors. The donations of working class people are not likely to be significant enough in terms of lost tax revenue to affect much, but this same power in the hands of corporations has a chilling effect on democracy by redirecting money to where the donor wants instead of what a democratic country may want. Ciridae (talk) 08:00, 1 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
  • @Ciridae: Yes, US tax law allows corporations to deduct up to 10% of their pretax income to tax deductible organizations. -- Dolotta (talk) 22:03, 4 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
  • The corporation can deduct the amount from their taxable income. So if they donate $1,000 and are paying tax at 20% it costs their shareholders $800 and costs the government $200 in lost revenue. The shareholders decide (perhaps implicitly) which government-approved charities should receive the money. They should have that right. Aymatth2 (talk) 16:32, 5 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    Your explanation is clear and informative, but it brings me to the opposite conclusion. As if the power that large corporation shareholders already have in society by virtue of wealth wasn't enough, you think that they should directly exert undemocratic control over government spending? I have to agree with Ciridae. — Bilorv (talk) 17:05, 5 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    Most large corporations are widely held by many small investors or by pension or investment funds. Small corporations may have just a few owners.
    Elected legislators approve criteria that charities must meet and approve tax incentives to encourage individuals and corporations to donate to them. An alternative would be to drop the tax incentives and have the government allocate the money saved to charities. The loss of incentives would reduce corporate and individual donations, so the government would have to further raise taxes to maintain current funding levels and to cover increased administrative costs. There are so many worthy causes... Aymatth2 (talk) 21:07, 5 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    I'd argue it's more democratic to let people decide which charities to donate their dollars to, rather than giving it to a central bureaucracy to reallocate. Levivich (talk) 05:29, 6 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    The democratically elected representatives of the people would tell the bureaucrats how to allocate the funds, So much for cancer research, so much for girl education, so much for dog shelters and so on. The will of the people would determine whether Wikipedia got any of the money. Aymatth2 (talk) 20:03, 6 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    The central inequality here is wealth. If you are a billionaire then you might have 10,000x the assets of the median individual in the country, but you have 1x as many votes. The central bureaucracy of the state is not representative of the people, and "democratically elected representatives" are generally only one of those three words, but it's not democratic for someone to have 10,000x as much influence as to which charities should receive funding. — Bilorv (talk) 18:20, 7 November 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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