Last month, we reported on discontent with fundraising on Wikipedia. It all came to a head this month, as a widely-participated "Request for Comment" survey rejected the current plans for the fundraising campaign. Luckily for us, given this all happened three days before publication, the closing admin, Joe Roe, provided a thoughtful, nuanced summary of the dispute and decision:
|This was a request for comment (RfC) on whether the fundraising banners planned to be shown on the English Wikipedia in December 2022 were appropriate, and if not what changes needed to be made. Based on the samples provided by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), there was a broad, near-unanimous consensus that these fundraising banners should not run on the English Wikipedia in their current form.
Nearly all participants agreed that the banner texts are at least partly untruthful, and that soliciting money by misleading readers is an unethical and inappropriate use of this project. Specifically, participants clearly identified that banners that state or imply any of the following are not considered appropriate on the English Wikipedia:
A significant minority of participants objected to running banner campaigns at all. In my view beyond the scope of this RfC – arguably out of the scope of local discussions on this project entirely. Similarly, there was substantial discussion of the WMF's fundraising model and financing in general which, as several participants noted, is probably better taken up in other venues (e.g. Meta). In any case, no consensus was reached on these issues.
Few participants explicitly supported the banners. Many of those that did acknowledged the problems summarised above, but concluded that the banners were acceptable because they were effective (at raising money), comparable to similar campaigns by other organisations, and/or are an improvement over the WMF's campaigns in previous years. A number of members of WMF staff and the WMF Board of Trustees were amongst the most vocal in support of the banners. It is worth noting that, though their participation is welcome as anyone else's, it also carries no more weight than anyone else's. Their comments (understandably) tended to focus on the potential ramifications that changes to fundraising on the English Wikipedia, which constitutes a significant portion of the Foundation's income, could have on the rest of the movement. Like critical comments from opposers on movement finances in general, I considered this discussion largely irrelevant in assessing consensus on the questions posed by this RfC. To the extent that they engaged with the specific objections summarised above, a number of supporters, including several Board members, acknowledged that there were problems with the fundraising text that the WMF has placed on the English Wikipedia, though they disagreed on whether this is a fit topic for discussion on this project.
There was also significant discussion of how this consensus should be enforced, if the WMF chooses not to modify the banners before running them. This is a fraught topic given that our policies state that authorised acts of the WMF Board take precedence over consensus on this project, but that attempts to actually apply this principle have historically proved controversial. No consensus was reached on this issue, which is also strictly speaking outside the scope of this RfC. But taking off my closer's hat for a moment, I would like stress that this needn't come up – the preferred outcome for almost all participants, I believe, is that the English Wikipedia community and relevant WMF staff can come to an agreement on the content of fundraising banners.
|I've been the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation for nearly 11 months now. I am posting here as a follow up to the Request for Comment to change fundraising banners.
I agree that it is time to make changes at the Wikimedia Foundation, including more direct community input into fundraising messaging. We have taken the guidance provided by the close of the RfC to change banners on the English Wikipedia campaign as early as Tuesday. The fundraising team welcomes your help and ideas on the specifics.
The task at hand in responding to the guidance provided by the RfC is that Wikipedia's existence is dependent on donations. Donated funds are used primarily to support Wikipedia. I think what we heard is that while this may be true, how we say it matters. We need banners that better recognize the real stake our communities have in how we communicate to our donors.
In the next few months, the fundraising team will work more closely with local communities to guide future campaigns. The Foundation will measure the financial results of using new banners in this year's English campaign, and we will share this information when the campaign is completed.
I will briefly address a few other areas of concern that were raised about the future direction of the Wikimedia Foundation, and commit to writing again in January after we finish this campaign. I believe some things at the Foundation can in fact be different, because they already are:
None of these things may happen as quickly as those of you who have been very frustrated for many years would like. I think we are heading more in the right direction, and I am sure you will tell me if we aren't.
I'm sure we'll have an update of some sort next month as well. It's a bit inevitable once the fundraising campaign starts. Hopefully, though, it'll be entirely positive. – AC
In related news, the Wikimedia Foundation this month published its –
Note that the Wikimedia Foundation's financial year runs from July 1 to June 30.
In 2021–2022, the Wikimedia Foundation took $165,232,309 USD from over 13 million individual donations, an increase of more than $10 million over the year prior. $58 million, or 35.1% of the donations total, was brought in by banner campaigns on Wikipedia. The breakdown was as follows:
For comparison, the donations total in 2020–2021 was $154,763,121 raised from over 7.7 million donors (a different way of counting was used this year), with banner campaigns bringing in $57.3 million, or 37% of the total.
As in 2020–2021, the Wikimedia Foundation ran a fundraising campaign in India this financial year (see previous Signpost coverage; note that while the 2021 Indian fundraising campaign was cancelled, the 2020 campaign was not held in the spring but in August, thus falling into the 2020–2021 financial year).
The Financial Statements reported an unusual situation: for the first time in its history, the Wikimedia Foundation reported a negative investment income: –$12 million. Investment income had been positive at +$4.4 million in 2020–2021 and +$5.5 million in 2019–2020. At the time of writing, the Wikimedia Foundation had not responded to questions about the precise circumstances responsible for the negative result.
For the 2022–2023 financial year, the Annual Plan envisages an increase in both income and expenditure to $175 million, representing a planned increase in revenue by $20 million and a planned increase in expenses by $29 million (20%, more than twice the rate of inflation) compared to the year prior (total expenses in 2021–2022 were $146 million).
According to the minutes of the June 2022 Wikimedia Foundation board meeting, WMF board members and executives looking ahead at the 2022–2023 financial year now underway anticipated "moderate growth in terms of staffing. Next year, the fundraising team will be increasing targets in each of their major streams, with a particular focus in Major Gifts." – AK