The Signpost

News and notes

Big bux hidden beneath wine-dark sea as we wait for the Tides to go out?

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Andreas Kolbe

Wikimedia Endowment transparency – a year on, nothing seems to have changed

The Wikimedia Foundation received IRS approval for its new transparent non-profit organisation to house the Endowment more than a year ago. But the money – reported to have topped $100 million in 2021 – is still with the Tides Foundation. The Tides Foundation publishes no financial reports detailing the Endowment fund's revenue and expenses, and the Endowment's revenue and expenses are not included in WMF financial reports either.

The Wikimedia Foundation has long promised that the Wikimedia Endowment – held by the Tides Foundation and managed as an opaque, organisationally completely separate entity by a board led by Jimmy Wales – would soon be transferred to a financially transparent 501(c)(3) organisation. These promises date back to 2017 (see Signpost coverage this year and last year).

In April 2021, Endowment Director Amy Parker and Director of Development Caitlin Virtue again said on Meta:

"We are in the process of transitioning the Endowment to a new US 501c3 charity, after which it will begin making grants and will publish its own Form 990. ... As we approach the $100 million funding milestone, we are in the process of establishing the Endowment as a separate 501c3. ..."

"We are in the process of establishing a new home for the endowment in a stand-alone 501(c)(3) public charity. We will move the endowment in its entirety to this new entity once the new charity receives its IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter."

A full year has now passed since that 501(c)(3) determination letter (pictured) was received in June 2022. Yet the money has still not been transferred. This means that another year will have passed without public reporting on the Endowment's revenue and expenses, as it is organisationally separate from the Wikimedia Foundation (its revenue and assets are not included in WMF revenue and assets) and the Tides Foundation does not provide any such reporting either.

In response to an inquiry on the Wikimedia mailing list, WMF Chief Financial Officer Jaime Villagomez recently posted the following update on Meta:

Work is underway to move the Endowment assets out of Tides to its own charity. The transition is complex, due to the nature of banking activities and donor commitments so we cannot instantaneously move from one entity to the other. We anticipate that it will take a few more weeks to transfer most of our transactional and banking activity away from Tides. We will maintain the old endowment accounts to process residual income (such as dividend payments) for some months before we close those accounts. More importantly though, we will also be sharing an update on the Endowment's activities in FY 22-23 in the annual fundraising report to be published in the next quarter.
— User:JVillagomez (WMF)

In addition, WMF CEO Maryana Iskander and WMF board member Nataliia Tymkiv said on the Wikimedia mailing list:

The Board of Trustees will meet next on August 15 in Singapore. Following this meeting, there will also be an open session with the Wikimedia Foundation and Endowment Boards during Wikimania to answer questions on these topics or others you may have.

The Wikimedia Endowment holds a significant proportion of all the funds the public has ever donated to the Wikimedia cause. Yet it does not follow the same standards of transparency that apply to other parts of the movement. For example, it would be unimaginable for any WMF affiliate to ingest over $100 million over the best part of a decade without ever publishing audited accounts detailing revenue and expenses.

Why should the Wikimedia Endowment be different? – AK

Wikimania scholarships

Placeholder alt text

The Wikimania Scholarship outcomes were recently published on the Wikimania site. According to the summary provided there,

We had a total of 3800 applications started, after removing spam and incomplete applications we had 1209 actual applications for review. These application were then grouped according to regions.

Region # of applications # approved
Africa, Sub-Saharan 490 38
Central and Eastern Europe 78 17
Central Asia 55 8
East, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific 150 53
Middle East and North Africa 82 16
North America 51 12
South America 68 15
Sub-continental Asia 144 20
Western Europe 91 18
Totals 1209 197

This means that less than one in six scholarship applications was approved. To one editor, at least, this seemed a "paltry" amount of funding:

I find it rather disgraceful that the Wikimedia Foundation accepted only 197 of the 1209 completed scholarship applications for this year's Wikimania conference, or 16%. While I recognize that travel scholarships aren't cheap, I presume that a sizable portion of the applicants are heavily involved in Wikimedia projects, devoting many hours a week to volunteer work. Wikimania scholarships are one of the few ways the WMF can use its ample financial resources to show tangible appreciation to volunteers and aid participation in the movement. You could have afforded to assist more than 16% of applicants, and it's disappointing that you deemed the expense not worthwhile when you put together your budget.
— User:Sdkb

A WMF spokesperson responded by saying:

The Foundation sponsors the whole event—not just the scholarships—and in this year's Annual Plan, despite reducing expenses across the Foundation, funding for Wikimania increased. Not to undermine any disappointment that any applicant may feel for not having been selected, of course that’s completely valid and understandable, but it does feel relevant to mention that this year there are ~200 scholarships, around 66% more than the ~120 from the last in-person Wikimania in 2019. Together with each year’s Core Organizing Team, the Foundation always thinks about how to spend the funds to reach the most Wikimedians possible, because we completely agree with you that recognizing people for their contributions is critical. This year, that meant increasing the number of scholarships that could be awarded by the volunteer subcommittee, working to keep virtual registration free despite the costs of the virtual event, and working to keep the in-person ticket subsidized. I know it's of course still disappointing for anyone who wanted to attend in person and didn’t get selected. I really do hope those people will consider applying again for future Wikimanias.
— User:ELappen (WMF)

User:Sdkb seemed unimpressed. – AK

Gitz6666 unglocked

In a rare reversal, User:Gitz6666 had his global lock overturned after lodging an appeal with the stewards. Gitz6666 had been indefinitely blocked on the Italian Wikipedia in May, along with another user, and then had his account globally locked by an Italian steward.

The underlying dispute concerned a sociologist's Italian Wikipedia biography that had attracted press attention for its alleged unfairness (see previous Signpost coverage). – AK

Brief notes

S
In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

Spatial references to page layout considered harmful

"pictured on the right" - No it isn't. Please don't assume everyone sees the same layout that you do. Try viewing the page on mobile, for example. (Now fixed.)

My blog post refers. Andy Mabbett (Pigsonthewing); Talk to Andy; Andy's edits 10:00, 17 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

You're right – "(pictured)" alone does the job much better. (I promise to be good in future.) Andreas JN466 15:10, 17 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Cost of scholarships

For what it's worth, I estimated that the total cost of the roughly 200 Wikimania scholarships for volunteer contributors – flights, hotel stays – will cost the WMF rather less than the nearly $1 million dollars it recently spent on two departing executives' severance.

If anyone has the actual figures, it would make an interesting comparison. Andreas JN466 15:08, 17 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Given that the costs are completely unrelated not really. Indeed "we spent X amount of Y so should be able to spend X amount on Z" is generally a really poor argument. Spending on Wikimania scholarships is the kind of thing that needs to stand or fall on its own merrits.©Geni (talk) 06:52, 18 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
When I worked this out, I looked up a flight to Singapore, which from San Francisco or London is around one to three thousand dollars; the whole Wikimania experience looks about a week or so. I don't know one whit about how much hotels in Singapore cost, but everywhere else the hotels within foot/bus/taxi distance of a convention get to be expensive as hell around the time of the convention. A quick look gives me about $150 to $200 per night, times seven is $1000–$1500. This means that per head we'd have something like two to five thousand dollars a person, times two hundred is $400,000 to $1,000,000. Of course, there are some things I'm not taking into account: probably if I were from Singapore I'd know how to do this way cheaper, and there are almost certainly hotel discounts for huge group reservations, but it seems at least roughly comparable. Of course, the actual process of taking the money out of the severance packages and putting it into Wikimania scholarships would probably be difficult to impossible and require a bunch of lawyer activity, so it is mostly useful as a comparison rather than a proposal. jp×g 21:03, 18 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Gitz6666 unglock

To me, the Gitz6666 glock and (deserved) unglock illustrates a fundamental problem with the m:Universal Code of Conduct: Parts of it are phrased in such general and draconian terms that it gives admins and functionaries a ready excuse to ban practically anyone who raises a concern about them. It's a document in urgent need of community review. Andreas JN466 16:10, 17 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What policy express and how it is implemented is of interest. The current policy express a longing for chivalry and civlility. Its intentions are not bad. But how it is implemented and used, the realities on the ground, may differ from that. The russian legal consept of extremism opens up for that anyone with views or actions that could alter any sosial order can be targeted. From ISIS to Jehova Witnesses including Meta on the way. (The mother of facebook & instagram.) And is targeted. The wikipedia/media's universes understanding of what constitutes a disruptive behavior, a blocking reason, can be executed in the same way as the russian example. If so, how to describe this and that as a society? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Andrez1 (talkcontribs) 09:52, 19 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Andrez1 (talk) 09:56, 19 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Andrez1 Yes, you've said that well. I had exactly the same comparison in mind. Andreas JN466 13:37, 19 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Andreas. And what does it express? Is it a inherent systemic failure in both systems? Andrez1 (talk) 13:08, 20 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]





       

The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0