- Lodewijk Gelauff (Effeietsanders) has been a Dutch Wikipedian since 2005. He was founder and a board member of Wikimedia Nederland (2006–11), former member of the Affiliations Committee and former international team member and current jury coordinator of Wiki Loves Monuments.
If you live in an English-speaking country, you may see these banners soon!
Fundraising season is coming up for the Wikimedia Foundation! If you live in an English-speaking country, you will probably be asked to donate the price of a rather expensive cup of coffee to keep our servers running. Fundraising has been successful for many years, making use of the goodwill and appreciation of Wikipedia's readership. And that’s a good thing.
At the same time, a greater effort could (and should) be made by the fundraising department to support volunteers throughout the movement, by improving communication and sharing more country-level data and information. This could help to avoid conflicts between the Foundation and volunteers, and instead could facilitate them in their public-facing and outreach activities.
It's generally accepted that Wikipedia stands or falls through the involvement of its volunteers. Volunteers write articles, improve them, categorize them, make them look good, correct spelling mistakes and improve grammar, and do all of the editing that goes into creating an encyclopedia. Similarly, volunteers make up the bulk of the ecosystem that supports the Wikimedia movement as a whole.
This volunteer capacity is a great opportunity in many ways. With a movement of 80,000 volunteers, we can tap into local expertise–through the affiliated organizations and editing communities. Until a few years ago, the fundraising efforts made effective use of this expertise. Nowadays, volunteer involvement seems to be limited to translating banner messages and description pages, if that.
This is a pity, because I strongly believe that fundraising could more effectively benefit from volunteer involvement: volunteers could help by coming up with alternatives for this cup-of-coffee metaphor that may work much better in their own country, could point out effective payment methods, or identify missing information on the fundraising pages. They could improve the cultural connection of the fundraising messaging.
But this is not all. For volunteers across the Wikimedia ecosystem to operate optimally, they need tools and information. In this piece, I focus specifically on two ways in which the organization of fundraising could be improved, to facilitate volunteers throughout the movement better.
Apart from the occasional announcement, we don’t know for a fact when and in which country the Foundation plans to show banners asking for donations. Apparently it is a challenge to the Foundation to communicate the fundraising schedule well ahead of time. Let alone that the fundraising schedule is coordinated with the main (outreach) activities of editing communities, user groups, thematic organizations, and chapters. However, both fundraising and outreach activities make use of the same resource: the CentralNotice (the banner you see on top of each page). This lack of communication and coordination makes clashes of schedule unavoidable.
The solution seems obvious: communicate and coordinate schedules to reduce overlap as much as possible. There has been some initial alignment this year around Wiki Loves Monuments after a major clash last year in Italy, where fundraising was scheduled at the same time as the main activity of the local chapter. The Foundation did reach out this year to a number of major chapters a few months before the fundraising effort in their country. Some improvement is ongoing, but a scalable and much more timely approach is needed and would benefit both fundraising and outreach activities. Let’s do an annual inquiry among all affiliated organizations to identify optimal and problematic periods for fundraising activity in their country, and schedule together for the year in advance. With relatively little effort, we can avoid painful last-minute discussions and collisions.
Sharing country-level statistics
The WMF fundraising department has only released continent-level statistics since 2012.
While the recently published Fundraising Report for the year ending June 2016 (previous Signpost coverage) was very useful on sharing high-level trends and decisions, and explaining some of the WMF's research results, this seems a good moment to take a step back and look at how to inform and involve the community more actively.
A higher standard of transparency is required to enable volunteers to work effectively to support fundraising and execute other activities. One of the types of data that have been repeatedly requested by volunteers is the country-level statistics pertaining to donations. While the Foundation did publish statistics broken down by country until 2012, it has not since: volunteers have to be satisfied with continent-level statistics. The argument made by the Foundation is vaguely defined: “There are a few different reasons why the team may not be able to publish data from a country, including privacy and security and other legal reasons”. 
Whatever these legal reasons may be, I believe they need to be balanced against the benefits of releasing country-level data and/or statistics; this is not just a theoretical discussion for the sake of transparency.
This kind of data could help volunteers to help the fundraising team in their countries. Local volunteers can combine an understanding of trends and the available data with a better understanding of local situations and changes, and be able to explain the data better. But for that local expertise to be applied, they need to understand the fundraising efforts in their own country. Country-level data could help volunteers in their other activities for the Wikimedia movement. They could use it in their media and outreach strategy, and can use it to provide context to journalists who are trying to understand how the citizens contribute to Wikipedia. This is a recurring question in interviews and by new contributors. It is plainly embarrassing for volunteers, advocating for transparent and openly licensed information flows, to say they don’t even know remotely how much their movement collects in contributions from their own country. When applying for external funding for their activities, or while advocating to governments on Wikimedia’s behalf on values we all share (here, for example, promoting improved legislation around copyright and access to information), they could use this data to demonstrate local active support and appreciation for Wikipedia/Wikimedia. With this data, they could demonstrate the extent to which readers from their country are willing to support the movement financially – and that the wide appreciation of readers goes beyond just words.
If the data were detailed enough, especially outside the main fundraising banner season, it could potentially even help affiliates to demonstrate and understand how their activities impact fundraising success, and to learn from it and focus their outreach around it.
Let's make optimal use of the expertise that our range of volunteers has to offer in our movement for fundraising optimization, and provide our volunteer base with the tools to help our mission in the best way possible! I hope the fundraising and legal departments will work together to see how we can take these improvements, implement them, and help volunteers do what they’re best at.
- ^ For example, from 2010 through 2012 there was an active (closed) mailing list coordinating the fundraising efforts with volunteers, and a number of chapters had an active role in fundraising within their country, choosing effective language in collaboration with local fundraising experts, hosting locally relevant payment methods, and handling questions from donors.
- ^ It should be noted that the Fundraising department did ask for banner suggestions.
- ^ Stephen LaPorte (Legal department, Wikimedia Foundation) responded in 2015 and just now & Seddon (Fundraising, Wikimedia Foundation) last month