Mashable:  Where Do Wikipedia Donations Go? Outgoing Chief Warns of
Corruption

http://mashable.com/2013/10/17/wikipedia-donation-corruption/

When Wikipedia decided to roll out an aggressive fundraising effort a
few years ago, the free encyclopedia came with a remarkably effective
battle plan. For the entirety of the campaign, co-founder Jimmy Wales
stared visitors down from the top of every page, making you feel guilty
every time you viewed an article without paying a dime.

It worked. From 2011 to 2012, Wikipedia's fundraising arm, the Wikimedia
Foundation, pulled in $38.4 million. It was a major increase from the $5
million raised from 2007 to 2008, one that occurred even as editorial
involvement with Wikipedia was on the decline.

But where does all this money go?

In an unusually candid statement last month, outgoing Wikimedia
Foundation Chair Sue Gardner criticized the way her organization has
doled out funds. Too much is being spent on groups that do too little to
enhance the value of the encyclopedia itself, she argued. What's worse,
many of those being awarded grants are the same people responsible for
giving them out, which Gardner warned could lead to "log-rolling,
self-dealing and other corrupt practices."

Though not in charge of Wikipedia's content, the Wikimedia Foundation,
or WMF, is the most powerful promoter of the open-source encyclopedia.
It manages the technical infrastructure and day-to-day business
operations of Wikipedia --- one of the most-visited sites in the world.

WMF is based in San Francisco, but more than 40 independent-chapter
Wikimedia organizations exist around the world, ostensibly advancing the
foundation's agenda in their native regions. These chapters are the
biggest recipients of Wikimedia grant funding. But according to Gardner,
it's not clear how filling the coffers of the chapter organizations
benefits the site as a whole.

Last year, the Funds Dissemination Committee gave out $5.65 million in
grants, the lion's share of which --- 89% --- went to affiliate
chapters. And 12 chapters in particular received 83% of the total grants.

"I believe that currently, too large a proportion of the movement's
money is being spent by the chapters," Gardner, who has largely been
responsible for the foundation's transition into a fundraising behemoth,
wrote in response to the FDC's latest report.

"The value in the Wikimedia projects is primarily created by individual
editors: individuals create the value for readers, which results in
those readers donating money to the movement."

In an email to the Daily Dot, Gardner noted that these opinions were
"not new, nor are they unique to" her.

Indeed, Gardner's statement echoed the criticism of a number of
prominent Wikipedia editors and critics in recent years. The concern is
that all this funding has done less to help the site than it has to
create a "professional bureaucratic class" surrounding the Wikipedia
project," as the Register's Andrew Orlowski put it. Orlowski points out
that the foundation's staff grew from three full-timers in 2006 to 174
in 2012-13.

Gardner herself notes that there are very few members on the FDC who
aren't also chapter members. In fact, the majority of the committee's
members are either former or current chapter board members.

The coziness that exists between the FDC and chapter board members calls
up memories of past chapter improprieties. In 2012, a former chapter
board member was accused of using his position within the organization
to promote Gibraltar on the site. At the same time, he served on the
Gibraltar government payroll as a PR consultant.

Though Gardner believes the FDC is uniquely transparent and that its
members are capable of acting without self-interest, others aren't quite
so convinced.

One critic, Gregory Kohs, co-founder of the muckraking site
Wikipediocracy, describes the foundation's appetite for expansion as
"empire building." He argues that the work of a nearly 200-member
Wikimedia staff could easily be done by a workforce a fraction of the size.

But it's not just the longtime critics. Many everyday Wikipedians are
concerned about whether WMF still exists to serve Wikipedia, or vice versa.

Conflicts of interest are a major area of concern throughout Wikipedia
culture, and editors like Tango say they are unavoidable with so much
money involved.

"'Assume Good Faith' is a great policy when writing an collaborative
encyclopaedia," Tango writes, referring to a fundamental principle on
Wikipedia whereby editors are encouraged to assume all contributions to
the encyclopedia are done with good intent. "It's not so simple when you
are dealing with [$11 million]."

But others are less concerned about corruption and more worried about
how chapters actually spend all that money. Andreas Kolbe, an active
Wikipedian and Wikipediocracy moderator, says many of the chapters have
a propensity for spending on projects intended to bring publicity rather
than genuinely enhancing the site.

"I see little evidence of a customer (i.e. reader) focus in chapters'
spending decisions," Kolbe wrote.

Despite those frank statements on Wikimedia and the FDC, Gardner heaps
lots of praise on the organization she's leaving. She insists the WMF is
adaptable and that, with the right changes, it can shift funding
priorities. One way to do that is to make the FDC more diverse. And
Grant seekers, Gardner said, "should need to be able to say clearly how
their plan will make an important contribution to helping Wikimedia
movement achieve its mission."

At any rate, Gardner plans to step down soon. Will her successor heed
her advice?
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