Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Foundation's budget

I commented just the other day on how the Foundation seems likely to fall short of its budget with the way the current fundraiser is going. I did some poking around, and actually this year's fundraising is pretty much on par with last year's: in the first 31 days of the fundraiser this year, Wikimedia raised $797,418.54. In the 31 days of last year's fundraiser, Wikimedia raised $983,058.43, but $286,800 of that was in the form of a single large anonymous donation. If you consider funds raised from the community only (and not the extraordinary donation) fundraising this year slightly outperformed last year. Given the declining economic conditions, especially in the United States, this is actually quite good. (Quite frankly, if people have a choice between giving to their local food bank and to Wikimedia, please give to the food bank. A website does no good to someone who is starving.)

And, it's probably also enough. Yes, it's well short of the $4.6 million that is budgeted for the upcoming year, and it's even well short of the 2.5 million that is allocated to "technology". But that number is larger than is absolutely required; it includes significant expenses for hardware replacement and expansion that could, if necessary, be deferred. A more realistic number for the absolute minimum required to provide the core services is about $1 million, although that number probably entails some reduction in service quality. With over $800,000 down from the fundraiser, it seems reasonable that ongoing base ratea donations will net the remaining amounts to meet core services over the next year. So while the situation certainly is not rosy, it's not dire either. The Foundation can continue its core mission, although perhaps with some compromise of quality of service.

On one condition: it must not squander money on extravagances that are outside that core mission. I've seen lots of talk from people about the "educational opportunities" that have been passed by. And the simple fact is that now is not the time to go chasing them. The Foundation still doesn't have the infrastructure to be looking to expand its scope of operations. It still needs to build a solid infrastructure to support its core mission (publishing Wikipedia and its sister projects) before it tackles other lines of activity. And it still needs to develop a stable, coherent system of community-based governance. Until such time as Wikimedia can complete an audit on time and without pain, it's not ready to do that. It's bad enough that the Foundation is already committed to an expensive cross-country move; that will absorb a lot of money that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.

And that's going to remain the case even if someone comes up with a bunch of "angel money" from somewhere. Setting aside issues related to the "public support test" (charities in the US aren't supposed to take more than 2% of their income from any one source), the governance just isn't there yet. In some ways, the two are related: the lack of governance is why the money isn't there yet. After all, it was a lack of governance that led to the books being in total disarray in the first place. Throwing money at the problem won't solve it; the culture has to change. And I don't see that it has yet; too many people have been actively trying to prevent the development of effective governance.

As to why that would be going on, I think I will wait until the next post.