This month marked my official one-year anniversary as CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. Based on some feedback from this list, I have tried to send a regular update every few months (see January, April, June, September). I wanted to send another one today to reflect on my first year, and share upcoming work we have planned at the Foundation.
Some of you may recall that I prepared for joining Wikimedia with a two-month listening tour that led me to talk to a few hundred volunteers and Foundation staff across 55 countries. This shaped the five puzzles and three priorities that I shared with you when I started. These puzzles continue to guide what I believe are the biggest questions we must answer collectively, especially the question of, “what does the world need from us now?”
I also completed the three priorities I outlined last January: (1) reimagining the Foundation’s annual plan to be more firmly anchored in our movement’s strategic direction; (2) recruiting a capable Chief Product & Technology Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation; and (3) starting to refresh the Foundation’s organizational values to guide our ways of working with each other, and with all of you.
English Fundraising Campaign
As 2022 came to a close, a Request for Comment (RfC) launched on English Wikipedia to propose changes to the messaging of year-end fundraising banners. The Wikimedia Foundation accepted the guidance provided by the RfC, and established a co-creation page to seek volunteer input on banner messaging from community members. Throughout the fundraising campaign, the Foundation team posted regular updates to this co-creation page. In brief, over 450+ banners were tested during this year’s campaign, and 4.7M of revenue was raised compared to the original 10M goal (a shortfall of $5.3 million). During the first few days, the new banners resulted in about 70% less revenue than on the corresponding days in the prior year. Additional information on the campaign results are posted here. The fundraising team will continue to work with all language communities on banner messaging in the year ahead, and we look forward to building on what we learned in this campaign.
The RfC raised a much wider range of issues than just fundraising banners. While anticipated revenue shortfalls made this a difficult period for the Foundation, I believe we tried to hear these broader concerns, many of which are shared across communities beyond English Wikipedia.
One concern was about the very rapid budget growth of the Foundation, which has stabilized in the last year. Given the revenue gap from this year’s English campaign, we are reviewing and lowering our expenditure for the current year. And I anticipate we will have a reduced budget and certainly slower growth next year. We will have more information by April on future financial projections.
I communicated previously that I have started frank conversations with the Board of Trustees and Foundation staff about what roles the Foundation should grow (like support for technology) and what activities we should hand over to others or stop altogether. Looking ahead, the size of our budget should be driven by what the Foundation should be doing and can actually do well. The 2030 movement strategy provided guidance (and motivated much of our historic growth), but was short on specifics. I await the Movement Charter to provide further clarity, but believe the Foundation may need to make some decisions sooner.
A second concern was about the Foundation’s responsiveness to editors and other technical contributors. We collectively have to respond to decades of growing technical debt, poor processes for maintaining software, and staying relevant in a world where technology keeps going faster. There is no quick fix to most of our technical challenges.
That said, our Chief Product and Technology Officer Selena Deckelmann, who comes with experience supporting online communities and collaborating with technical contributors, has made meaningful progress in her first six months. She has shared the following update:
“We’ve made progress on PageTriage issues raised by New Page Patrollers in an open letter. In the last 120 days, 141 patches have been reviewed through collaboration between the Foundation and the community. There have also been several meetings between community members and staff to talk about the future of PageTriage and the newcomer experience, and there is now work planned in Q4 to update the extension. We continue to engage with Commons as we are making critically needed software upgrades to community prioritized tools. The Foundation’s Wishathon (leading up to the community wishlist kickoff for 2023) involved about 40 staff contributing time over a week in December to deliver 71 patches and 4 wishes granted. We are working with communities to make Vector 2022 the default skin, after 3 years of development work, feedback and continued iteration with wiki communities.”
In March, Selena will be ready to host forums to share what she thinks are needed improvements to the Foundation’s processes, including technical support and collaborative product development. Beginning next week, the Foundation’s product and technology teams will start posting their planned objectives to solicit input and guidance from contributors.
And, finally, comments were made in the RfC about the unclear role of Tides in managing the Knowledge Equity Fund. Over the next few months, we will be moving the remainder of the Equity Fund from Tides back into the Foundation. Relatedly, the Wikimedia Endowment has received its 501(c)(3) status from the US Internal Revenue Service. We are in the process of setting up its financial systems and transitioning the Endowment’s funds out of Tides as well.
In my 9-month update, I shared that my top three priorities will remain strategy, leadership and culture.
On strategy, the Board of Trustees will meet this March in New York to consider a few topics that require taking a multi-year view:
(1) Wikimedia’s financial model and future projections for revenue streams in online fundraising (which we anticipate will not continue to grow at the same rate), the next phase of the Wikimedia Endowment, and the lessons we have learned so far from Wikimedia Enterprise‘s first year in operation.
(2) Re-centering the Foundation’s responsibility in supporting the technology needs of the Wikimedia movement by understanding the needs of our contributor communities, as well as emerging topics like machine learning/artificial intelligence and innovations for new audiences.
(3) Beginning more focused conversations to establish frameworks and principles for understanding the Foundation’s core roles and responsibilities. This is intended to help to provide inputs into the movement charter deliberations and broader movement strategy conversations.
Members of the Movement Charter Drafting Committee and Wikimedia Endowment Trustees will join in the March discussions, and we will share a report with you after the meeting.
This strategic planning will happen concurrently to our annual planning cycle. Annual planning is being led this year by the needs of our Product & Technology departments. This will be the first time since about 2015 that these two departments will undertake joint planning. Our intent is to repeat the two-way planning processes we experimented with last year, both on-wiki and off-wiki. Finally, we intend to provide more granular information about the Foundation’s staffing, team structures, and specific budgets as an outcome of these planning efforts.
On leadership, we have welcomed new Trustees to the Board following the last community-and-affiliate election. I also made a few senior staff appointments: Lisa Gruwell was named Deputy to the CEO alongside her responsibilities as Chief Advancement Officer; Anusha Alikhan became the head of communications at the Wikimedia Foundation; Nadee Gunasena was appointed Chief of Staff; and as of this week, Stephen LaPorte formally begins as the next General Counsel.
I believe that values and culture will matter the most for any real reset to occur in how the Wikimedia Foundation relates to communities, and vice-versa. This is especially true when trust has to be built and maintained; and when any kind of change has to be catalyzed and sustained. The Board and Foundation tried to model this in how we heard and responded to the request for changes in fundraising banners. And we will continue to spend more time reflecting on what the world and our global communities need from us now.
I think we are heading more in the right direction and continue to welcome your feedback either on my talk page or at miskanderwikimedia.org.