It’s that time of year again. As the Christmas lights go up, Wikipedia’s donation drive starts. Wikipedia states that the donations are needed to keep the site online. Guilt-tripped folks have contributed to Wikipedia in the belief that their money helps fund operating costs. Students, who are already in debt, are urged to donate in case Wikipedia fades away.
But what Wikipedia doesn’t tell us is that it is loaded with cash, raising way more money every year than it needs to keep going.
Donations are funding a massive expansion in research projects and professional administrative staff. Amazingly, Wikipedia has found the money to fund a lobbyist.
All this has been met with disappointment by the loyal enthusiasts who do all the hard work of keeping the project afloat by contributing and editing words. They aren’t paid. For the first time, Wikipedians are starting to investigate the cash awards and are making some fascinating discoveries.
First, let’s have a look at the finances.
The original intention based on the words by co-founder Jimmy Wales, was to fund Wikipedia through advertising money. He stated, “If Wikipedia were to get very successful, in terms of web traffic, then it would be simple to introduce just enough advertising to continue to cover expenses.”
In 2006 Wales rejected that choice and pointed out other revenue sources like leveraging the brand into television, games, radio. But he left the door to advertising open just in case it was wanted.
Today, the funding is organized by a non-profit corporation, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF). The growth in funding has been spectacular. In 2006, the foundation had just three employees, and functioned on a $3m budget. In 2007 evaluators at Charity Navigator gave WMF only one star for efficiency. The Wikimedia Foundation employed a convicted felon as its COO to look after its books while she was on parole. The executive’s convictions included check fraud and unlawfully shooting her boyfriend in the chest.