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Wikimedia Fundraising: Where Is Your Money Going?

By Eric Barbour

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Few people realise that when they think they are donating to Wikipedia (with a ‘p’) they are actually donating to Wikimedia (with an ‘m’). For example, if you are logging in from an IP address based in the UK, even if you are not from the UK but here on business or pleasure, you will be taken to a page owned by Wikimedia UK. Note that: it says Wikimedia with an ‘m’ not a ‘p’, and it says ‘UK’. If you are outside the UK you don’t get the ‘UK’ but you still get the ‘m’.

Wikimedia is not the same as Wikipedia, so you are not donating to Wikipedia. Some of the money will go to Wikipedia to pay the costs of running the enormous server farm which supports the huge Wikipedia traffic. But that is small compared to the sum that Wikimedia spends annually, and in any case you are not supporting the construction of Wikipedia itself, which is entirely written by volunteers. Wikimedia International (the Wikimedia Foundation) has spent lots of money on travel, entertainment, and Sue Gardner’s (and now Lila Tretikov’s) decent salary. But none of this supports Wikipedia itself.

Wikimedia Foundation revenue, expenses and assets
Have steadily risen since the Foundation was first established as a Section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. So far, revenue has always substantially exceeded expenditure in each year, and the Foundation has built up healthy reserves. As of 2012 assets were standing at about $34.9 million, more than one year’s expenditure at 2011–2012 spending levels. By 2014 net assets were up to $53.4 million.

The following table is compiled from the “Statements of Activities” (ending 30 June) in the Financial Reports available here. Note that WMF fundraising was paltry and amateurish, until Sue Gardner (THL) became Director in 2007. Unfortunately, expenses rose at a similar rate — mostly staff salaries, travel and miscellaneous. The actual hosting and bandwidth charges to keep Wikipedia and its allied projects online have been roughly constant since 2009, at about $2.5 million. Nonetheless, the WMF managed to increase its net assets by a factor of 1000 in only 10 years. By 2015 the WMF was awash in money.

Year Total Support and Revenue   Total Expenses   Increase in Net Assets   Net Assets at End of Year
2003/2004 $80,129 $23,463 $56,666 $56,666
2004/2005 $379,088 $177,670 $211,418 $268,084
2005/2006 $1,508,039 $791,907 $736,132 $1,004,216
2006/2007 $2,734,909 $2,077,843 $654,066 $1,658,282
2007/2008 $5,032,981 $3,540,724 $3,519,886 $5,178,168
2008/2009 $8,658,006 $5,617,236 $3,053,599 $8,231,767
2009/2010 $17,979,312 $10,266,793 $6,310,964 $14,542,731
2010/2011 $24,785,092 $17,889,794 $9,649,413 $24,192,144
2011/2012 $38,479,665 $29,260,652 $10,736,914 $34,929,058
2012/2013 $48,635,408 $35,704,796 $10,260,066 $45,189,124
2013/2014 $52,804,246 $45,900,745 $8,285,897 $53,475,021

The Wikipedians know there’s a problem

*WMUK Office Correspondence Log/10 December 2011 “This week has seen a rise in the more complex items of correspondence, for example … Cheques made payable to Wikipedia, which have to be voided and returned with a custom-written letter.”

* Mark delirium at hackish.org Sun Jan 1 06:04:43 UTC 2012 “Informally canvassing some of my non-Wikipedian friends and colleagues, the vast majority were under the impression that the purpose of the fundraiser was to raise money to “keep the lights on”, more or less: to pay for servers and bandwidth holding the *.wikipedia.org websites, along with some associated stuff like the Wikimedia Commons media repository, and a few programmers and sysadmins to maintain the servers and MediaWiki. “I’d say (nearly?) everyone was pretty surprised when I sort of hemmed and hawed and explained that yes, that’s the use of some of the money, but the budget is much larger than just that, and the main purpose of the fundraiser is to raise money for more ambitious projects, like new initiatives, grants to researchers, funding for travel and events, grants to Wikimedia chapters, etc. Some were pretty annoyed, feeling it was a bit of a bait-and-switch: the advertising gave them the impression that their donation was being used to keep wikipedia.org on the air and maintain the servers/software, and they didn’t even realize the Wikimedia Foundation did or planned to do any of the other things with their money. “

*Domas Mituzas midom.lists at gmail.com Tue Jan 3 13:34:06 UTC 2012 “Mark wrote it very much the way I feel about it – I talk to lots of people, and they’ve been donating in early days or few years ago, but they stopped donating lately – and they are still reading our annual reports and what not. People who understand what Wikipedia is and what Wikimedia is stop supporting financially. Of course, they are way more interested and way more willing to help than average person, who’d donate only if we say “this is to keep lights running”, but yet they turn away. This does tell something.This infinite loop of “we should do more things, because we can raise money”-“we need more money, because we want to do more things” doesn’t work that well, when growth of projects has flatlined, so fundraising team has to resort to blinking banners. Last year we discussed this, and “blinking banner was an error”. This year pictures at top left, blinking banners, etc – are becoming a norm. This isn’t much of a slippery slope to say that next year we should expect dancing monkeys. “

Leak of #wikipedia-en-admins discussion, 2 Apr 2013
An IRC discussion, leaked by an unknown admin, reveals that the popular webcomic XKCD is providing considerable financial support to the WMF. It also shows the general cluelessness and argumentativeness of Wikipedia administrators, as usual. It should be noted that the bulk of WMF donations tend to be small ones, although large organizations such as Google (THL) and various nonprofit groups give the WMF millions every year.

<guerillero> he raised $30K
<guerillero> for the WMF
<Coren> Kingpin13: ... I don't think that's quite it.
<guerillero> in less than 24 hoursa
<closedmouth> guerillero: your point?
<Earwig> when we get like $500,000 on a typical fundraiser day
*** guerillero shrugs
<guerillero> 30K is nothing to shake a stick at
<closedmouth> "vandalism is ok, as long as we're getting some money"
<Aranda56> opps who raised 30k?
<guerillero> the readers of XKCD
<Aranda56> XKCD?
<Gfoley4> popular webcomic
<Aranda56> oh
<guerillero> and I think this is the best breaching test ever conducted. 
He knows our policies as well as we do

2014 banner ads

This came up in a forum discussion thread here at Wikipediocracy. Despite numerous complaints and even arguments on Wikimedia-l, this round of banner-ad harassment earned more than $30 million. Desperately-worded emails directly to major donors were used heavily, and attracted much criticism.

2014 report
April 2015: As announced here and quoted here and here:

“In the previous fiscal year 2013-2014, the Fundraising team raised $52.6 million, exceeding the annual plan goal by 5%. So far in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, (from July 1, 2014 – January 7, 2015), the team has raised $58.5 million from 4.2 million total donations. By reaching this number, we met our goal for the fiscal year six months ahead of our revenue plan……Due to changing readership [see Considerations section, below] Fundraising intentionally exceeded our goal in the 2014-2015 fiscal year in order to prepare for future challenges. We have also explored new banner formats and messaging to increase the effectiveness of our appeals and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.”

* According to our projections, our revenue from our year-end English fundraiser would have decreased by 43% had we run the same campaign as last year.
* 90% of funds come from North America and Europe.
* Traffic is in decline in Europe and North America
* In the U.S.: Between 2013 and 2014, total desktop and mobile pageviews in the U.S. dropped 8.6%
* Traffic is also in decline in many key European countries, for example:
* Belgium: 30% decline in total pageviews
* Netherlands: 31% decline in pageviews
* Traffic is up in many other countries, however these are not countries where we raise significant funds – and in some cases we are unable to fundraise due to local or national laws.
* India: 13% increase in total pageviews
* Iran: 168% increase in total pageviews

.

Meanwhile, at Wikimedia UK…..
The money they raised for 2012 went entirely on what is listed here, none of which is easy to make sense of. (Each year, WMUK completely changes the “Activity Plan” format and breakdown of funds accounting, making it very difficult to compare years. For example, 2013 and 2014. Masterpieces of “creative accounting”.)

WMUK Estimated income:
*2010: £90,350 (from here)
*2011: £601,000 (from here)
*2012: £1,051,000
*2013: £743,000
*2014: £746,712

You can give those wonderful WMF people more money this year, if you wish. Just don’t believe any reports that they actually “need” the money.

 

Image credits: Flickr/Atomic Mutant Flea Circus, Flickr/Tax Credits  ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

7 comments to Wikimedia Fundraising: Where Is Your Money Going?

  • Ross McPherson

    People are even more careless with their time than they are with their money. Put a price on those voluntary man hours and the public’s charity is truly staggering. And yes, Wiki-whatever doesn’t deserve it. There are much more worthy charities I wish I had donated time to.

    • Leila

      Given the amount of paid editing that occurs, do you suppose volunteer editors might have motives other than altruism? Instead of thinking of it as donating their time to the WMF, they are more accurately engaging in general communicative acts to further their interests or goals.

  • WMUK is under regular scrutiny due to their bizarre spending habits.

    Didn’t they just have to lay off some employees because they spent too much hosting Wikimania last year?

  • […] Wikipediocracy доказали, что собранные пожертвования часто тратятся на дорогостоящие путешествия и развлечения […]

  • Eddie

    Good article. Short, to the point. Provoking. Worrying.

  • Mike Cleven / Skookum1

    One thing that bothered me greatly and which had stopped me from donating photos to the Commons was the use of WMF funds to wage legal war against the photographer whose camera took the smiling monkey photo (or the monkey used his camera to take the selfie or whatever)…… the case will cost millions and is likely to fall in the photographer’s favour (the National Photographic Assn is on-side with him, for one thing). It’s not just the WMF’s arrogance and disregard for the photographer’s rights that bothered me, but the defamatory and accusative comments made about him and his motives; even banal ones like “he wants to pay for his vacation” (which yes, all photographers taking such a trip would hope to) were bad enough; many were outright contemptuous and *nasty*.

    So…given that contemptuous and nasty is part for the course in ANIs including from well-established admins and they don’t get any ‘punishment’ for their own violations of no-personal-attacks and accept-good-faith, there’s a culture of disregard within Wikipedia that includes WMF-funded staff….and now, given this case, legal subcontractors with high fees… out to dispute a creative artist’s/entpreneur’s right to make a buck so that Wikimedia can ‘prove something’…. prove what?

    And at what cost?

    As for the rest of the mis-spending described above, it’s reminiscent of the funds donated to help the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, and Haitian Earthquake victims..which went 95%+ to organization bureaucrats and rarely, if ever, to the victims.

    Translation: Wikipedia is the “liner” for the long-time Wikimedia “con”….. and Wikipedia is run amuck and controlled by operatives of either the WMF or those who have the funds to spend all day online harassing people pointing out flaws of policy/bias etc….

    De-fund it and throw it in the dustbin of web history where it belongs, is what I have to say about it.

    And let the bloody photographer have the rights to his photo. It’s not like WMF is going to help out that monkey in Borneo or his tribe with it are they?

  • Joshua Brown

    If WMF’s revenues are about $60m/yr., and it costs about $3m/yr to run Wikipedia…what are they doing with the other $50some-odd million?

    Mr. Wales made the claim on Quora (https://www.quora.com/Wikipedia-in-2015/Why-does-Wikipedia-ask-for-donations-even-though-it-has-a-huge-reserve-60M-of-value-cash-investments-etc) that “it would be extremely unwise for us to run with very small reserves,” but nowhere did he justify the NEED for a large reserve.

    Users asked to donate are met with “urgent appeals” from the founder and other members. “Help us keep the lights on!” The most recent fund-raiser message said both that “Wikipedia is read by over 450 million people” and that “if every reader donated $3, our fundraiser would be over in an hour.” So, they’re asking for $3 from 450,000,000 people? $1.35 billion dollars? You could shut PBS up for a decade and build a mansion out of tote-bags.