Wikipedia meets $16M fundraising goal ... the hard way

Annual appeal to donors raises needed funds and renews old questions

Wikipedia logo

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced over the weekend that his organization has reached its $16 million annual fundraising goal.

The good news, according to Wales, is that the donations will enable Wikipedia to remain free of advertising.

(2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

The bad news, in my opinion, is that the donations will enable Wikipedia to remain free of advertising, despite the fact that the online encyclopedia has become far too big and far too important to be funded by what amounts to an enormous annual bake sale.    

From a memo written by Wales:

Every year, the world comes together to support Wikipedia and its sister sites. Our very first fundraiser was just a community effort to buy a volunteer - who later became our first CTO - a much-needed new laptop.

But this year is a little more incredible than most because this year we celebrate Wikipedia's tenth anniversary. It's so important that we kick the year off just like this: by fully funding the Wikimedia Foundation's budget to support Wikipedia and all the sister projects as we head into the next decade of our work together.

More than 500,000 donations averaging $22 apiece were made to the Wikimedia Foundation, while local Wikipedia chapters generated another 130,000 gifts worldwide. Impressive by any measure, but a shaky foundation on which to place what has become a priceless Internet showcase (and, yes, I'm well aware of Wikipedia's shortcomings; they're minor compared to its overall value).

In an earlier post pleading for donations Wales wrote:

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn't belong here. Not in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park.

He's correct that Wikipedia is something special and not far off in comparing it to a library or public park. But libraries and public parks are not dependent primarily on private donations for operating expenses; they are sustained by taxes or tuition, dependable revenue streams that can grow as needs grow.

Wikipedia's needs are growing and will only continue to do so, while the organization has notoriously struggled in the past to balance its books. And while small donations may be its staple, large corporate donors such as Google are already kicking in millions.

On the page trumpeting its recent fundraising success, the organization notes:

"Technology: Servers, maintenance, bandwidth, development. Wikipedia is the #5 website in the world, and it runs on a fraction of what other top websites spend. People: The other top websites have thousands of employees. We have about 50, making your donation a great investment in a highly efficient not-for-profit organization."

These facts may be cited to encourage private donations but they actually serve better to make the point that Wikipedia has outgrown its business model.

Advertising is not evil.

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