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Wikipedia Has Millions in the Bank–Why Beg for More

Every year, Wikipedia flies a giant banner ad across the top of its website. This is an appeal by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, asking for donations to keep the website running.

Granted, Wikipedia needs your help to keep going. But is it really?

In June 2021, Wikimedia passed the $100 million mark on the Wikimedia endowment, which was not expected to be reached until 2026. year.

Why does Wikipedia need money?

Like any website, Wikipedia has server costs, administration costs, staff costs, and more. For a website the size of Wikipedia, these costs are exorbitant.

According to Statista, it boasted more than 5.5 unique visitors and more than 40 billion page views every month in 2021. In 2014, Wells calculated that raising $48 million during the year “paid for less than a penny per person [visiting the site]. Per month.”

The Wikimedia Foundation’s 2021–2022 annual plan clarifies that the total operating budget needs to be spent at $150 million, including $15.6 million allocated for grants.

This is a significant increase in grants spent on growing the community and content, although it does not specify the exact locations that this money has been spent.

The bulk of this expense goes towards what Wikimedia refers to as the programmatic ratio. This includes all aspects of platform development such as technical infrastructure, platform development and brand awareness.

About a quarter of this budget goes towards what Wikimedia calls the thriving movement. The Thrive Movement is the process by which Wikimedia seeks to increase the use of Wikipedia in underserved communities. This includes improved translation support, as well as Wikipedia in the classroom trainers for these communities.

Wikipedia is transparent in saying that it has exceeded planned revenue targets in previous years and is expected to do the same this year. Of course, this means that Wikipedia already has a lot of repositories.

It currently holds $86.8 million in cash and $137.4 million in short- and long-term investments, according to its 2020-2021 full-year financial statement. The Foundation explains this as a decision to cover at least six to 18 months of total expenses in case of an emergency.

Everything may not be as transparent as it seems

Wells says this can create the image that Internet hosting is a major cost. But the Wikimedia Foundation spends only about 8% of its total budget on it. Less money is devoted to its infrastructure than to the thriving movement.

In 2014, Wikipedia editor Gregory Kohs wrote, “There’s also a big bucket for ‘other operating expenses’ totaling about $12.5 million—some of which, of course, pays for expensive downtown office space in San Francisco.”

Critics of Wikipedia often point to the money spent on “movement organizations”, which are organizers who arrange workshops and events to celebrate Wikipedia. The only ones on offer to the writers present are soda and pizza, says Kohs.

If you think Wikipedia should be spending more money on the people who create and manage content, you’re not alone. Sue Gardner, former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, raised some “significant concerns” last year before leaving the organization:

I believe that at present, a large portion of the movement’s money is being spent by the chapters.

Value in Wikimedia projects is primarily created by individual editors: individuals create value for readers, which results in those readers donating money to the movement … I’m not sure the added value created by movement entities such as The chapters justify the financial cost, and I wonder whether it makes more sense for the movement to focus a large amount of the spending on direct financial support for the individuals working in the projects.

Gardner also called for greater accountability of these movement entities requesting funds to clearly define success or failure.

The Case for Donating to Wikipedia

So, why should you donate to Wikipedia when it can cut costs and strengthen your belt?

Wells reasons that it’s important to invest in engineering and innovation, which leads to things like better translation support, grant funding, and the upcoming Parasoid rendering for talk pages.

Wikipedia is the best approximation of a complete description of knowledge we’ve seen. It is also the strongest. most easily accessible. and most secure. It exists on servers around the world, so unlike the Library of Alexandria, it cannot be burned.

But it could be cached. It can be left to stagnate, be neglected and forgotten. Worse, it could become the rare domain of the wealthy elite, like so much information before it. I would hate to see it, and would hate it even more if I were a part of it. So, okay, Jimmy Wales.

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