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Wikipedia Funds

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Wikipedia is a resource I have enjoyed for many years now, and have mostly enjoyed. You may have noticed that they have been increasingly asking for funding over the years (screenshots not mine).

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The claim is essentially that it costs some $2 million USD to run the servers, and without your support, their future in uncertain. This banner has been running for years now.

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So, you as a regular user of the site, would expect that by donating, your money helps secure the future of the website you enjoy and use regularly. Right?

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Except, it was found that this money is not only used for keeping servers online. In fact, they appear to have tens of millions of dollars of surplus from revenue streams.

So where is the money being spent?

Wikipedians Question Wikimedia Fundraising Ethics After “Somewhat-Viral” Tweet

Recently an article named after the same name was released by Andreas Kolbe, responding to a Tweet that wasn’t that popular in the grand-scheme of things.

If you use Wikipedia, you’ve seen pop-ups like this. If you’re like me, you may have donated as a result.

Wikipedia is an amazing website, and the appeals seem heartfelt. But I’ve now learnt the money isn’t going where I thought…

In the article they name and link the Tweet author, which I believe to be incredibly irresponsible, given their position and power in this scenario.

The thread attached to the tweet focused on the Knowledge Equity Fund, “a new US$4.5 million fund created by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2020, to provide grants to external organizations that support knowledge equity by addressing the racial inequities preventing access and participation in free knowledge”.

So Wikipedia spend approximately 2 years of running servers worth of funding on quite a politically motivated, and bypass their own internal scrutiny processes to setup and donate to an organisation to handle the money:

The money was transferred to an outside organisation, Tides Advocacy, sometime in the 2019–2020 financial year when the Foundation found it had a large amount of money left over because of an underspend. This transfer of millions of dollars of donated funds to Tides Advocacy bypassed established grants processes, and was not publicised at the time.

If you go back to the top, you see they ask for funding for “servers, staff and programs”. Clearly what they really meant was “servers, staff and programmes”.

This has not gone down well.

“Long-time Wikimedian Steven Walling and Wiki Education Foundation Executive Director Frank Schulenburg expressed their disagreement:”

Hi Nadee, when I said I supported Steven’s proposal, I meant specifically “Given that this is a pilot and there have been serious concerns expressed about the ROI and ethics of funding grantees not doing any work that has a direct measurable impact on Wikimedia projects, I would encourage you to stop”. I’ve recently seen enough voices online expressing concern about the fact that they thought they donated to keep Wikipedia’s servers running, but ended up having funded some other organization and cause. I think this is a reasonable question and I’m interested in hearing what the Wikimedia Foundation will be doing to ensure that the Knowledge Equity Fund is in line with generally accepted principles of ethical fundraising. –Frank Schulenburg

All of these points raised are clearly made and similarly, other people also have. Nadee then responded:

@Frank Schulenburg I understand your concerns. All of our revenue goes towards supporting the Wikimedia projects, the larger movement, and executing on our mission of the sum of all knowledge. The work of knowledge equity is aligned with our overall mission, as part of the strategic direction outlined in the movement strategy. The Knowledge Equity Fund is one initiative that we are piloting to make progress on the knowledge equity pillar of the movement strategy. In addition, the funds for the Knowledge Equity Fund were set aside in 2020, and we have not added to it since - so this is not something we are constantly fundraising for. In terms of assessing the progress of the first round, I agree that we need to understand the impact and what worked from our first round of grantees. We will be sharing that within the next month. NGunasena

Now I have even more questions. What is the “larger movement” of Wikipedia? It no longer appears to be to provide freely available, unbiased information? If not, then what is the goal here?

I’m also questioning what “knowledge equity” means in this context. Who doesn’t have knowledge, who does have knowledge, what knowledge transfer is expected to occur? It’s very unclear how this aligns with Wikipedia’s funding goals.


It may not be a surprise to you that this discussion is ongoing. It appears that people within the organization are asking difficult questions, and not getting good answers, with the people behind the initiative defending it strongly.

If people wanted to support ‘equity’ through another organization, it would make more sense that they fund these organizations directly, rather than the funds secretly being funnelled into an external organization.

If Wikipedia is unable to maintain their original goal, we should very much consider starting an alternative knowledge base. It is ye unclear to me exactly how to separate politics from the articles, as even in the Scientific communities there is an element of politics. It becomes increasingly clear that they are unable to separate personal politics and the “unbiased” articles they are writing on the subjects.