Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (WMF) is a not-for-profit Florida corporation with its principle place of business in San Francisco, California. It operates several online collaborative wiki projects including Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikimedia Incubator, Meta-Wiki, Wikidata, Wikivoyage, and owns the now-defunct Nupedia online encyclopedia.


The creation of the foundation was officially announced on June 20, 2003, by the atheist and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales,[1] who had been operating Wikipedia within his adult entertainment company Bomis.[2] At the time, Wikipedia was operating out of Bomis' offices in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The name "Wikimedia" was coined by American author Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list in March 2003.[3] At the start, Wales transferred ownership of all Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Nupedia domain names to Wikimedia along with the copyrights for all materials related to these projects that were created by Bomis employees or Wales himself. The computer equipment used to run all the Wikimedia projects was also donated by Wales to the foundation, which also acquired the domain names "" and "".

In April 2005, the US Internal Revenue Service determined that the foundation was an educational foundation in the category "Adult, Continuing Education", making all contributions to the foundation tax-deductible for U.S. federal income tax purposes.

On September 25, 2007, the foundation's board decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. The Board said its major reasons for choosing San Francisco were proximity to like-minded organizations and potential partners as well as cheaper and more convenient international travel than is available from St. Petersburg, Florida.[4][5][6]


For a more detailed treatment, see Wikia.

In January 2004, Jimmy Wales appointed his business partners Tim Shell and Michael E. Davis to the foundation's board. In June 2004, an election was held for two user representative board members. Following one month of campaigning and two weeks of online voting, Angela Beesley and Florence Nibart-Devouard were elected to join the board. In late 2004, Wales and Beesley launched a startup company, Wikia, affiliated with neither Wikimedia nor Bomis, except for their presence as principals/trustees. In July 2005, Beesley and Nibart-Devouard were re-elected to the board. On July 1, 2006, Beesley resigned from the board effective upon election of her successor, expressing concern about "certain events and tendencies that have arisen within the organization since the start of this year," but stating her intent to continue to participate in the Wikimedia projects, and in the formation of an Australian chapter. A special election was held in September to finish Beesley's term, ending with the mid-2007 election. Erik Möller won the election. Möller was subsequently hired as Deputy Executive Director of the WMF. On December 8, 2006, the board expanded to seven people with the appointments of Kat Walsh and Oscar van Dillen. Walsh was elected Chair of the board in July 2012.

Wales and Beesley continued to develop Wikia as a for-profit alternative to the WMF projects, and some critics allege that by deleting very specialized articles and content from Wikipedia, a core team was pushing people to develop specialized wikis on Wikia. When Wikipedia community voted 61-39% percent to treat all links to other sites equally by removing nofollow (Google-ignored) tags for all of them, the Wikipedia co-founder overruled this decision and Wikipedia now favors Wikia in its treatment of nofollow tags.[7][8] Michael E. Davis, a former business partner of Wales who served for years as a founding member of the WMF board and was MWF's Treasurer, was named Treasurer and Secretary of Wikia in January 2006. In January 2009, Wikia subleased two conference rooms to the WMF.

Wales continues as a voting member of the WMF Board and serves as its spokesperson.

In 2006, Wikia received a major round of venture capital funding from Amazon.[9] Although a large number of payment processors are available, as of 2013, the WMF uses Amazon to process donation payments.[10]

Doran scandal

In January 2007, Carolyn Doran was named chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as head of communications.[11] Doran began working at WMF as a part-time bookkeeper in 2006 after being sent by a temporary agency. Doran later left the foundation in July 2007, and Sue Gardner was hired as consultant and special advisor (later becoming the Chief Executive Officer). It was later disclosed[12] that Doran was a convicted felon, with a DUI arrest during her tenure at the foundation and a substantial criminal history, including shooting her boyfriend and complicity in credit card forgery.[13] Her departure from the organization was cited as one of the reasons the foundation took about seven months to release its fiscal 2007 financial audit.[14]

Site shut downs

As a section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the foundation must not be "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."[15] However, WMF has repeatedly used shutting down its website or threatening to shut down its website as a tactic to pressure specific legislative outcomes.

On October 4, 2011, the WMF servers were reprogramed to hide the contents of the Italian langauge version of Wikipedia were hidden, as a protest against paragraph 29 of the "DDL intercettazioni" (Wiretapping Bill).[16] The proposed bill would empower anyone who believes themselves to have been attacked by the content of a web site to enforce publication of a reply, uneditable and uncommented, on the same web site, within 48 hours and without any prior evaluation of the claim by a judge or to face a €12,000 fine.

On October 4 through 6, 2011, the WMF redirected all pages on the Italian language version of Wikipedia redirected to a statement opposing the proposed legislation.[17] This was true for all users, not just those IP addresses based in Italy. On October 7, the Italian Wikipedia pages were again available, but a notice about the proposed legislation was still displayed at the top of pages.

The success of the Italian shut down whetted the appetite of people seeking to influence legislation in the United States. In December 2011, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales discussed a possible coordinated blackout by Wikipedia and other United States websites to protest anti-piracy two bills pending before the United States Congress: SOPA and PIPA. After committing the WMF to join a larger boycott, Wales initiated discussion with editors about his plan. Editors and others[18] debated the alternatives of completely interrupting service for one or more days, or alternatively presenting site visitors with a blanked page directing them to further information before permitting them to complete searches.[19][20] On January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that the English-language Wikipedia would be blacked out for 24 hours on January 18.[21] The Simple English Wikipedia voted to continue full service and did not join the blackout.[22] Many editors complained that the blackout decision was not made in a democratic fashion and undercut Wikipedia's objectivity and non-political mission.[23]


WMF's fundraising and expenses have grown at a very rapid rate. Some critics claim that WMF is taking in money faster than it can spend wisely.[24]

Year Total Support and Revenue Total Expenses Increase in Net Assets Net Assets at End of Year
2003/2004[25] $80,129 $23,463 $56,666 $56,666
2004/2005[25] $379,088 $177,670 $211,418 $268,084
2005/2006[25] $1,508,039 $791,907 $736,132 $1,004,216
2006/2007[26] $2,734,909 $2,077,843 $654,066 $1,658,282
2007/2008[27] $5,032,981 $3,540,724 $3,519,886 $5,178,168
2008/2009[28] $8,658,006 $5,617,236 $3,053,599 $8,231,767
2009/2010[29] $17,979,312 $10,266,793 $6,310,964 $14,542,731
2010/2011[30] $24,785,092 $17,889,794 $9,649,413 $24,192,144
2011/2012[31] $34,800,000 (prelim.) $27,200,000 (prelim.) $7,600,000 (estim.) $31,800,000 (estim.)

If the WMF has $31 million in the bank, those funds could produce (at 4%) $1,240,000 in annual income, which is more than enough to fund the Wikipedia web servers in perpetuity. So, people are questioning the need for the WMF's annual fund raising campaign.

Dispersed accountability

A major factor in preventing accountability is that the fundraising conducted on the Wikipedia website links to a number of different solicitation pages depending on the nationality of the donor. Although the WMF collects the funds from donors located in the United States and other nations, fundraising in many countries is conducted by the country's own national chapter. The chapters then share the revenues with WMF. However, each chapter adopts its own spending practices and accountability standards.

The German chapter spends a portion of its funds on technology, but most of the other chapters focus on conferences, travel and other soft costs. Needless to say, with so much money being spent on non-technology / infrastructure items, the WMF and its chapters have drawn critics from within their own organization. However, internal dissent is quickly deleted.[32]

The WMF has two chapters in the United States: Wikimedia New York (which has a 501(c)(3) status from the IRS) and Wikimedia District of Columbia, whose 501(c)(3) exemption application was abandoned. The Treasurer of the UK WMF chapter suddenly resigned in 2013.[33] The outgoing vice president of Wikimedia Australia (who was an unsuccessful candidate for President in its 2012 election) applied for a travel grant with two of her friends to visit Colorado ski resorts in December 2012 and sought the funding retroactively.[34]

The President of Wikimedia Australia has spend so much time traveling with the President of Wikimedia Indonesia that the two are getting married.


  1. Neate, Rupert. "Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales goes bananas", The Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2008. Retrieved on October 25, 2009. “The encyclopedia's huge fan base became such a drain on Bomis's resources that Mr Wales, and co-founder Larry Sanger, thought of a radical new funding model – charity.” 
  2. Wales, Jimmy (June 20, 2003). Wikipedia English mailing list message.
  3. Rampton, Sheldon (March 16, 2003). Wikipedia English mailing list message.
  4. Carlos Moncada (September 25, 2007). Wikimedia Foundation Moving To Another Bay Area. The Tampa Tribune.
  5. Richard Mullins (September 26, 2007). Online Encyclopedia To Leave St. Petersburg For San Francisco. The Tampa Tribune.
  6. Kim, Ryan (October 10, 2007). Wikipedia team plans move to San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle.
  7. Nik Cubrilovic (April 28, 2007). Wikipedia: Special Treatment for Wikia and some other Wikis. Retrieved on July 22, 2012.
  9. "Amazon invests in Wikia", Puget Sound Business Journal, December 6, 2006. Retrieved on February 4, 2013. 
  10. Wikipedia:Village pump (policy) (December 3, 2012). Retrieved on February 4, 2013.
  11. Danny. Current staff. Wikimedia Foundation. Archived from the original on February 1, 2007. Retrieved on February 1, 2007.
  12. Metz, Cade. "Wikipedia COO was convicted felon", December 13, 2007. Retrieved on December 27, 2007. 
  13. Bergstein, Brian. "Felon Became COO of Wikipedia Foundation", December 21, 2007. Retrieved on December 27, 2007. 
  14. Ral315. "Signpost interview: Florence Devouard", The Wikipedia Signpost, November 19, 2007. 
  15. 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3).
  16. Camera dei Deputati: disegno di legge N. 1415-B (Italian). Camera dei Deputati (11 June 2010). Retrieved on September 18, 2012. (English translation)
  17. "Wikipedia Shuts Down Italian Site In Response To Berlusconi's New Wiretap Act", Adam Taylor, Business Insider, 4 October 2011
  18. Charlie Osborne, "Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?", iGeneration on ZDNet, December 13, 2011, 11:04 am PST. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  19. Christopher Williams. "Wikipedia co-founder threatens blackout over anti-piracy law", The Telegraph, December 13, 2011. Retrieved on September 18, 2012. 
  20. Brett Winterford. "Wikipedia mulls blackout to protest SOPA", itnews, December 13, 2011. Retrieved on September 18, 2012. “Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has threatened a knowledge "blackout" of the online encyclopedia to protest a US anti-piracy bill that could have serious ramifications for online service providers.” 
  21. "Wikipedia to go dark in piracy protest", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, January 17, 2012. Retrieved on September 18, 2012. 
  23. Svensson, Peter. "Wikipedia Editors Question Site's Planned Blackout", January 17, 2012. Retrieved on September 18, 2012. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Financial Statements June 30, 2006, 2205 and 2004. Upload, Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  26. Microsoft Word - {F0900CC7-D37E-4CDF-95E3-B1F38D7DCD03}.doc (PDF). Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  27. Microsoft Word - 31935 SFO Wikimedia fs.doc (PDF). Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  28. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Financial Statements June 30, 2009 and 2008. Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  29. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Financial Statments June 30, 2010 and 2009. Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  30. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Financial Statements June, 2011 and 2010. Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  31. Wikimedia Foundation Plan - Final for Website. Retrieved on 2012-11-26.
  32. Talk:Netball (January 30, 2013).
  33. John Byrne Stands Down as the Treasurer and a Trustee of Wikimedia UK (February 3, 2013). Retrieved on February 4, 2013.
  34. Proposal:Paralympic Winter Sports. Wikimedia Australia. Retrieved on February 4, 2013.