Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (WMF) is a not-for-profit Florida corporation with its principal place of business in San Francisco, California. It was founded by Jimmy Wales, who has a permanent position on the Board of Directors. 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. Its Executive Director is Katherine Maher. In essence, an operator of a phonographic Web site, set up a non-profit foundation to which to transfer his crowd-sourced project, only to end up with the Chairman of its Board of Directors being a lesbian secretly married to a woman who misused her Foundation connections to openly harass male volunteers that attempted to maintain quality control on her articles. The WMF Board then turned its back on the army of long-time volunteers to reinvent their projects to promote subjective individual personal opinions rather than objective truth to create "epistemic justice". Meanwhile, it is using its donations to sue the National Security Agency (NSA) over government efforts to fight terrorism.

The foundation's headquarters address is 1 Montgomery Street, Suite 1600, San Francisco, CA 94104, Phone:(415) 839-6885. Supposed business hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m. PST.[1] However, the WMF shifted to remote operations and half-time work at full-time pay in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]

For the fiscal year ending 2017-06-30, the Executive Director's salary was $307,141.[3]


The creation of the foundation was officially announced on June 20, 2003, by the atheist and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales,[4] who had been operating Wikipedia within his pornographic company Bomis.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7][8][9]

The Wikimedia Foundation Board met in 2016 in a small town in Italy to discuss transparency and communication. The Foundation funded all Board members' travel to Italy.


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. Walsh was not re-elected to the WMF Board in 2013.

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.[10][11] 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 August 2009, Matt Halprin, Partner of the Omidyar Network, was asked to join the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. Halprin was responsible for an Omidyar team that “pursues investments in Social Media”, and Omidyar invested part of $4 million into Wikia, Inc. in 2006. So, his company would succeed if Wikia made a nice return on investment, yet of all of the available competent Silcon Valley experts, the WMF selected Halprin to serve on the Board that is entrusted to ensure that the WMF treats Wikia on an arms-length basis.

In 2006, Wikia received a major round of venture capital funding from Amazon.[12] Although a large number of payment processors are available, as of 2013, the WMF uses Amazon to process donation payments.[13]

Wikia created the "Speedy Deletion Wikia" in which a robot harvested the Wikipedia articles that were deleted on an expedited basis and then reposted them on Wikia. These included copyrighted material and pornographic images that were deleted because of their objectionable nature.[14]


Patrick administration

WMF announced on 2006-06-19 that it had hired attorney Bradford Patrick as internal counsel acted as interim Executive Director.[15]

In early 2007, a prominent Wikipedia editor, named only "Essjay" online and described on his user profile "as a tenured professor of religion at a private university with expertise in canon law," was exposed as a 24-year-old college kid in Kentucky. He resigned in disgrace — even though Wikipedia tried to retain him, claiming he'd edited thousands of articles with flair.[16]

Gardner administration

Doran scandal

In January 2007, WMF named Carolyn Doran chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as head of communications.[17] 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[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

2014 Staffing controversies

One of the growing pains that organizations experience is that paid staff can be hired and perhaps perform their job duties well, but their off-duty conduct brings discredit to their employer. This is particularly challenging for the WMF, who hired staff from the pool of Wikipedia volunteers, with many staff continuing to edit Wikipedia outside their regular WMF job duties.

In January 2014, Sarah Stierch was discovered to have written Wikipedia articles for hire while being a full-time WMF employee. The WMF promptly announced her departure as an employee without any official explanation.[21][22]

In March 2014, Ryan Kaldari, who has been working for the WMF for almost four years and is a Wikipedia administrator, got into an editing battle with another editor. Kaldari then made complaining comments about that editor under a second assumed name. For that policy violation, Kaldari lost his administrator privileges. However, the dispute caused Wikipedia users to research Kaldari's background and discovered that for years he has been the owner and operator of several other websites including "", which was intended as a parody of Friendster, but soon became a haven for Internet trolls to mock murdered children. Kaldari has been paying for the site for 10 years and has actively added comments to various threads on the site.[23][24] Kaldari's poor judgment in owning and operating this site was called to the attention of Jimmy Wales, who dismissed it out of hand.[25]

Tretikov Administration

In March 2013, Executive Director Sue Gardner announced that she would leave,[26][27] and an extensive search did not produce a satisfactory candidate. After a second search, Russian-born Lila Tretikov was selected as Gardner's replacement, and she took office on June 2, 2014. The WMF appointed a transition team to assist her in learning her new role, and there was a three-week transition period following the announcement of her selection. At the time, Tretikov was dating PHP programmer Will Sinclair. Both Tretikov and Sinclair attempted to become immersed in Wikipedia culture, and Sinclair quickly found his way to the noted criticism website Wikipediocracy, where he registered an account. On May 30-June 1, 2014, the WMF sponsored a conference called "WikiConference USA" at the New York Law School which welcomed everyone to attend including "the curious, the skeptical, and others wishing to engage in meaningful conversation about the Wikimedia movement in the United States."[28] However, the afternoon before the conference began, Greg Kohs who had proposed to give a presentation on "paid editing" had his registration cancelled and was told not to attend.[29] Sinclair defended Kohs' right to attend and started a blog and an online petition to advocate these views. He also expressed his views on a WMF listserv. In response, the WMF insiders turned vicious and openly suggested that Tretikov should break up their family and leave Sinclair because of his support for Kohs.[30] On June 15, Sinclair announced on Mr. Wales talk page that he would no longer participate on Wikipediocracy.[31] Efforts to get Mr. Wales to clarify why Kohs was banned from the conference were met with censorship.[32]

Sinclair later in 2014 started his own "Off-Wiki" Wikipedia criticism site.

As Executive Director, Tretikov gave speeches and participated in meetings and conferences around the world. Her travels may have made her less accessible to the WMF staff. One important initiative that Tretikov started was improving the WMF's efforts in child protection. Previously, the WMF left the decision to take disciplinary action against users to untrained volunteers on individual projects. The project leaders complained that they were not properly trained to handle allegations that a user was a child predator. Under Tretikov, the WMF legal staff began handling such complaints and banned a number of users from all WMF projects.

In 2015, the WMF Board and Tretikov reorganized the "Advancement" fundraising staff and secretly entered into an agreement with the Tides Foundation to establish a separate endowment fund. The Tides Foundation was established by liberal George Soros. Under the arrangement, the Tides Foundation will invest and control the endowment until it reaches its goal of $100 million at which time the WMF and Tides will agree on how to handle the money in the future. The WMF has hired staff to solicit and process gifts for the endowment, and the endowment was publicly launched on January 15, 2016.[33] Many people have questioned how the WMF could embark on a $100 million endowment fund drive just a few weeks after a banner ad campaign on its website begging for money to keep its servers running.

In 2015, Tretikov reorganized the staff and launched a secret project to develop a "Knowledge Engine" (KE) which some planning documents said would compete with Google as a means of searching sources beyond the WMF projects by automating the process of evaluating what information on the Internet was reliable.[34] Tretikov applied for a grant of $2 million per year over three years from the Knight Foundation, but only received a one-time $250,000 grant to explore the concept. In November 2015, the WMF Board reaffirmed its support of Tretikov's leadership and retained a management consultant to mentor her. In addition, a number of senior WMF staff (including Deputy Director Erik Möller) departed, some making critical public remarks as they left.[35] It is easy to imagine KE to evolve into an attempt to provide the equivalent of a FICO score for every domain name, perhaps every known person on Earth, that third-party software would likely utilities to influence how second-rate search engines would rank information. Wales frequently uses software features at his web sites to discredit or silence the communications anyone he disapproves of. Wales had previously welcomed the idea of having a biography for every person on Earth but the "deletionist" element of his "community" (who simply lust after the destroying of information about low-fame entities) rejected the notion.

James Heilman, M.D. was removed from the Board
In July 2015, James Heilman, MD was elected to the WMF Board by the editing community after starting working at WP in 2008 and being a very active ("many hours a day") and highly qualified non-anonymous editor and later administrator. He made many mass media presentations promoting the project and worked to improve its reliability especially for those seeking medical information. He attempted to recruit other physicians to help in the effort. Heilman brought staff dissatisfaction with Tretikov's leadership to the Board and pressed for more information on the Knowledge Engine and the Knight Foundation grant. On December 28, 2015, on the eve of two members leaving the Board, the Board held an emergency meeting and removed Heilman from the WMF Board by a vote of 8 to 2. The Board released a statement that Heilman "lacked the confidence" of his fellow trustees. The Community responded to his dismissal by pressing for the release of the Knowledge Engine grant application resulting in a public apology from Tretikov for pushing the project without first gaining consensus. Heilman continues to spend many hours a day contributing to WP as an editor and an admin and continues to make media appearances promoting the WP project.[36][37]

The WMF Board appointed two new people to fill outside Board slots effective January 1, one of which was a Google executive, Arnnon Geshuri who was a central figure in an antitrust case. Community outrage over this improperly vetted appointment resulted in his resignation from the WMF Board.[38] On February 25, 2016, Tretikov announced her resignation as the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director.[39] She continued until March 31.

Maher Administration

Katherine Maher, Executive Director

Katherine Maher was announced as the interim ED was announced and later it was announced that she was appointed permanently to the position.[39]

The female Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Directors is married to Laura Hale. Ms. Hale has a long history, dating back to 2011 of incompetent edits and abusing male editors. A long-time male administrator, Fram, followed Ms. Hale around making corrections to her problematic edits. In turn, Ms. Hale complained to the Trust & Security staff of the Wikimedia Foundation, rather than to the volunteer-staffed complaint mechanisms on Wikipedia. Although the Trust & Security staff has previously banned a few editors for problems involving illegal conduct such as pedophilia, in June 2019, for the first time, they suspended Fram for one year for "incivility". In response, an English Wikipedia administrator lifted the block and was in turn stripped of his administratorship, and several other administrators resigned in protest.[40] In response to a Buzzfeed article about the controversy,[41] Maher sent a tweet calling the article "s***ty.".[42] As more Wikipedia Administrators and Bureaucrats resign or go on strike, the crisis has also been reported by Breitbart.[43] Despite the Fram-Laura Hale scandal, on August 15, 2019, the WMF Board re-elected Laura Hale's wife to serve another year as Board chair.[44]

There is a fundamental rift at Wikipedia. On the one hand, editors from the global north advocate that knowledge is produced by the scientific method, and that Wikipedia should only document verifiable facts. On the other hand, editors from the global south believe that Western civilization is the product of old or dead white men and that Wikipedia should give voice to suppressed people who have personal experiences that may not meet the accepted standards currently imposed by the traditional views of knowledge. These people advocate a "post-modernist" definition of knowledge, including folk remedies supplanting Western medicine and counteracting the historic bias that views males as holding key roles in history, when they serve as military or political leaders. This later group views the current governing structure and resource allocation of the Foundation as illegitimate and wants to rebuild both Wikipedia and the Foundation into something very different so that when internet access spreads throughout the world by 2030, people in the global south will be involved with Wikipedia instead of some other website that might become established to serve their own communities.

To assure that all views were heard, the WMF devoted millions of dollars on a strategic planning exercise that held workshops in the global south and provided very few opportunities for input from editors in Europe or the United States. The result was a large set of self-contradictory recommendations. Next, the WMF hosted a "harmonization sprint" in Tunis which was attended by Laura Hale's wife and Maher to try to unify the recommendations. Finally, a writing group was appointed to write a self-consistent set of recommendations, for which public comment will be collected in January-February 2020.

Although a large number of non-profit groups issued virtue signaling statements following the death of George Floyd, Maher (speaking for the WMF) used the opportunity to announce a complete surrender to the faction that refocused the mission on knowledge equity and also announced that WMF websites would abandon their unbiased coverage of race relations.[45] Maher described as a goal:

Our content: Building power, relationships, and resources to advance epistemic justice and redress the exclusion and omission of Black, indigenous, and communities of color within knowledge systems in general and the Wikimedia projects specifically.

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."[46] 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 reprogrammed to hide the contents of the Italian language version of Wikipedia, as a protest against paragraph 29 of the "DDL intercettazioni" (Wiretapping Bill).[47] 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.[48] 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[49] 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.[50][51] On January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that the English-language Wikipedia would be blacked out for 24 hours on January 18.[52] The Simple English Wikipedia voted to continue full service and did not join the blackout.[53] Many editors complained that the blackout decision was not made in a democratic fashion and undercut Wikipedia's objectivity and non-political mission.[54]

The SOPA/PIPA issue is so important to Sue Gardner, the WMF Executive Director, that in March 2013, she announced that she will be leaving her position to pursue the issue in another capacity.[26] She left on June 1, 2014.


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.[55]

Wikimedia financial data through June 2016 (financial years run from July 1 to June 30)
Fiscal year Revenue Year-over-year ratio
Expenses Year-over-year ratio
Net assets Year-over-year ratio
(net assets)
Steady $80,129
Steady N/A
Steady $23,463
Steady N/A
Steady $56,666
Steady N/A
Increase $379,088
Increase 373.1%
Increase $177,670
Increase 657.2%
Increase $268,084
Increase 373.1%
Increase $1,508,039
Increase 297.8%
Increase $791,907
Increase 345.7%
Increase $1,004,216
Increase 274.6%
Increase $2,734,909
Increase 81.4%
Increase $2,077,843
Increase 162.4%
Increase $1,658,282
Increase 65.1%
Increase $5,032,981
Increase 84.0%
Increase $3,540,724
Increase 70.4%
Increase $5,178,168
Increase 212.3%
Increase $8,658,006
Increase 72.0%
Increase $5,617,236
Increase 58.6%
Increase $8,231,767
Increase 59.0%
Increase $17,979,312
Increase 107.7%
Increase $10,266,793
Increase 82.8%
Increase $14,542,731
Increase 76.7%
Increase $24,785,092
Increase 37.8%
Increase $17,889,794
Increase 74.2%
Increase $24,192,144
Increase 66.3%
Increase $38,479,665
Increase 55.2%
Increase $29,260,652
Increase 63.6%
Increase $34,929,058
Increase 44.4%
Increase $48,635,408
Increase 26.4%
Increase $35,704,796
Increase 22.0%
Increase $45,189,124
Increase 29.4%
Increase $52,465,287
Increase 8.6%
Increase $45,900,745
Increase 28.6%
Increase $53,475,021
Increase 18.3%
Increase $74,536,375
Increase 44.5%
Increase $52,596,782
Increase 14.6%
Increase $77,820,298
Increase 45.5%
Increase $81,862,724
Increase 9.8%
Increase $65,947,465
Increase 25.4%
Increase $91,782,795
Increase 17.9%

If the WMF has $91 million in the bank, those funds could produce (at 4%) $3,640,000 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.[66][67][68]

Each year the WMF conducts a fundraising drive to keep the webservers working on that popular liberal website. They claim the donations go to "Servers, bandwidth, maintenance, development."[69] Yet, in the period July - December 2012, the WMF took in $30.9 million but spent only $1.3 million on internet hosting.[70] During 2012, the net worth of the WMF grew by $11 million. Yet, liberal Wikipedia users continue to donate in response to the WMF's urgent appeals.

In spring 2014, Jimmy Wales began to pander for bitcoin donations at websites where bitcoin investors were seeking ways to lend legitimacy to the digital currency. He promised to ask the WMF Board to allow bitcoin donations on the Wikipedia website. In the summer of 2014, the WMF made arrangements with Coinbase, who promised to convert bitcoin into dollars without charge. Thereafter, a bitcoin option was added to the WMF donation page.[71] Seth Meyers noted on his Late Night program, "Wikipedia is now accepting donations using the online currency Bitcoin. So now you can support information you're not sure is true with currency you're not sure is money."[72]

In addition to the WMF staff, the WMF awards grants and hires outside contractors. In the 2016 fiscal year, two law firms, Jones Day ($1,557,553) and Cooley LLP ($410,560), were among the largest payments. The WMF paid $436,104 to Minassian Media Inc. for public relations.[73] Craig Minassian also serves as Chief Communications Officer of the Clinton Foundation.

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.[74]

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.[75] Laura Hale, 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.[76]

The President of Wikimedia Australia has spend so much time traveling with the President of Wikimedia Indonesia that the two married.[Citation Needed]

A number of departing WMF employees have left comments on the Glassdoor website, citing problems with senior management creating a very confused work environment. The WMF suffers from a high staff turnover rate.[77]

The WMF's endowment is held separately by the Tides Foundation and is controlled by their Board of Trustees. However, the agreement establishing the endowment between WMF and Tides provides for a separate "Wikimedia Endowment Advisory Board" to represent the Wikimedia communities interests when Tides makes decisions about the endowment. Instead of just having the WMF Board have a say in what will become the WMF's largest financial resource, a separate Board has been appointed with Jimmy Wales and Annette Campbell-White as its initial members.[78] In September, Peter Baldwin was added to the Advisory Board.[79]


In March 2015, the WMF and other groups filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) challenging an upstream surveillance program that was revealled by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. The District Court granted the NSA's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but the WMF successfully appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. That decision left the WMF as the only remaining plaintiff in the case, and the case continued in District Court on remand.[80] On December 16, 2019, the District Court held that the WMF did not have standing to proceed with its claims. On February 14, 2020, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a notice of appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.[81]

In 2019, cold fusion researcher Abd ul-Rahman Lomax who was banned from Wikipedia filed a lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation, seeking $200,000 in damages.[82]


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