Last modified on 23 March 2013, at 02:19


Wikimedia Foundation – Answers

August 2011

Communication: What is "Answers"?

Answers is a potential new system of the Wikimedia Foundation to put Wikimedia volunteer communities in touch with staff. It is intended to provide a central point where community members who need assistance from the Wikimedia Foundation or who have questions about the Foundation or its activities can reach out and find answers. This system is being unrolled on a trial basis to test its efficiency and usefulness to communities.

You can help determine the usefulness of the system by using it!

In brief, if you have questions for or about the Wikimedia Foundation, you can address them to answers(at) Many of the questions we receive are expected to be answered on this page, as most questions will be of general interest. These Answers will form a growing bank of easily accessible information. By submitting a question, you agree to release your submission into the public domain and therefore allow us to use, transfer, and post your submission freely and without further permission. Questions generally will not be attributed; they may be published here in whole or in part and will often likely be combined with other questions on the same subject. If you request, we will try not to reveal your username and contact information on this Answers page.

Please note, however, that we treat Answers as a Foundation hosted email list and therefore cannot guarantee privacy under the Privacy policy. For example, some letters will be sent directly to staff. If the questions are more appropriately handled by volunteers, you will either be referred to the appropriate point of contact or your letter will be forwarded to the volunteer response team. Accordingly, your correspondence may be seen by staff as well as select volunteers and third parties, including independent contractors of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Please review Answers/Process for specific terms and more information.

We look forward to hearing from you! --August 2011

September 2011

Foundation: What does the Wikimedia Foundation do?

What is the purpose of the Wikimedia Foundation? How does it support the Wikimedia projects?

Founded in June 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation has from the start been dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge. It coordinates with a Board of Trustees in developing strategies for advancing the educational missions of the projects: Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons,Wikibooks, Wiktionary, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikiquote, and Wikispecies. It operates several hundred servers in three locations to maintain smoothly functioning websites for the 500 million + people who visit the projects every month. In conjunction with 41 independent, local Wikimedia Chapters, it coordinates public and corporate fundraising to sustain the projects, and, in coordination with a large body of volunteers, it helps to develop and maintain the MediaWiki software used by all of the projects.

One of the areas the Wikimedia Foundation focuses on in furthering its goals is outreach. Outreach opportunities include aiding in new user recruitment (such as, for instance, in educational institutions) and in expanding markets (as with mobile and offline). Analyzing trends and developments, it is constantly looking for new ways to sustain and nurture the projects, as, for instance, with the provision of training videos or new tools for experienced and new users. --Maggie Dennis 17:29, 14 September 2011 (UTC)

Foundation: How many employees does Wikimedia have, and what do they do?


While the "Staff count" will automatically update, other information in this answer is correct for the date it was published. It is retained for archival purposes. Any updates will be linked here.

How many people work for the Wikimedia Foundation, and what kind of jobs do they do?

There's a short answer to that and a long answer. The short answer is the easy one:

The Wikimedia Foundation has a staff of 215 and a number of independent contractors. Three distinct departments hold the bulk of staff: community, global development, and technology. The technology department is by far the largest. Staff not falling into those departments work in management, finance, and administration, which includes legal protection of our work.
Among the responsibilities of the technology department are website operations and software development. The community department focuses on things like reader relations, community programs, and fundraising. The global development department supports the global education project, chapter programs, and helps grow Wikimedia worldwide, among other things.

This is, of course, a very incomplete picture. There's a considerably longer answer inside the collapsed box below, but it, too, is incomplete. The duties of the staff members of the Wikimedia Foundation are flexible, constantly evolving to meet the Foundation's goals, which makes any efforts to answer this succinctly doomed. In fact, some of the job titles are intentionally vague, to reflect that responsibilities may flex a bit with demand.

While spotlighting several departments below, I do not in any way wish to minimize the work of staff members who do not fall into these departments. The legal team, for instance, have their hands full dealing with the challenges of supporting an international network of projects and volunteers. Human resources and the finance departments both play key roles in keeping the Wikimedia Foundation operational. I'm trying to keep this answer brief, while at the same time focusing on those staff activities that inspire the most questions in our communities.

The executive staff and strategy team

Among the executive staff, Executive Director Sue Gardner oversees the operations of the Foundation and frequently interacts with the public on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation. She works directly with the Board of Trustees to help craft strategic vision and to ensure that the Foundation makes available the resources to fulfill it. Among other duties, she also creates and manages the budget and oversees and coordinates fundraising and donor management activities, as well as developing other revenue sources. Sue frequently makes herself available to discuss community concerns over IRC at office hours.

Deputy Director and VP of Technology Erik Möller assists Sue in meeting her goals, including acting on her behalf during her absence. Erik interacts with the public, with business partners and with staff, working closely with senior and technical staff. The interim head of the technology department, Erik also leads the strategy team (including Senior Product Manager Howie Fung and Senior Research Analyst Dario Taraborelli), who guide the efforts of the whole Foundation based on the priorities that emerged from the strategic planning process. The strategy team has put together an overview of Wikimedia's five year plan. (If you want to know more about that, you may also be interested in perusing the Wikimedia strategy wiki.)

The global development department

Chief Global Development Officer Barry Newstead probably described the global development department best himself in July 2011:

At the heart, the Global Development team’s role is to help the community to grow and thrive in places where we have not yet achieved our movement’s potential -- places where the approach that worked in the global north has not taken hold in sufficient numbers. At a time when Wikimedia’s editor community (dominated by global north editors) is slowly ebbing and readership on the personal computer is plateauing, we need to be proactive in working to create strong communities in the global south, where more than half of Internet users live today and an overwhelming share of future Internet users will come from.

The global development department works to stimulate overall growth by increasing the availability and usability of Wikimedia Foundation Projects in those areas of the world which traditionally have been underrepresented, for example due to limitations in ICT access. The team connect globally with business partners and coordinate with Wikimedia Chapters. (Wikimedia Chapters are local independent organizations that organize local events and projects and spread the word about Wikimedia and the free culture movement, while also providing a point of contact for volunteers, potential partners and supporters.) It works closely with the tech team to develop mobile and offline products and services, oversees Foundation grants, and manages Wikimedia's brand, communications, and merchandise.

The global development department also works with other Wikimedia departments on projects and research intended to help improve the Wikimedia Foundation's efforts with its communities, for instance conducting quantitative research into editors and readers and working with the Wikipedia Usability Initiative.

To look at one specific activity, the global department has recently launched the Global Education Program. This program works with instructors at institutions of higher learning, encouraging them to assign article-writing as classwork and connecting them with ambassadors from the volunteer community. The Global Education Program's vision is to mobilize and empower the next generation of human knowledge generators to contribute to Wikimedia projects in languages and countries all around the world.

You can look into this and other activities of the global department by reading the Wikimedia Global blog.

The technology department

Managing the technological operations of the Wikimedia Foundation requires a tight collaboration amongst staff, contractors, and volunteers. The Technology department (also referred to as "Engineering") organizes staff and contractors, while also supporting volunteer efforts.

Volunteers are a crucial component in the technological operations of the Wikimedia Foundation's projects. Although the Wikimedia Foundation includes software developers and engineers to assist volunteer efforts, particularly with issues that require more resources than volunteers may have access to, it recognizes and appreciates how important volunteers are in the process. For that reason, it maintains a "Technical liaison; developer relations" subgroup focused on facilitating work between staff and volunteers.

Practically speaking, the technology department supports and develops the MediaWiki software and develops and implements technical strategies and programs to increase reach, quality and volunteer participation. In conjunction with contractors and volunteers, the technology department manages maintenance, upgrades, backups, disaster recovery and technical support for the websites.

Engineers each belong to one of four groups, reporting to an engineering program manager or director. The four groups in the technology department are:

Operations ("ops") runs such infrastructure as hardware, network, datacenters, infrastructure, backups, and system administration, matters related to the daily operations of Foundation projects.

The features team develops new features for MediaWiki, such as LiquidThreads, a visual editor, and the Article feedback tool. These new features are developed and implemented in response to the needs of the volunteer communities and research conducted by staff and volunteers.

Mobile features and platforms have a dedicated group, which is managed alongside Special projects (technical aspects of fundraising, and offline features & platforms). For instance, they work on CentralNotice for messaging and the platform for organizing donors. They make sure mobile devices are properly recognized and that reading and editing experiences for users who utilize them is good quality. They also work to develop offline applications such as the Kiwix offline app.

General engineering deals with MediaWiki core, development tools (e.g. bug tracker, software repository), and general services to the other groups (Quality assurance, code review, communications).

The technology department issues updates about their activities at the Wikimedia Tech blog.

The community department

The community department's job is to work with the communities involved in the Wikimedia Foundation's many projects. In addition to the community of readers, each project has the broad community of volunteers who edit it, with smaller focused interest groups among those. There are communities that cross projects, such as the communities of volunteers that handle e-mails directed to the Foundation about the projects. And, of course, there are the donors and the final community: members of the public who have not yet begun to use the Wikimedia Foundation's projects.

The community department handles fundraising. Towards the latter goal, it organizes an annual fundraiser, coordinating with local chapters. It also collects donations throughout the year, ensuring that donors are appropriately thanked, and coordinates major gifts and foundation grants. Just as the body of text and images that are hosted on the projects are built by the contributions of many individuals, so are the funds that sustain them. Our community of donors are sometimes less visible but certainly invaluable contributors in meeting our goals.

It also addresses reader relations and community programs. It works with the projects on questions and concerns ranging from "where do we send this guy who's threatening to sue us" to "we've got a user who says he's going to commit suicide" to "How do I localize the Wikipedia logo for our new language version?" (A small sampling of actual questions received in the same week!) It crafts multimedia presentations for readers and donors to help them understand the goals of the Foundation and the work being done by the community of volunteers.

The community department also conducts and leads research intended to help the Foundation and the communities reach our shared goals. For example, in 2011 the community department hosted a "Summer of Research", with research fellows focusing heavily on how to attract and retain new contributors so that the projects continue to grow. (You can read the results of their studies at meta:Research:Wikimedia Summer of Research 2011/Summary of Findings.) It also conducted a review of the volunteer response systems whereby communications about article issues or copyright permissions are handled.

Updates are published on the Wikimedia Community blog.

This long answer was composed with kind assistance of staff members Philippe Beaudette, Guillaume Paumier and Jessie Wild. None of them are responsible for any errors I might have made.

The staff page offers listings of many staff members organized by department. It's a good idea to keep an eye on that page if you're interested in who is doing what at the Wikimedia Foundation. Job openings will keep you up to date on emerging roles, and Category:Job Descriptions includes more in-depth descriptions of some of the jobs already filled. --Maggie Dennis 17:29, 14 September 2011 (UTC)

Finance: Where does the money come from, and where does it go?

Where does the Wikimedia Foundation get its money? What does it spend its money on?
A pie chart showing planned spending for the fiscal year 2011-2012

The Wikimedia Foundation gets its money from people like you. A non-profit organization, it is sustained largely by donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals as well as through grants and gifts of servers and hosting. It does not accept advertising and is not considering advertising as a source of revenue. It makes occasional formal requests for donations through the projects it helps sustain (read about last year's donation drive at the Fundraising 2010/Report), but also receives donations spontaneously and generously offered throughout the year.

Wikimedia is quite transparent about where its money goes. It publishes an annual plan as well as regular financial reports. While the 2010-2011 annual report is not yet published, this is a report of fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and here is a half-year report from July 2010-December 2010. You can review the 2011-2012 PDF version (400 KB) of the annual plan or view the questions and answers about it.

To put it briefly, your money pays for staff salaries, technology (servers, bandwidth and Internet hosting), the legal defense of the Foundation, and program activities around the world. For the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the Wikimedia Foundation expects to spend $28,281,000. The pie chart to the right shows planned expenditures for that year, based on pages 34 and 35 of the annual plan pdf. (The math and all work are my own, as are any errors.) Of course, in the real world (where prices vary and unexpected situations may arise), plans don't always pan out. On that same page range, you can see the difference between last year's plans and the final, actual expenditures. For one example, the biggest variance was in the project staff salaries, which were 20% less than anticipated. Rather than push to meet the plan, the Wikimedia Foundation decided to slow hiring in order to ensure that the staff members added were right for their roles. --Maggie Dennis 20:03, 15 September 2011 (UTC)

Update: The 2010-2011 report is now available at Annual Report. --Maggie Dennis 15:14, 19 December 2011 (UTC)

Finance: Is the Wikimedia Foundation financially sustainable?

The community of donors (both individual and organizational) have been incredibly generous in helping to support the Wikimedia Foundation's work over the years. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, donors contributed nearly $14.5 million in unrestricted donations (see pg. 3). In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, that number rose to over $17.5 million in the first six months alone (pg. 1). The Wikimedia Foundation does not, however, immediately spend all it gets. To be financially sustainable, a nonprofit organization must retain enough working capital to meet its program goals over the long term.

Responsible nonprofit organizations must weigh current program demands against the need to maintain enough capital to deal with unexpected future financial difficulties - whether from unanticipated expenses or reduced donations. The Wikimedia Foundation maintains a healthy cash reserve, enough as of September 2011 to sustain planned spending for seven months. (The balance of cash reserve maintained by nonprofits varies widely, with young or small nonprofits often having no more than a few months, while some large organizations may maintain several years. The Wikimedia Foundation feels the amount it holds in reserve is healthy and sustainable given its size and age.) It earns interest income on some of its cash balances, although it adopts an investment philosophy that favors preservation of capital and liquidity over higher yields, which come with more risks. For instance, in 2009-2010, cash reserves were invested in money market accounts, U.S. Treasury bills and certificates of deposit, all low-risk investment options.

It's important to recognize (and the Wikimedia Foundation does) that sustainability is a state: it is something to be maintained, not something to be achieved. Just as it is poor practice to "borrow from tomorrow to pay for today" - which happens when a nonprofit pushes all of its revenue into current program activities and fails to achieve long-term goals - it is irresponsible stewardship to reserve too much. The Wikimedia Foundation regularly assesses its financial health, ensuring that it puts appropriate funds into meeting healthy and realistic short-term goals to drive forward its mission while reserving an appropriate amount for future costs. --Maggie Dennis 12:31, 23 September 2011 (UTC)

Foundation: To what extent is the Wikimedia Foundation an advocacy organization?

To what extent is the Wikimedia Foundation an advocacy organization like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)?

The Wikimedia Foundation is not an advocacy organization. Such organizations have as at least a part of their core mission the impetus to influence legislation. As a global organization, with a global mission, the Wikimedia Foundation cannot invest substantial resources in advocacy in any one jurisdiction, not even the one in which it is based. To do so would be to take resources away from its primary goal of empowering a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world's knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose.

The Wikimedia Foundation does recognize that it has a powerful potential to influence social movements and legal causes related to its mission, primarily by supporting organizations that share its values and local chapters, which are better positioned to work with local laws. For one example, in June 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation's attorney joined the EFF in filing an Amicus brief in a United States case that may restore to public domain works rendered nonfree by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (see the announcement).

In 2009, the Foundation assembled a task force to consider its approach to advocacy, including exploring the issues that impact the WMF's mission and its position on those issues, defining what organizations hold similar or opposing values, and determining the best means of supporting those values. The task force reported its findings and recommendations in a series of documents on the strategic planning wiki. You can read the full reports there (Advocacy 1, Advocacy 2, Advocacy 3, Advocacy 4 and Advocacy 5), but in a nutshell they recommended that the Wikimedia Foundation only sparingly engage in advocacy and only on matters related to its survival or the success of its projects. The issues they found to be of concern were network neutrality, censorship, copyright, the digital divide, environmentalism and (to a lesser degree) privacy. --Maggie Dennis 13:31, 29 September 2011 (UTC)

November 2011

Finance: Why does the Wikimedia Foundation not currently accept Bitcoin?


While accurate for the date it was published, this answer is out of date. See blog post of July 30, 2014: "Wikimedia Foundation Now Accepts Bitcoin".

More than one contributor has asked this one. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Bitcoin is a form of crypto-currency; in their own words, "an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world."(Bitcoin P2P Digital Currency. Retrieved 2 November 2011.) The Wikimedia Foundation's position on the matter is as follows:

The Wikimedia Foundation, as a donor-driven organization, has a fiduciary duty to be responsible and prudent with its money. This has been interpreted to mean that we do not accept "artificial" currencies - that is, those not backed by the full faith and credit of an issuing government. We do, however, strive to provide as many methods of donating as possible and continue to monitor Bitcoin with interest and may revisit this position should circumstances change.

The Wikimedia Foundation does try to make donating as easy as possible, however. For a list of ways to give, see Ways to Give. --Maggie Dennis 20:33, 3 November 2011 (UTC)

Collaboration: Is there a formal division of operation authority between the WMF and the various project communities?

How does the Wikimedia Foundation determine the division of operating authority between the WMF and the various project communities? Some policies and practices are left to the communities to develop independently, without Wikimedia Foundation input or intervention, but sometimes the Foundation does become involved. Does it have a guiding principle on when it will engage or intervene?

In one form or another, this question has been raised to me multiple times since I became Community Liaison in May 2011. In September it was put to Erik Möller, the Wikimedia Foundation's Deputy Director and VP of Technology, on the English language Wikipedia.

There's no formalized definition of when and how we would or wouldn't engage. About 8 years ago, long before being involved in WMF in any way, I started this essay, which has been further developed into a reflection on the various governance norms and processes that exist in Wikimedia projects. There's also m:Founding principles, which is particularly worth considering in the given context. And of course there are many examples e.g. of Board resolutions that have directly sought to effect change in Wikimedia self-governance or established high-level policy principles.

In general, Wikimedia Foundation works in partnership with the Wikimedia communities to achieve our mission. This is expressed also in the WMF values:

We are a community-based organization. We must operate with a mix of staff members, and of volunteers, working together to achieve our mission. We support community-led collaborative projects, and must respect the work and the ideas of our community. We must listen and take into account our communities in any decisions taken to achieve our mission.
...But it is not true, and has never been true, that WMF will execute any request that has sufficient community support (by some definition of sufficient) unquestioningly.

He went on to explain:

I think the general shared understanding and belief that we operate on is that we're all working together to advance the Vision and Mission of our projects, and that this requires continued, serious, honest and deep engagement regarding the key challenges we're dealing with. WMF employees are here because they have a strong passion for what we're trying to do, many of us have long histories as Wikimedia volunteers, and everyone here works beyond the call of duty to help us succeed.

In my experience, when there is a high degree of tension, pausing, discussing, looking at data, and considering various alternatives is usually the right thing to do. While I do believe in the importance of improving and clarifying governance and process, I also think we have a strong tradition of case-by-case flexibility (cf. Wikipedia:Ignore all rules) that's important to maintain. I've seen plenty of online communities get bogged down in bureaucracy and the development of "constitutional" documents at the cost of losing focus on the core objectives. Some degree of tension, frustration, and anger is unavoidable, but we have a shared responsibility to move conversations back into constructive spaces as quickly as possible.

Erik's answer would seem to make clear that while there are no written guidelines for when the Wikimedia Foundation will engage, it does not see itself as a passive partner with the projects in achieving our mission, but instead collaborators. Its goal is to listen respectfully to community wishes and concerns and to engage with the community, when conflicts exist, in finding the best possible approaches. --Maggie Dennis 20:40, 9 November 2011 (UTC)

Foundation: What are the WMF's major values and beliefs? How does it feel about censorship?

What are the major values and beliefs of the Wikimedia Foundation? What is the Wikimedia Foundation's position on censorship?

The Wikimedia Foundation's mission is to empower a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world's knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose. It supports principles and practices that are in line with meeting this mission.

The Wikimedia Foundation believes that all people everywhere should be afforded equal access to information. It supports network neutrality and the free culture movement. It believes in the need to conquer the digital divide, which results in the economic or cultural marginalization of individuals with limited access to technology. It respects the rights of human beings to basic privacy and dignity. The Wikimedia Foundation also believes that the environment is important; it strives for sustainable business practices.

The Foundation holds that censorship is incompatible with its mission. In recent months, it has reaffirmed its opposition to censorship several times. Most recently, in November 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation took part in American Censorship Day, a protest against the United States House of Representative Bill 3261. You can read the blog post about it by Head of Communications Jay Walsh here. In May 2011, when the Board of Trustees passed its resolution on dealing with controversial content, it affirmed that "Wikimedia projects are not censored." Curating knowledge for an international community of all ages will certainly mean the display of materials that some may find offensive or upsetting. The Board supported the principle that users should be able to choose what content to access and encouraged the responsible curating of content so users might reasonably expect what they will encounter when viewing a page or using a feature, but continued in its explicit support of access to information for all. --Maggie Dennis 15:38, 16 November 2011 (UTC)

Finance: How much of the money raised by the Wikimedia Foundation goes to the mission?

Probably in response to the launch of the Wikimedia Foundation Fundraiser, several people have asked questions related to the way money donated to the Wikimedia Foundation is divided. While specific details about spending were answered in September (see Where does the money come from, and where does it go?), there is a breakdown of the Wikimedia Foundation's financial performance at Charity Navigator:

  • Program Expenses: 75.4%
  • Administrative Expenses: 10.8%
  • Fundraising Expenses: 13.6%

I'm very proud to say that Charity Navigator awards the Wikimedia Foundation 4 stars out of a possible 4 in reviews of both its financial practices and its practices related to accountability and transparency: see their summary for these figures and more. --Maggie Dennis 20:07, 16 November 2011 (UTC)

December 2011

Finance: The difference between charging for services and asking for donations

What's the difference between selling Wikipedia and asking for donations? Are the projects really "free" if you ask for money from people who read it?

The Wikimedia Foundation's core mission is to encourage the growth, development and distribution of educational materials and to provide these to the public free of charge. The Foundation does not want to limit access to these educational resources to those who can afford to pay and are in fact always looking for more ways to get the information out there, even to people who do not have access to the internet. The difference between asking for donations and charging for Wikipedia and the other projects is that the donor model allows the Foundation to gather enough revenue to continue offering the projects without requiring payment. People can contribute financially if they are able and so inclined, but if they are not in position to pay can continue to access the resources for free. --Maggie Dennis 14:55, 7 December 2011 (UTC)

Foundation: Where does the Foundation stand on the "Stop Online Piracy Act"?

Because the Wikimedia Foundation is based in the United States, it is subject to U.S. law, and the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act has caused a lot of conversation amongst the volunteers who support our projects. The Foundation has been asked by several to clarify its position on the bill, and today General Counsel Geoff Brigham released a statement on the Wikimedia Foundation blog detailing some of his thoughts about it and its potential impact. --Maggie Dennis 20:28, 14 December 2011 (UTC)

Finance: Why don't you advertise?

The Wikimedia Foundation is occasionally asked why it doesn't turn to advertising to raise the money it needs.

The Foundation is not against the world of online advertising or against other organizations that host ads, but it does not believe that advertising belongs in a project devoted to education, particularly one that is driven by the values consistent with a balanced, neutral encyclopedia. The global volunteer community has always felt that advertising would have a major effect on our ability to stay neutral and that ultimately ads would weaken the readers' overall confidence in the articles they are reading. Even if advertisers put no pressure on us to slant articles to their favor, readers may fear that they exert an influence, consciously or otherwise.

In addition, the Foundation has strong views about reader privacy. Current models for web advertising are inconsistent with these, particularly contextual advertising, which reads the content you are viewing. The Foundation also thinks it intrusive to deliver ads to readers based on their geography.

If you'd like to read more about the history of discussions about advertising Wikipedia - including both pros and cons - the volunteer community has written a page about it at Wikipedia:Advertisements. --Maggie Dennis 18:52, 21 December 2011 (UTC)