Top 10 Reasons Not to Donate to Wikipedia

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Every year the Wikimedia Foundation asks for financial contributions from unsuspecting donors who don't realize that 54 cents of every dollar they contribute will be wasted on ledger items that are not the program services that the Wikimedia 501(c)(3) is obligated to uphold. So, every year we publicize this list of the Top 10 Reasons Not to Donate to Wikipedia, in hopes that more people will become educated about what's really going on behind Wikipedia.

During the Wikimedia Foundation fundraising season, more than 1,000 people a day view this page. Thanks to excellent search engine rankings for the page, it is hoped that at least some of the readers who visit will be dissuaded from adding their donation to the Wikimedia Foundation's wasteful spending spree. And we're not the only voice that's critiquing the Wikimedia Foundation's waste and ineptitude:

Also, please pardon the fact that most of the content on this page was written in 2011 and 2012 and has not been substantially updated since them. The Wikimedia Foundation has a new Executive Director, for example (Lila Tretikov replaced Sue Gardner). But the wasteful spending patterns continue unabated. If anything, they have been accelerated. With hope, the contents of this page will at least inspire you to find out more about the shortcomings of the Wikimedia Foundation, before you are duped into offering them money that they don't need and (more importantly) don't deserve.

Wikimedia Foundation finances are suspect.


In 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation called for a budget of approximately $20 million. However, one assessment contends that Wikipedia and all its sister projects could probably operate on a budget of $1.6 million (including salaries for several IT developers), because over 99% of the actual work being done is accomplished by unpaid volunteers. A KPMG audit reported that in 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation spent only $822,405 on Internet hosting fees, plus $1,259,161 in "operating" costs (which includes many of the unnecessary staff who had been hired in just the previous two years). Even this KPMG expense summary would dictate that $2.1 million would be sufficient for the Wikimedia Foundation, so why do they call for a budget nearly ten times what's actually needed? And look out, Wikimedia director Sue Gardner is calling for a 50%-larger budget of $29.5 million for 2012! Last year, she tallied up a 12% pay raise for herself, even amidst a severe economic downturn.


The Wikimedia Foundation has a history of unclear, tardy, and misleading financial statements. The early Form 990s filed by the Foundation stated that there was "no business relationship" between any of the Board members, even though 60% of the Board were simultaneously employed as key principals by the for-profit commercial enterprise, Wikia, Inc.

WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner and other staff drinking sparkling wine and showing off some donor money. (You didn't think it all went toward web servers, did you?)

Early on, the Wikimedia Foundation asked an attorney to design the organization as a membership body, but after his work was nearly complete, they scrapped the idea, having suddenly realized that a majority vote of citizen-members could unseat a corrupt Board of Trustees and demand line-by-line financial accountability. The Foundation's insiders didn't want that possibility to threaten them, so they insulated themselves from a voting membership by remaining a non-member organization. Multiple top staff and former officers have privately expressed concern over financial wrongdoing by certain board members. Indeed, the former Chief Operating Officer of the Foundation (Carolyn Doran) was a wanted multi-count felon. The Foundation's former executive director and head legal counsel, Brad Patrick, resigned due to problems the organization had with him. Patrick's replacement as General Counsel would also have a short term in office, disappearing under a shroud of mystery. The Foundation lacks a Board of Trustees with a wide base of civic and social stakeholders. Almost to a person, they are cronies and insiders who were incubated within Wikipedia, or who have invested money in for-profit satellite projects of Wikipedia. The Foundation is by design narrow and weak, reflecting only the interests of a dysfunctional social networking community.


The current Executive Director, Deputy Director, and their personal assistant had a reported compensation budget and other expenses of $472,000, which was excessive for an organization of its size in 2008. At the same time as the above report, publicly-funded Earth Island Institute had revenue of about $6.5 million, 15 employees (practically the same size as the Wikimedia Foundation at the time, and headquarters in the very same city of San Francisco), but the CEO earned only $67,423. The Northern California chapter of the Arthritis Foundation had revenue of $5.1 million, but the CEO was paid only $45,050. Child Family Health International in San Francisco had revenue of $4.0 million and 11 employees, but the CEO earned only $82,000. Embarrassingly, when audited by Charity Navigator, for years the Wikimedia Foundation received only 1 star out of a possible four in the important category of Organizational Efficiency. When you get right down to it, the money that people donate to the Wikimedia Foundation is more likely to be spent on an item that doesn't address the charitable mission of the organization than to be spent on something that does.


Ask yourself, how is Wikipedia inherently different now than it was in 2005? Other than an abortive attempt by Jimmy Wales to purge the site of some images that could be construed as child pornography, there has been no major transformation at the site. Just some server volume growth -- a terribly cheap commodity to manage.

Question: Why have the gross receipts escalated from $361,000 to a requested 2012 budget of $29.5 million?
Answer: Compensation for people not really doing anything besides watch the servers, enjoy global jet-setting, and run damage control for Jimbo's dalliances.

Wikipedia has too much power.

Wikipedia smothers out more authoritative, but less-linked-to sites in Google and other search engine rankings. Microsoft closed down Encarta, mainly due to the Wikipedia effect. Wikipedia has garnered an ability to set the 'truth' in mainstream media and blogs that consult it every day, without digging deeper to verify facts from independent sources. Controversial Wikipedia pages suffer from "ownership" by content bullies who drive off independent editors, all supported by administrator cabals who follow one another around, supporting reverted edits and editor blocks and bans. Wikipedia creates a monoculture of knowledge that is little different than a farmer who would make the mistake of planting just one type of crop, year after year.

Your donation will indirectly fund Wikia, Inc., which is not a charity.

Your non-profit donation will ultimately line the for-profit pockets of Jimmy Wales, Amazon, Google, the Bessemer Partners, and other corporate beneficiaries. How? Wikipedia is a commercial traffic engine. As of October 2011, there are over 29,000 external links from Wikipedia to Wales' sites, which are funded by Google AdSense revenues and custom advertising deals. These links are still being added to Wikipedia at the rate of over 500 per month. Did you know that Amazon invested $10,000,000 in the for-profit Wikia venture? It's therefore rather interesting that Wikipedia tolerates over 76,000 links to Amazon's retail site from the supposedly non-profit, no-advertising, anti-spam Wikipedia site. Isn't it? Meanwhile, did you know that the popular movie site is owned by Amazon, and you can buy Amazon products directly from IMDB pages? Well, surprise surprise -- there are over 285,000 links to Amazon's IMDB site from Wikipedia. No wonder Amazon particularly wished to invest in Wikia, Inc. Its co-founder helps insure that the external linking environment on Wikipedia is hospitable for the Amazon link spamming!

When Wales isn't enjoying all the link traffic to his for-profit site, he's actually actively in the process of self-dealing the volunteer community's labor into an exclusive content package for his own site. How? Well, take for example the fact that there was a Klingon language wiki hosted by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Wales then ordered it to be shut down. Where did it spring up again? On his Wikia, Inc. servers, of course!

Now here is the really fascinating thing. If you go to Jimmy Wales' "talk page" on Wikipedia, and you ask him whether he feels that either this act of theft of the Klingon wiki or the extraordinary number of links to his for-profit site and those of his investors might be a conflict of interest or self-dealing, Jimbo won't even have time to respond. One or two of his loyal followers will fairly promptly dismiss or erase your message; and if you try one more time to ask this question, you're likely to get blocked from editing Wikipedia altogether. Go ahead, try it! If Jimmy answers the question and allows discussion on it, MyWikiBiz will donate $25 to the Wikimedia Foundation.

If these facts are not enough to convince you that money makes its way through the back door to Wikia, Inc., then perhaps a look at the front door is in order. The Wikimedia Foundation announced in January 2009 that it was to begin paying rent to Wikia, Inc. on a monthly basis, using tax-advantaged funds from the Ruth and Frank Stanton Fund. Did Wikia offer the lowest-priced rent solution to the Wikimedia Foundation? Not at all! After a frantic back-and-forth attempt by different agents of the Wikimedia Foundation to explain how this level of self-dealing was allowed to happen, Wikia's CEO Gil Penchina finally revealed (a year later, January 4, 2010) in a personal e-mail:

They [the Wikimedia Foundation] approached us and asked if they could rent space on a temporary basis.. and I think it ended up being 4-6 months give or take. I thought about giving it to them for free and I wasn't sure which was worse... getting accused of bribing a non-profit for giving it away, or getting accused of stealing for a non-profit for charging... so we ended up asking them to get competitng (sic) quotes from other landlords so that THEY could feel comfortable with the decision.

First there is a request to rent space from a hand-picked bidder, and only then a suggestion to get competing bids from other landlords? It sounds like someone at the Wikimedia Foundation wanted to make sure that Jimmy Wales' for-profit company had the inside track on that bid, worth many thousands of dollars. (Wikia would replace its CEO in 2011.)

Meanwhile in August 2009, Matt Halprin, Partner of the Omidyar Network, was asked to join the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. Halprin is charged with an Omidyar team that "pursues investments in Social Media", and Omidyar invested part of $4 million into Wikia, Inc. in 2006. So, his company succeeds if Wikia makes a nice return on investment. It looks very fishy to have a new Wikimedia Foundation board member who's a partner at a firm that invested some portion of $4 million into the privately-held firm of the "Emeritus Chair" of the Foundation. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to explain how this is just a "coincidence", being that there were probably more than a thousand other equally-qualified stars of social media who could have been selected, who have not a single tie back to funding Wikia, Inc. What are the odds? At the Wikimedia Foundation, the double-dealing simply defies the laws of probability.

The Wikimedia Foundation's leadership leaves much to be desired.

  • Jimbo Wales, Chairman Emeritus - Hired a liar using the nickname "Essjay", then told the press he "didn't really have a problem with it"; showed little fiscal economy when discussing airfares to Korea; not to mention his other transgressions. In 2012, Wales admitted to the New York Times, regarding the Wikimedia Foundation, "We're really bad at business."
  • Sue Gardner, Executive Director - Admits to awarding sweetheart contracts, against her own policies on disbursements.
Erik Moeller (left) at a Wikimania conference
  • Erik Moeller, Deputy Director - Has held some extremely uncomfortable public views about child pornography and pedophilia.
  • Angela Beesley, Chair of the Advisory Board - Routinely edits the Wikipedia article about Wikia, the company she co-founded with Wales, and adds external links to Wikia, all against Wikipedia community guidelines.
  • Mike Godwin, former lead counsel - Before mysteriously disappearing from the WMF, Godwin attempted to edit Wikipedia anonymously, against community guidelines that discourage self-promotion.

Wikipedia is more a roleplaying game than an encyclopedia.

While Wikipedia is disguised as an encyclopedia, it is actually nothing more than a fluid forum where ultimate editorial control belongs to a corps of administrators, most of whom act without real-world accountability because they don't reveal their real names, locations, and potential conflicts of interest -- even though they will not hesitate, through "complex investigations", to "out" the real names, locations, and perceived conflicts of interest of other, non-administrative editors. Why give your real-world dollars to a virtual-world multi-player forum? Have you made your donation to Second Life, too?

Small donations make Wikipedia irresponsible.

Having over 100,000 small donors funding more than 60% of a non-profit's income actually reduces accountability to the donors. Because the donations are very small (about $30, on average), no one has sufficient influence over the Wikimedia Foundation to reach a threshold of accountability. On the other hand, large institutional giving, large gifts by wealthy individual donors, and government grants all facilitate accountability. Embarrassing scandals, vandalism to biographies about living persons, and lack of proper concern for children can be shaken off like water off a duck's back when raised by micro-donors. Not so when a foundational grant, ultra-affluent person, or government agency have a larger stake on the line. So, if you plan to contribute less than $5,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation, you would better encourage more accountability by donating that money instead to another organization, and let them determine if the Wikimedia Foundation is an ethical investment or not. Do you want to be the next Fritz Thyssen, Albert Vögler, or Emil Kirdorf?

They don't get the job done.

There have been a number of Wikipedia projects or initiatives that have been launched with at least some fanfare and/or promise that they are important and that they will be carried out.

But then they fail.

Some examples:

  • The Greenspun illustration grant was received, but less than 10% of it was disbursed properly.
  • In August 2010, an investigative news report revealed that years ago the Wikimedia Foundation accepted $25,000 in grant money from the John and Frances Beck Foundation. The money was supposed to have been used to print short booklets about different subjects appropriate for 7- to 12-year-old children. However, not a single dollar from this grant was actually spent on printing books for this special project. And the Wikimedia Foundation refuses to talk about what did happen to the money. All we know is that the Beck Foundation says, "we no longer support Wikipedia, Wikimedia, or Wikijunior...". Where do you think the $25,000 went?
  • We are still waiting for Flagged Revisions implementation (now renamed "Pending Changes") on English Wikipedia (a dream since August 2007, a suggestion since January 2009, a Foundation-level proposal since January 2009, and a call to raise hell if not implemented by September 25, 2009).
  • Release of Episode 45 on Wikivoices is permanently suppressed. (So volatile an issue, we are forbidden to even discuss it on Wikipedia.)
  • WMF staff member Rand Montoya's 2009 Fundraising Survey never launched in 2009. Repeated requests for status updates went ignored for several months. Even a Foundation-level inquiry has been met with silence. Montoya left the Foundation in mid-2010, the Fundraising Survey still unlaunched.
  • A quality, not quantity drive in 2006, as well as the post-Essjay "Credentials Verification" boondoggle of 2007 were announced to great fanfare in the tech media, but once Jimbo Wales and his crew got the public relations boost they wanted, the initiatives themselves just vanished.
  • A WikiProject of topic lists has existed since November 2007, but it is still half unfinished.
  • A call in January 2010 to diminish over 50,000 entirely unreferenced biographies of living people down to a more manageable 20,000 by September 1, 2010 met with failure. A full month after that milestone objective, over 24,000 biographies of living people still lurked on Wikipedia with not so much as a single reliable source to back up the content. To their credit, after yet another 14 months of work, the list was finally whittled down to less than 200; but as of June 2012, the list was back up over 700. So, to some degree, Wikipedia is the world's most-accessed reference where you can write a biography about a living person, without any citations to back up any content in the biography.

Indeed, in a way, all those big donations that overly generous donors contributed have missed the target completely. To paraphrase one insightful observer, it is not the Wikimedia Foundation that makes the Wikipedia, it is the editors. Giving money to the WMF is like leaving a gratuity for a cotton plantation owner because you like the quality of work the slaves are doing. Giving the slave owners an even bigger carrot to dangle over the heads of the worker donkeys who are ultimately going to feel the stick, not taste the carrot. It's irresponsible use of money; unethical.

Where the money needs to go is exactly where the Foundation will not put it -- into quality copy-writing tutoring and services, as well as expert content adjudicators. Not to mention a healthy dose of political lobbying "on wiki" to rein in the more radical of the "free culture" zealots who think absolutely nothing of blocking tens of thousands of British users of the site, just to be able to proclaim as "art" exploitative nude child photography used in service of a mediocre metal rock band. Indeed, the Foundation recently paid a consultant to count how many photographs of Caucasian penises reside on Wikimedia servers. That's where their priorities are.

Surely, even the largest donors have never actually thought this through and never examined Wikipedia closely enough. They probably don't realize that the Wikimedia Foundation has nothing to do with the creation of content, that the content happens despite their involvement, not because of it. No, many fat donors simply received a polished and glossy public relations briefing with lot of juicy statistics that seduced them into making their bloated donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, who will simply stuff 50 cents of every donated dollar into a very fat bank account.

The money doesn't help Wikipedia improve. At all.

Wikipedia is a NSFW site lacking child-protection standards.

An actual free Wikimedia image. "Now, Miss, where is that donation?"

Perhaps you're philosophically opposed to any form of censorship and think this is a daft point. Can you be sure that your shareholders, your customers, and the members of your local school board feel the same way? Wikipedia contains graphic material that might be morally contemptible in many countries -- even in the West. This includes images and articles depicting nipple piercings, anilingus, labia piercings, child pornography erotica, various forms of piercing the penis, strappado bondage, erotic spanking, incest pornography, smotherboxes, and Courtney Cummz and her directorial debut 'Face Invaders'. (For more examples of Wikipedia trash, see Worst of Wikipedia.)

It's not like Wikipedia is being asked to fully censor this content -- just show some self-restraint and perhaps flag it so that minors and other people who may be offended would have to exercise one additional click to view it. But, that seems to be too much to ask of the free-wheeling "free culture movement".

Imagine notifying a permanent board member of an organization that he founded with the following message:

[We have learned...] that wiki administrators under the age of 18 are taking routine administrative actions in respect of images which could reasonably be described as pornography (in this case, the administrator Julian C. is a self identified minor, and the image (which will appear if you click the link) is of a woman masturbating -- the file is called 'Masturbating Amy'. I'd like to see some external advice sought on this matter, and I'd like to see [[Wikipedia:Child protection]] grow to contain some meaningful ideas for consideration.

Then, imagine the founder of the non-profit, tax-advantaged organization responding:

Hi privatemusings, yes, I'm aware of discussions in this area.--Jimbo Wales 18:57, 16 December 2009 (UTC)

The Wikimedia Foundation doesn't care about doing the least thing to protect children. That's the responsibility of parents! Imagine dropping off your young teenager to volunteer with some friends at the soup kitchen one morning, then one of the homeless men starts showing the youngster centerfolds from Hustler magazine. When you discover this, you go to the kitchen's director, and he says, "Yes, I'm aware of problems in this area," and then his lawyer says, "I think if parents want to restrict children's access to adult material, that's fine... [but don't] infringe on either adults' rights or minors' rights."

So, if you wish to support young boys administering pornography on a non-profit website, get out your checkbook and send $69 to the Wikimedia Foundation. Hey, what do you expect from an organization that hired as its Deputy Director a young man who promoted the notion during a scandalized lecture about child pornography that in the context of children, non-violent porn does no harm ("Gewaltfreie Pornographie schadet nicht")?

Wikipedia is in a legally precarious position.

Section 230 was designed to protect Internet service providers from libelous content generated by customers and re-distributed by the ISP. The Wikimedia Foundation has hidden behind this protection by claiming that it, too, is an "interactive computer service". We all know it's not, and one day, libel published on Wikipedia is going to lead to a courtroom test. Unaccountable administrators are given the "Oversight" capability to make problematic content literally "disappear", and the Foundation hopes that the warrant of these administrators is never traced back to their offices. For more on the history of noteworthy libel against innocent parties on Wikipedia, please look up the cases of John Seigenthaler, of Taner Akcam, and of Fuzzy Zoeller.

Wikipedia is unpredictable, inaccurate, and unmanageable.

Wikipedians have leaned on a so-called study by Nature magazine that supposedly proved Wikipedia's accuracy rivaled that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Even though the study was faulty to the core, it still showed if you look only at scientific topics, and if you ignore the structure and clarity of the writing, and if you treat all inaccuracies as equivalent, then you would still conclude that Wikipedia is about 32% less accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica.

In other research, the 100 articles about the hundred United States Senators have been shown to render erroneous, if not libelous, information about 6.8% of the time. The Wikipedia leadership have been promising for over two years that a systematic fix for this kind of garbage (called "flagged revisions") is always just around the corner. It is time to call the Wikipedia leadership on their obfuscation.

See also

External links