Dear all,

To bring some sort of closure to this thread about Wikimedia salary costs, Wikimedia CEO Maryana Iskander did eventually post a response on Meta.[1] My question and her reply are copied in full below.

What please was the 2019 salary cost per WMF employee, per the most recent Wikimedia Foundation Form 990?

According to the linked Form 990, the WMF had salary costs of $55,634,913 (page 1, line 15, "Salaries, other compensation, employee benefits") in 2019, and a total of 291 employees (page 1, line 5). On the face of it, this makes for an average salary cost of over $191K per employee.

Is this the correct figure, or if not, what is the correct calculation for the average salary cost per employee in 2019? Are there estimates for more recent years? Thanks, --Andreas JN466 01:04, 17 February 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Hi Andreas - I am six weeks into the job and have seen your questions about salaries at the Wikimedia Foundation in various public forums. I would like to try and give you a response. What interests me most is understanding the motivations for your questions so that I can attempt to share appropriate information. You are welcome to contact me directly at miskander(_AT_) for a conversation as I won’t respond further here.
What I can share is the following:
Calculating an average salary based on the Form 990 is highly misleading. It produces totals that match our highest-paid employees, as you see on the 990 form. This is true of many organisations, not only the Wikimedia Foundation. As we will not release non-public salary information in public forums, we accept that this number is much higher than the true average salary. We currently have over 500 staff all over the world that are in a wide variety of job types and levels, each of which are paid differently and by location. An average is difficult to calculate and while it may provide a data point, it lacks meaning for evaluating our performance as an organisation. An average salary cost, even based on non-public data, is not useful for most of the issues that concern me most. We hire in over 50 countries, which is a reflection of our values as a global movement, but introduces complexity in ensuring we can offer competitive packages that will attract mission-driven talent, and especially engineers who we need to support the technology obligations of the Foundation. People are the biggest investment we make in supporting the Wikimedia projects and community, so this is a topic of critical importance to me. Finally, I have also checked that we are in line with other open knowledge organisations (e.g., Mozilla, Creative Commons, EFF) in the financial, salary, budget, and staff information that we publish. MIskander-WMF (talk) 14:54, 17 February 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I'll just leave some general comments on Maryana's response here. 

1. An organisation committed to transparency shouldn't give a friendly or beholden inquirer any different information than a hostile one in response to questions of fact. In both cases, the information should simply be accurate. I have no desire to ingratiate myself. 

2. As for my motivation, it's surely one that any Wikipedian can relate to: I would like the public to have access to accurate information. I sometimes write about these topics[2][3] and assist journalists with related research.

3. I don't accept that calculating an average for 291 employees produces a figure that matches "our highest-paid employees". On the contrary, it produces a figure for ALL "employees" in the strict sense of the word (excluding freelancers). Even factoring in freelancers, the 291 employees listed on the Form 990 were by far the majority of the total number of people working for the WMF in 2019, and not some sort of elite.

4. I did not ask for the release of non-public information. I simply wanted to know how many people's pay, approximately, the front-page figure of $55.6 million represents. I thought it was 291, based on the "Total number of individuals employed in calendar year 2019" given in the Form 990. Anne/Risker asserted the $55.6 million figure also included the pay of the 82 contractors listed in Part V, line 1a. Which is it? Are some or all of those contractors included in the salary costs total? The WMF won't say. 

5. Salary costs are the WMF's biggest expenditure item. They reached $69M in 2020/21 – a tenfold increase in the course of a decade. Throughout that period of staff and salary growth, the Wikimedia Foundation regularly and purposely created an impression in the public's mind that it was struggling to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running – donations were solicited by telling the public that money was urgently needed to keep Wikipedia "ad-free", "keep Wikipedia online", "protect Wikipedia's independence", etc. Money used to fund organisational growth should not be collected under the pretence of financial emergencies jeopardising the continuation of basic services; members of the public should know what they are funding.

6. Another Indian fundraiser is due to start in a few weeks' time. Former WMF CEO Katherine Maher acknowledged to me[4] that there were problems with the messaging in the last Indian fundraiser, resulting in press stories that were "misleading and alarmist". I hope that the WMF will do its best this year to ensure that the Indian press is accurately informed about Wikimedia's financial past and present situation, including the Wikimedia Endowment, and that fundraising messages, emails and statements given to the press will not continue to imply that Wikipedia's "independence", online "accessibility" or "survival" will be endangered unless the Indian public donates money.

7. While I'm on this topic, the Wikimedia Endowment, now well on its way to the $200M mark, is completely non-transparent. It has no public records and no audited accounts; people have no way of knowing how the money is invested, what if anything it is spent on, how much Tides and other consultants and contractors are paid for holding and administering the fund, and so on. In my view, both the community and the public are owed a little more transparency than that.


On Mon, Jan 31, 2022 at 2:10 PM Andreas Kolbe <> wrote:
Dear WMF accounts staff,

Could you kindly clarify whether the "Salaries, other compensation, employee benefits" figure in Part I, line 15 of the Form 990 relates solely to the 291 employees indicated in Part I, line 5, or whether it also includes salaries, compensation and benefits for the 82 contractors listed in Part V, line 1a of the Form 990.

Thank you.