On Thu, May 6, 2021 at 4:19 PM Dan Garry (Deskana) <djgwiki(a)gmail.com>
Including the $100 million endowment, the WMF will now
have investments of
around $200 million (excluding cash and cash
equivalents), for an annual
investment income of over $10 million. That is already enough to run core
services. Wikimedia posted total expenses of $3.5 million in 2007/2008, a
year after Wikipedia became a global top-ten website.
Well, it's not 2007 anymore. Just because it cost $3.5 million in 2007
doesn't mean it'd cost $3.5 million now. I don't know enough about the
current financial situation, staff, data centre expenditure, hardware, etc.
to state whether $10 million is actually enough to continue to maintain the
infrastructure required for the project. Could you share your breakdown and
I recall Erik (Möller) saying here on this list, around the time the
idea of an endowment took shape:
WMF has operated in the past without staffing and with very minimal
staffing, so clearly it's _possible_ to host a high traffic website on
an absolute shoestring. But I would argue that an endowment, to
actually be worthwhile, should aim for a significantly higher base
level of minimal annual operating expenses, more in the order of
magnitude of $10M+/year, to ensure not only bare survival, but actual
sustainability of Wikimedia's mission. The "what's the level required
for bare survival" question is, IMO, only of marginal interest,
because it is much more desirable, and should be very much possible,
to raise funds for sustaining our mission in perpetuity.
Now the annual $10M+ of operating expenses Erik spoke of were already for
more than bare survival – they were for what he called "actual
sustainability of Wikimedia's mission."
Right now, the WMF collects about 15 times as much, while still pretending
to the public that Wikipedia "really needs" their money "this Friday"
"stay online", "to protect Wikipedia's independence," etc. What
last phrase even mean, given that the WMF is by any definition bigger and
wealthier than ever?
The WMF is $200 million richer today than it was in 2015, when the
Washington Post asked, "Wikipedia has a ton of money, so why is it begging
you to donate yours? (At the time I actually thought we had turned a
corner, hence I am the only one quoted in that article as saying the
problem had been satisfactorily addressed. More fool me!)
Latin America is currently being treated to fundraising banners telling the
public to give the WMF more money to "show the volunteers that their work
matters" – the same wording the WMF just withdrew after two weeks or so
when the Brazilians complained. That wording runs along with the other
familiar banner messages, like "humbly" asking people to donate "to defend
Wikipedia's independence", etc.
At least this year's India fundraising drive has been cancelled (for now,
who knows ...).
I think this is why we need more cohesion between language communities.
When the English fundraising banners run, there is the annual moan about
how the banners are misleading, annoying, too big, too persistent, too
dishonest, not classy, manipulative, etc. And then January comes, everyone
breathes a sigh of relief, and forgets ... until next November.
Meanwhile, though, the exact same banners start running somewhere else on
the globe. And when the Brazilians get rid of one banner, the same banner
starts running a couple of weeks later in neighbouring Argentina. Even if
an objectionable wording is dropped to placate one subset of the community,
the objection is *never really taken on board* – the WMF just moves to a
new target unaware of the previous controversy, and carries on as before. I
can't think of a better definition of "Divide et impera".
Let's just note: with $100m in the Endowment and another $100m in
short-term investments (not to mention another $70m in cash and cash
equivalents, per the 2019/2020 audit report), the WMF has got to the point
Erik envisaged above. It's able to ensure the "actual sustainability of
Wikimedia's mission" just from the interest its investments accrue, and has
got there in half the time anticipated.
The problem for me – and many other rank-and-file
volunteers – is not the
idea of an endowment as such, but fundraising
messages saying "Wikipedia
really needs you this Tuesday" to donate money so Wikipedia can "stay
online", "protect its independence", etc., or "to show the volunteers
The WMF creates the impression that it struggles to keep Wikipedia up and
running; people then feel scared or guilty, think Wikipedia is struggling,
or dying, or will soon put up a paywall; and the WMF does little to
correct that mistaken impression, even when directly asked about it as in
Katherine's recent The Daily Show interview. One is left with the
uncomfortable conclusion that the WMF creates and fails to correct that
false impression because it benefits financially from it.
Indeed, as the endowment grows I would expect our fundraising messaging to
change, from talking about donations being required to maintain the
projects, to instead highlighting the new developments that donations
enable. As mentioned before, I don't know if we're there yet. I look
forward to us getting there.
We have "been there" for a long time. I pray that one day I will see a WMF
fundraising banner that does not threaten that the lights will go out, or
Wikipedia will lose its independence and be taken over by ... who exactly?
(I'll ignore your nonsenscial remark about the WMF
somehow profiting from
Well, let's look at the video and let's see what's missing. In the
video, Noah comments on the fundraising banners which he says used to
irritate him much. But then, reflecting on the cost of a traditional
encyclopaedia set, he adds,
"I wonder if that has been part of the reason you’ve been so successful in
remaining neutral. When you don’t have profits, you are now in a space
where you don’t try to generate profits. The downside of it means you often
struggle to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running. So, two
parts. One, is that true and how does it affect you, and then two, Why
would you make this thing if it’s not going to make you money, why, if it’s
going to be a non-profit?"
Katherine makes no effort to dispel the idea that the WMF "often
struggles to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running", but talks
at length about how the WMF doesn't try to sell you anything and doesn't
I am reminded of a Middle Eastern parable:
*Nasrudin used to take his donkey across a frontier every day, with the
panniers loaded with straw. Since he admitted to being a smuggler when he
trudged home every night, the frontier guards searched him again and again.
They searched his person, sifted the straw, steeped it in water, even
burned it from time to time. Meanwhile he was becoming visibly more and
more prosperous. *
*Then he retired and went to live in another country. Here one of the
customs offices met him, years later. *
*“You can tell me now, Nasrudin,” he said. “Whatever *was* it that you were
smuggling, when we could never catch you out?” *
*“Donkeys,” said Nasrudin.*
I disagree, SJ. The Meta page has a blue progress
bar showing how much
money is in the Endowment. To me it is
incompatible with the idea of a wiki
– a website designed to support continuous updates – for such a progress
bar to be up to a year out of date. It's not what a reasonable reader of
that page would expect.
"People expect wikis to be updated, and information on the endowment is on
a wiki, therefore we should have monthly updates on the endowment" isn't a
very compelling argument. I don't see why the reporting cadence should go
beyond what is typically expected of endowments in the nonprofit space.
If you have a problem with that particular bar on that page on Meta for
some reason, perhaps a disclaimer about the last time it was updated could
be added. That seems like a much simpler solution than drastically
increasing the financial auditing and reporting overhead.
Do you think it involves a drastic increase in financial and auditing
overhead for the WMF to know how much money it has in its Endowment?
Surely, the Tides Foundation knows how much money enters its accounts, just
like any bank can give you the balance of your account any day.
This said, your suggestion to note on the page when the blue bar was last
updated is a practical and sensible one, regardless of how often the bar is
 Katherine's annual compensation alone was about $400,000, equivalent to
200,000 Indian readers donating the suggested 150 Rupees
 Idries Shah, The Sufis, p. 59