A poll at the English Wikipedia’s “Village Pump” – one of the prime meeting places for the volunteer editors who write and curate Wikipedia – has overwhelmingly concluded that Wikimedia Foundation fundraising emails due to be sent to donors shortly are unethical and misleading. It is the first time there has been a structured community poll to review the Foundation’s fundraising emails ahead of a major fundraising campaign.

The “Village Pump” thread, advertised on the community’s “Centralized discussion” noticeboard for the past three weeks, reviews three sample emails the Wikimedia Foundation has made available on its Meta-Wiki website. They are very similar to emails used in previous campaigns, including the recent campaign in India.[1] 

These emails ask past donors for more money to keep Wikipedia online, to keep Wikipedia ad-free and subscription-free, and to keep Wikipedia independent. 

In fact, however, the Wikimedia Foundation is richer than ever. Its assets and reserves (including an Endowment with the Tides Foundation now holding well over $100 million) have increased fivefold since 2015, and stood at an estimated $400 million at the end of March 2022. 

For comparison, in 2007, the year Wikipedia first became a top-ten website serving the world, the Foundation reported total annual expenses of $2 million.[2]

According to the Wikimedia Foundation, this latest set of fundraising emails will be sent out to past Wikimedia donors in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US from September 6 to November 20, 2022. Email campaigns account for about a third of Wikimedia revenue.

A WMF Community Relations Specialist briefly contributed to the “Village Pump” discussion two weeks ago (to confirm that the licence information for one of the pictures used in the emails would be corrected). Other than that, there has been no comment from the Foundation on the poll to date. 

The RfC can be viewed here:


Below are some representative quotes from the poll.

40 respondents expressed their objection to the use of these emails in terms like the following:

“These manipulative emails make us little different than an evil corporation. We should do everything in our power to change this.”

“Deeply misleading.”

“Misleading and unethical.”

“Misleading, and I'm choosing a very mild word here. …”

“… These recurring emails with their appearance of being reluctantly written in a crisis degrade the benevolence which is the core of the project. …”

“The percentagewise breakdown is galling, because the categories aren't even distinct. …”

“These fundraising messages are (nearly) unrelated to reality. …”

“… the usual distortions and half-truths …”

“… untrue, and possibly a deliberate and fraudulent lie. …”

“… at best misleading, and that's being generous.”

“The language used is highly misleading. That something is effective does not make that something ethical.”

“The %s are incredibly misleading. …”

“The percentages are misleading and inspecific, for one. …”

“… I suspect that messages like these are, indeed, effective. If I stuck a gun in someone's face, that would probably also be a very effective way of getting them to give me money. The question in both cases, however, is whether doing so is ethical. These messages in the most charitable reading distort the truth, and in a more realistic one flat out lie. …”

“… What I do object to is when an oganisation whose product is based on claims of accuracy, honesty, and neutrality, resorts to a fundraising campaign based on lies and deception. …”

“It is really important that a charity's marketing be in accord with the core values of that charity and a serious risk if they undermine them. Our core values are in providing factual information. …”

“… too disappointing to put into words really.”

“… the revelation that several people end up contributing money they can't afford because of the pressing tone of these emails is genuinely horrifying to me.”

“… misleading, vague, emotionally pressing statements that lead people to part with their money under circumstances that are not honest.”

“… Running a scaremongering campaign risks that people will give money to the WMF and then not give money to causes that are much more in need of money … It is disgusting to see a charity sitting on fat stacks of cash that still tries to get a bigger slice of the donation pie.”

“These spams are just toxic and horrible. …”

“… deceptive to the point of dishonesty … inappropriate pressure put on previous donors to give more money.”

“The Wikimedia Foundation is at odds with the ethics and values of the Wikimedia community.”

Three respondents endorsed the emails. They said,

 I think this is fine. There are a few fundraising ‘tactics’ used but nothing remotely unethical. 

“When you hire someone to raise funds and they succeed in raising funds, this is generally seen as a good thing, except on Wikipedia for some reason.”

“I spent most of my working life in not-for-profit organisations and, if you want income to achieve your mission, then you need to employ experienced marketeers and fund raisers and let them do their job using their expertise. 

All three of these respondents have past or present associations with Wikimedia affiliates wholly or partly funded by the Wikimedia Foundation, and/or have taken Wikimedia-funded employment in the past. None of them mentioned the fact.

Another six respondents placed themselves in a neutral or, more aptly named, “Mixed” category, differentiating between parts of the emails they thought were fine, and others to which they objected. Quotes:

“The $ breakdown made me raise an eyebrow, but I think that's more about the debate over allocation of funds than the wording of these emails, so I'm ambivalent.”

“I would be quite happy if email 3 were used, and emails 1 and 2 were replaced with a similar style (ie, without misleading content, unnecessary alarmism, blatantly false statements about spending, etc). I hope this is achievable.”

“The WMF won't suddenly stop asking for donations and that means being persuasive during fundraising. Not bad in itself. However, it is a problem to state erroneous claims that Wikipedia may go offline, or not saying that WMF is not volunteer-run, etc. A little honesty is needed.”

Is the Wikimedia Foundation planning to make any changes to the emails in light of the community feedback received?



[1] For more details, including source links and data on the Wikimedia Foundation’s current financial status, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2022-06-26/Special_report 

[2] https://foundation.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AWikimedia_2007_fs.pdf&page=5