Answers archive/September 2011/en

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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?

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 228 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)