Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is an American non-profit and charitable organization headquartered in San Francisco, California. It is mostly known for participating in the Wikimedia movement. It owns the internet domain names of many movement projects and hosts sites like Wikipedia. The foundation was founded in 2003 by Jimmy Wales as a way to fund Wikipedia and its sibling projects through non-profit means.
, the foundation employs over 300 people, with annual revenues in excess of. María Sefidari is chair of the board. Katherine Maher has been the executive director since March 2016.


The Wikimedia Foundation has the stated goal of developing and maintaining open content, wiki-based projects and providing the full contents of those projects to the public free of charge. Another main objective of the Wikimedia Foundation is political advocacy.
The Wikimedia Foundation was granted section 501 status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Code as a public charity in 2005. Its National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities code is B60. The foundation's by-laws declare a statement of purpose of collecting and developing educational content and to disseminate it effectively and globally.


In 2001, Jimmy Wales, an Internet entrepreneur, and Larry Sanger, an online community organizer and philosophy professor, founded Wikipedia as an Internet encyclopedia to supplement Nupedia. The project was originally funded by Bomis, Jimmy Wales's for-profit business. As Wikipedia's popularity increased, revenues to fund the project stalled. Since Wikipedia was depleting Bomis's resources, Wales and Sanger thought of a charity model to fund the project. The Wikimedia Foundation was incorporated in Florida on June 20, 2003. It applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark Wikipedia on September 14, 2004. The mark was granted registration status on January 10, 2006. Trademark protection was accorded by Japan on December 16, 2004, and, in the European Union, on January 20, 2005. There were plans to license the use of the Wikipedia trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs.
The name "Wikimedia", a compound of wiki and media, was coined by American author Sheldon Rampton in a post to the English mailing list in March 2003, three months after Wiktionary became the second wiki-based project hosted on Wales' platform.
In April 2005, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service approved the foundation as an educational foundation in the category "Adult, Continuing education", meaning all contributions to the foundation are tax-deductible for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
On December 11, 2006, the foundation's board noted that the corporation could not become the membership organization initially planned but never implemented due to an inability to meet the registration requirements of Florida statutory law. Accordingly, the by-laws were amended to remove all reference to membership rights and activities. The decision to change the bylaws was passed by the board unanimously.
On September 25, 2007, the foundation's board gave notice that the operations would be moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. Major considerations cited for choosing San Francisco were proximity to like-minded organizations and potential partners, a better talent pool, as well as cheaper and more convenient international travel than is available from St. Petersburg, Florida. The move from Florida was completed by 31 January 2008 with the headquarters on Stillman Street in San Francisco.
In 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation's headquarters moved to New Montgomery Street.
Lila Tretikov was appointed executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation in May 2014. She resigned in March 2016. Former chief communications officer Katherine Maher was appointed the interim executive director, a position made permanent in June 2016.
In October 2017, the headquarters moved to San Francisco's One Montgomery Tower. They appointed Janeen Uzzell as Chief Operating Officer in early 2019.

Projects and initiatives

Wikimedia projects

Content on most Wikimedia project websites is licensed for redistribution under of the Attribution and Share-alike Creative Commons licenses. This content is sourced from contributing volunteers and from resources with few or no copyright restrictions, such as copyleft material and works in the public domain.

Content projects

The foundation operates eleven wikis that follow the free content model with their main goal being the dissemination of knowledge. These include, by launch date:

Infrastructure and coordination projects

Several additional projects exist to provide infrastructure or coordination of the free knowledge projects. For instance, gives guidelines for best practices on encouraging the use of Wikimedia sites. These include:

Movement affiliates

Wikimedia movement affiliates are independent, but formally recognized, groups of people intended to work together to support and contribute to the Wikimedia movement. The Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees has approved three active models for movement affiliates: chapters, thematic organizations, and user groups. Movement affiliates are intended to organize and engage in activities to support and contribute to the Wikimedia movement, such as regional conferences, outreach, edit-a-thons, hackathons, public relations, public policy advocacy, GLAM engagement, and Wikimania.
Recognition of a chapter and thematic organization is approved by the foundation's board. Recommendations on recognition of chapters and thematic organizations are made to the foundation's board by an, composed of Wikimedia community volunteers. The Affiliations Committee approves the recognition of individual user groups. While movement affiliates are formally recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation, they are independent of the Wikimedia Foundation, with no legal control of nor responsibility for the Wikimedia projects.
The foundation began recognizing chapters in 2004. In 2010, development on additional models began. In 2012, the foundation approved, finalized, and adopted the thematic organization and user group recognition models. An additional model, movement partners, was also approved but as of 2015 has not yet been finalized or adopted.


Each year, an international conference called Wikimania brings the people together who are involved in the Wikimedia organizations and projects. The first Wikimania was held in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2005. Nowadays, Wikimania is organized by a committee supported usually by the national chapter, in collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikimania has been held in cities such as Buenos Aires, Cambridge, Haifa, Hong Kong, and London. In 2015, Wikimania took place in Mexico City, in 2016 in Esino Lario, Italy, 2017 in Montreal, 2018 in Cape Town, and 2019 in Stockholm.

Strategic plan

In response to the growing size and popularity of Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation announced a Strategic Plan to improve and sustain the Wikimedia movement. The plan was announced in July 2009, followed by a process of interviews and surveys with people from across the Wikimedia movement, including board of trustees, members of staff and volunteer editors. The ongoing plan was intended to be the basis of a five-year plan to further outreach, improve content quality and quality control, and optimising operational areas such as finance and infrastructure.

Wikipedia Usability Initiative

In December 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation announced a restricted donation grant of from the Stanton Foundation, to improve Wikipedia's accessibility. Later named the Wikipedia Usability Initiative, the grant was used by the Wikimedia Foundation to appoint project-specific staff to the technology department.
A series of surveys were conducted throughout 2009. This began with a qualitative environment survey on MediaWiki extensions, followed by a Qualitative Statistical Survey focusing on the volume of edits, the number of new users, and related statistics. In March 2009, a usability and experience study was carried out on new and non-editors of the English Wikipedia. The aim was to discover what obstacles participants encountered while editing Wikipedia, ranging from small changes to more complicated syntax such as templates. The study recruited 2500 people for in-person laboratory testing via the Wikipedia website, which was filtered down to ten participants. The results were collated and used by the technology team to improve Wikipedia's usability. The Usability and Experience Study was followed up by the Usability, Experience and Progress Study in September 2009. This study recruited different new and non-editors for in-person trials on a new Wikipedia skin.
The initiative ultimately culminated in a new Wikipedia skin named Vector, constructed based on the results of the usability studies. This was introduced by default in stages, beginning in May 2010.

Public Policy Initiative

In May 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the Public Policy Initiative, following a donation by the Stanton Foundation. The initiative was set up to improve articles relating to public policy issues. As part of the initiative, Wikipedia collaborated with ten universities to help students and professors create and maintain articles relating to public policy. Volunteer editors of Wikipedia, known as "ambassadors", provided assistance to students and professors. This was either done on campus sites or online.
In April 2017, the foundation was one of the founding partners in the Initiative for Open Citations.


The foundation employs technology including hardware and software to run its projects.


Wikipedia employed a single server until 2004, when the server setup was expanded into a distributed multitier architecture.
In January 2005, the project ran on 39 dedicated servers in Florida. This configuration included a single master database server running MySQL, multiple database servers, 21 web servers running the Apache HTTP Server, and seven Squid cache servers.
By December 2009, Wikimedia ran on co-located servers, with 300 servers in Florida and 44 in Amsterdam. Since 2008, it also switched from multiple different Linux operating system vendors to Ubuntu Linux.
By January 2013, Wikimedia transitioned to newer infrastructure in an Equinix facility in Ashburn, Virginia; citing reasons of "more reliable connectivity" and "fewer hurricanes". In years prior, the hurricane seasons had been cause of distress.
In October 2013, Wikimedia Foundation started looking for a second facility that would be used side by side with the main facility in Ashburn, citing reasons of redundancy and to prepare for simultaneous multi-datacentre service. This follows the year in which a fiber cut caused the Wikimedia projects to be unavailable for one hour in August 2012.
Apart from the second facility for redundancy coming online in 2014, the number of servers needed to run the infrastructure in a single facility has been mostly stable since 2009. As of November 2015, the main facility in Ashburn hosts 520 servers in total, which includes servers for newer services besides Wikimedia project wikis, such as Cloud Services, and various services for metrics, monitoring, and other system administration.
In 2017, Wikimedia Foundation deployed a caching cluster in an Equinix facility in Singapore, the first of its kind in Asia.


The operation of Wikimedia depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, free and open-source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MariaDB database since 2013, previously was using MySQL database. The software incorporates programming features such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for templates, and URL redirection. MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects.
Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams, which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double bracket style was incorporated later. Starting in January 2002, Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made for Wikipedia by Magnus Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002, Wikipedia shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker.
Several MediaWiki extensions are to extend the functionality of MediaWiki software. In April 2005, an Apache Lucene extension was added to MediaWiki's built-in search and Wikipedia switched from MySQL to Lucene for searching. Currently Lucene Search 2.1, which is written in Java and based on Lucene library 2.3, is used. The Wikimedia Foundation also uses CiviCRM and WordPress.
The foundation published official Wikipedia mobile apps for Android and iOS devices and in March 2015, the apps were updated to include mobile user-friendly features.


In general

The Wikimedia Foundation relies on public contributions and grants to fund its mission. It is exempt from federal income tax and from state income tax. It is not a private foundation, and contributions to it qualify as tax-deductible charitable contributions.
The continued technical and economic growth of each of the Wikimedia projects is dependent mostly on donations, but the Wikimedia Foundation also increases its revenue by alternative means of funding such as grants, sponsorship, services and brand merchandising. The Wikimedia OAI-PMH update feed service, targeted primarily at search engines and similar bulk analysis and republishing, has been a source of revenue for several years, but is no longer open to new customers. DBpedia was given access to this feed free of charge.
In July 2014, the foundation announced it would be accepting Bitcoin donations via digital currency exchange Coinbase, which waives its processing fees for non-profit organizations.
Since the end of fiscal year ended 2004, the foundation's net assets have grown from to at the end of fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. Under the leadership of Sue Gardner, who joined the Wikimedia Foundation in 2007, the foundation's staff levels, number of donors and revenue have seen very significant growth.
In 2007, 2008, and 2009, gave Wikimedia an overall rating of three out of four possible stars, increasing to four stars in 2010., the rating was four stars, based on data from FY2018.


The Wikimedia Foundation expenses mainly concern salaries, wages and other professional operating and services.


In 2008, the foundation received a grant by the Open Society Institute to create a printable version of Wikipedia. It also received a grant by the Stanton Foundation to purchase hardware, a unrestricted grant by Vinod and Neeru Khosla, who later that year joined the foundation Advisory Board, from the historians Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin foundation, among others. In March 2008, the foundation announced a large donation, at the time its largest donation yet: a three-year, grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
In 2009, the foundation received four grants – the first grant was a Stanton Foundation grant which was aimed to help study and simplify user interface for first-time authors of Wikipedia. The second was a Ford Foundation grant, given in July 2009, for Wikimedia Commons that aimed to improve the interfaces and workflows for multimedia uploading on Wikimedia websites. In August 2009, the foundation received a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Lastly, in August 2009, the Omidyar Network committed up to over two years to Wikimedia.
In 2010, Google donated to the foundation. The Stanton Foundation granted $1.2 million to fund the Public Policy Initiative, a pilot program for what would later become the Wikipedia Education Program. Also in 2010, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pledged a grant and all was funded during 2011.
In March 2011, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation authorized another grant to continue to develop and maintain the foundation's mission. The grant was to be funded over three years with the first funded in July 2011 and the remaining was scheduled to be funded in August 2012 and 2013. As a major donor, Doron Weber from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gained Board Visitor status at the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. In August 2011, the Stanton Foundation pledged to fund a grant of which was funded and the remainder was due to be funded in September 2012. As of 2011, this was the largest grant received by the Wikimedia Foundation to-date. In November 2011, the foundation received a donation from the Brin Wojcicki Foundation.
In 2012, the foundation was awarded a grant of from the historians Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin through Charities Aid Foundation, scheduled to be funded in five equal installments. The first installment of was received in April 2012 and the remaining were to be funded in December 2012 through 2015. In 2014, the foundation received the largest single gift in its history, a $5 million unrestricted donation from an anonymous donor supporting $1 million worth of expenses annually for the next five years. In March 2012, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a foundation established by Intel co-founder and his wife, awarded a grant to develop Wikidata.
Between 2014 and 2015, the foundation received from Monarch Fund, from Arcadia Fund and an undisclosed amount by Stavros Niarchos Foundation to support the Wikipedia Zero initiative.
In 2015, a grant agreement was reached with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to build a search engine called the "Knowledge Engine".
In 2017, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded another grant for a three-year period.
The following have donated a total of or more, each :
9,000Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
5,952Stanton Foundation2009–2012
2,000Omidyar Network2009–2010
1,527Rausing, Baldwin
via Arcadia, Charities Aid
500Sergey Brin and wife2010
500Monarch Foundation2014–2015

Wikimedia Endowment

In January 2016, the foundation announced the creation of an endowment to ensure the continuity of the project in the future. The Wikimedia Endowment was established as a collective action fund at the Tides Foundation and its goal is to raise in the next 10 years. Craig Newmark was one of the initial donors, giving to the endowment.
The Foundation provided irrevocable grants of $5 million on June 29, 2016, and $5 million on June 27, 2017, to the Tides Foundation for the purpose of the Wikimedia Endowment. Another $5 million was given in the fiscal year 2017–2018. The amounts were recorded as part of the expense for awards and grants of the foundation.
In 2018, and Facebook gave each and George Soros donated $2 million to the endowment. In January 2019, Google donated $2 million to the endowment. In 2019, Peter Baldwin and his wife, Lisbet Rausing, donated $3.5 million, bringing their total Endowment giving to $8.5 million; an initial $5 million was given in 2017. In 2019, Craig Newmark Philanthropies donated an additional $2.5 million to the Endowment. In October 2019, Amazon donated $1 million to the Endowment.

Financial summary

Fiscal yearRevenue
Net assets


Board of trustees

The foundation's board of trustees has ultimate authority of all the businesses and affairs of the foundation. It is composed of ten members:
  • four who are appointed by the board itself;
  • three who are selected by the community encompassed by all the different Wikimedia projects;
  • two who are selected by Wikimedia affiliates ;
  • and one emeritus for the foundation's founder, Jimmy Wales.
Three permanent entities support the board on its mission and responsibilities: an executive director, who leads and oversees the operational arm of the foundation; an advisory board composed of individuals selected by the board itself that advise the board on different matters; and standing committees to which the board delegates certain matters while retaining ultimate authority. The board has also at times created other orthodox entities to support itself, such as executive secretaries and ad hoc committees established for specific tasks.
The current board comprises María Sefidari as chairman and Nataliia Tymkiv as vice-chairman, together with Tanya Capuano, Shani Evenstein Sigalov, Dariusz Jemielniak as members at-large, and Jimmy Wales in the "founder's seat". James Heilman was appointed as a community selected trustee in August 2017. Raju Narisetti, CEO of Gizmodo Media Group, was appointed trustee in October 2017, and Bahraini human rights activist and blogger Esra'a Al Shafei idem in November 2017.
In a of 2015, James Heilman was removed from the board, with little explanation.. In January 2016, Arnnon Geshuri briefly joined the board before stepping down from the board following a controversy about an agreement he executed when at Google, violating United States antitrust law. The participating companies paid US$415 million in a class action suit on behalf of affected employees.

Advisory board

The advisory board, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, is an international network of experts who have agreed to give the foundation meaningful help on a regular basis in many different areas, including law, organizational development, technology, policy, and outreach.
Appointed members for the period from June 16, 2017 to June 30, 2018 were:


First appointments

In 2004, the foundation appointed Tim Starling as developer liaison to help improve the MediaWiki software, Daniel Mayer as chief financial officer, and Erik Möller as content partnership coordinator. In May 2005, the foundation announced seven more official appointments.
In January 2006, the foundation created several committees, including the Communication Committee, in an attempt to further organize activities essentially handled by volunteers at that time. Starling resigned that month to spend more time on his PhD program.


The foundation's functions were, for the first few years, executed almost entirely by volunteers. In 2005, it had only two employees, Danny Wool, a coordinator, and Brion Vibber, a software manager.
, the foundation had five paid employees: two programmers, an administrative assistant, a coordinator handling fundraising and grants, and an interim executive director, Brad Patrick, previously the foundation's general counsel. Patrick ceased his activity as interim director in January 2007, and then resigned from his position as legal counsel, effective April 1, 2007. He was replaced by Mike Godwin, who served as general counsel and legal coordinator from July 2007 until 2010.
In January 2007, Carolyn Doran was named chief operating officer and Sandy Ordonez joined as. Doran began working as a part-time bookkeeper in 2006 after being sent by a temporary agency. Doran, found to have had a long criminal record, left the foundation in July 2007, and Sue Gardner was hired as consultant and special advisor. Doran's departure from the organization was cited by Florence Devouard as one of the reasons the foundation took about seven months to release its fiscal 2007 financial audit.
Danny Wool, officially the grant coordinator but also largely involved in fundraising and business development, resigned in March 2007. He accused Wales of misusing the foundation's funds for recreational purposes, and said that Wales had his Wikimedia credit card taken away in part because of his spending habits, a claim Wales denied. In February 2007, the foundation added a new position, chapters coordinator, and hired Delphine Ménard, who had been occupying the position as a volunteer since August 2005. Cary Bass was hired in March 2007 in the position of volunteer coordinator. Oleta McHenry was brought in as accountant in May 2007, through a temporary placement agency and made the official full-time accountant in August 2007. In January 2008, the foundation appointed Veronique Kessler as the new chief financial and operating officer, Kul Wadhwa as head of business development, and Jay Walsh as head of communications.
the foundation had more than 350 employees and contractors.

Disputes and lawsuits

Many disputes have resulted in litigation while others have not. Attorney Matt Zimmerman stated, "Without strong liability protection, it would be difficult for Wikipedia to continue to provide a platform for user-created encyclopedia content."
In December 2011, the foundation hired Washington, DC, lobbyist Dow Lohnes Government Strategies LLC to lobby the United States Congress with regard to "Civil Rights/Civil Liberties" and "Copyright/Patent/Trademark." At the time of the hire the Foundation was concerned specifically about a bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act.
In October 2013, a German Court ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation can be held liable for content added to Wikipedia – however, this applies only when there has been a specific complaint; otherwise, the Wikimedia Foundation does not check any of the content published on Wikipedia and has no duty to do so.
In June 2014, a copyright infringement lawsuit was filed by Bildkonst Upphovsrätt i Sverige against Wikimedia Sweden.
On June 20, 2014, a defamation lawsuit involving Wikipedia editors was filed with the Mercer County Superior Court in New Jersey seeking, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages.
In a March 10, 2015, op-ed for The New York Times, Wales and Tretikov announced the foundation was filing a lawsuit against the National Security Agency and five other government agencies and officials, including the DOJ, calling into question its practice of mass surveillance, which they argued infringed the constitutional rights of the foundation's readers, editors and staff. They were joined in the suit by eight additional plaintiffs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. On October 23, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed the suit Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA on grounds of standing. U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III ruled that the plaintiffs could not plausibly prove they were subject to upstream surveillance, and that their argument is "riddled with assumptions", "speculations" and "mathematical gymnastics". The plaintiffs filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on February 17, 2016.
In February 2016, Lila Tretikov announced her resignation as executive director, as a result of the WMF's controversial Knowledge Engine project and disagreements with the staff.


Obtrusive fundraising

During the 2015 fundraising campaign, some members of the community voiced their concerns about the fundraising banners. They argued that they were obtrusive for users and that they could be deceiving potential donors by giving the perception that Wikipedia had immediate financial issues, which was not the case. The Wikimedia Foundation vowed to improve wording on further fundraising campaigns to avoid these issues.

Removal of community-appointed trustee

In June 2015, James Heilman was elected by the community to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. In December 2015, the Board removed Heilman from his position as a Trustee, a decision that generated substantial controversy amongst members of the Wikipedia community. A statement released by the board declared the lack of confidence of his fellow trustees in him as the reasons for his ouster. Heilman later stated that he "was given the option of resigning over the last few weeks. As a community elected member I see my mandate as coming from the community which elected me and thus declined to do so. I saw such a move as letting down those who elected me." He subsequently pointed out that while on the Board, he had pushed for greater transparency regarding the Wikimedia Foundation's controversial Knowledge Engine project and its financing, and indicated that his attempts to make public the Knight Foundation grant for the engine had been a factor in his dismissal.
The volunteer community re-elected him to the Wikimedia Foundation board in 2017.

Knowledge Engine

Knowledge Engine was a search engine project initiated in 2015 by the WMF to locate and display verifiable and trustworthy information on the Internet. The goal of the KE was to be less reliant on traditional search engines and it was funded with a grant from the Knight Foundation. The project was perceived as a scandal, mainly because it was conceived in secrecy, which was perceived as a conflict with the Wikimedia community's transparency. In fact, most of the information available to the community was received through leaked documents published by The Signpost in 2016.
Following this controversy, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov resigned.

Excessive spending

Wales was confronted with allegations that the WMF had "a miserable cost/benefit ratio and for years now has spent millions on software development without producing anything that actually works". Wales acknowledged in 2014 that he had "been frustrated as well about the endless controversies about the rollout of inadequate software not developed with sufficient community consultation and without proper incremental rollout to catch show-stopping bugs".
In February 2017, an op-ed published by The Signpost, English Wikipedia online newspaper, titled Wikipedia has Cancer produced a heated debate both in the Wikipedian community and the wider public. The author criticized the Wikimedia Foundation for its ever-increasing annual spending which, he argued, could put the project at financial risk should an unexpected event happen. The author proposed to put a cap on spending, build up its existing endowment, and restructure the endowment so that the WMF cannot dip into the principal when times get bad. Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, Katherine Maher responded by pointing out that such an endowment was already created in 2016, confusing creating an endowment with building up an existing endowment.

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