Wikipedia puts a face on donation

Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales.


Kai Ryssdal: Wikipedia has hit a big financial milestone: it raised $16 million in just six weeks. That's its entire fundraising goal for the fiscal year -- twice what it raised last year. It came in small donations, $20 or so each, from hundreds of thousands of Wikipedia users all over the world.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports the success just might have something to do with the face of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Mitchell Hartman: My teenage son lives on Wikipedia, researching vampires and werewolves. And at the top of every search lately there's been Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales -- not a werewolf exactly, but with piercing eyes and definitely in need of a shave.

Lucy Bernholz: Putting Jimmy Wales' face up there was incredibly effective because it then became 'donate to get rid of his face.'

Philanthropy expert Lucy Bernholz says there was even a Twitter campaign to 'Donate now and spare us more face-time with Jimmy.'

Other faces from Wikipedia also appeared in the ads; the site found that real people were more likely to inspire charity. A volunteer editor for the Indonesian-language site, for instance, explained why the world needs this free online encyclopedia. Which, unlike Google and Facebook, has no advertising, says Caroline McCarthy at CNET.

Caroline McCarthy: It's a cause that a lot of people believe in, and by keeping it a non-profit, the company has gained a lot of followers who are big believers in free information and spreading knowledge.

And in that vein, Kai -- here's a shout-out for your face. You know what to ask 'em for.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Hey Mitchell and Marketplace, for what it's worth, I disagree with both Jonathan Lovelace and Gregory Kohs. I checked out Charity Navigator, and Wikimedia Foundation got 4 stars, which is pretty good. I think wikipedia is a fundamental resource in a world where scholarship is starting to move to the Internet. In a world where the Internet still provides a plethora of suspect sources of information, Wikipedia provides a true and trusted starting point. And, I'm with Ralph: Kai, if you're willing to give out an autographed glossy, I'm ready to part with some dollars.

YouTube, Facebook etc. now carry the popular culture, but Wikipedia is the main neutral channel for hard information. I consider it the cutting edge of civilization.

I agree with commenter Gregory Kohs in general, having no knowledge of specifics. How about some investigative journalism, rather than regurgitating press releases? There's nothing special about nonprofits that makes them exempt from human nature; in fact, the media's---and many people's---tendency to assume that "profit equals bad" means that a corrupt nonprofit is more likely to get away with it than a corrupt for-profit business, even besides the fact that the need to keep a small or medium-size business's overhead low enough to make a profit limits its potential for corruption, while a nonprofit of similar size is limited only by its revenues and what it must be seen to do to keep them coming, and a government agency is limited only by its political clout. So please, do some real journalism next time?

I guess we have to chalk up Marketplace (one of my favorite radio programs) among those news organizations that don't bother doing much investigative journalism any more.

First, Jimmy Wales isn't the "founder" of Wikipedia. The wiki encyclopedia idea was pushed to Wales by Larry Sanger, Sanger named it, and Sanger announced it to the public.

But that's not the worst of it.

I wonder when the news media will figure out that the Wikimedia Foundation spends on program services only 41 cents of every dollar they scam from donors, which earns them ONE STAR (out of four!) from Charity Navigator in organizational efficiency. In fact, their KPMG audit discovered that it only takes about $2.5 million to keep the servers running, provide ample bandwidth, and staff a team of code developers to keep things running smoothly. Why, then, was the asking budget $16 million?

I also wonder why the news media never thought to cover the 2009 story of how the Wikimedia Foundation needed extra office space, and as if by magic, they hand-picked Jimmy Wales' for-profit corporation to be their landlord, THEN obtained competitive bids, THEN asked Wales' for-profit company to match the average of the competitive bids.

I too wonder why the media don't seem to care that the 2010 market research study of past Wikimedia Foundation donors was awarded to the former employer of the WMF staffer running the project, without any competitive bidding whatsoever. And when the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation was asked how much the project cost, the guy asking the question was banned from the online discussion.

Marketplace, you aren't required by law to issue only puff pieces about happy organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation, so why do you do it?

A signed portrait of Kai Ryssdal? Where do I enter my credit card information?

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