The staff of the Wikimedia Foundation has developed this "messaging platform" for fundraising purposes. It's what we're using as of April 2008.
I'm posting it here because it may be useful for lots of groups: for chapters in their fundraising efforts, for individual volunteers for multiple purposes (talking to the media, talking to the public, talking to educational institutions), for board members and members of the advisory board. It is fairly Wikipedia-centric, because that is the most famous project, and the one that interests the majority of potential donors the most. We also talk about the other projects, when we feel there's a good fit between them and any potential donor.
This text is meant to be used as raw material for verbal conversations: it's a basic explanation of who we are and what we're doing, designed to be understandable for a general audience. It's rooted in our recent experience: responding to the kinds of questions we've been asked by individual donors and by foundations. Please feel free to adapt/add/discard from this basic text, as you see fit.
It will evolve over time.
Sue Gardner 01:07, 15 May 2008 (UTC)
"Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment."
The Wikimedia Foundation is the organization behind Wikipedia - the world's largest and most popular encyclopedia, free to use and free of advertising. It contains more than 10 million articles in 250+ languages, and is visited by more than a quarter of a billion people every month. Wikipedia and its eight sister projects are written, edited and maintained by a global community of thousands of volunteers, supported by a small paid staff.
The Wikimedia projects have an enormous impact around the world, but the organization behind them has been operating on a shoestring: unable to pursue partnerships, execute projects, or even to effectively fundraise. In 2007, the Wikimedia Foundation was seriously underresourced, with a budget of 2 million and a staff of only 10. In the winter of 2007, the Wikimedia Foundation relocated its headquarters to San Francisco and expanded its staff to 15. By 2010, it plans to have a budget of 6 million and a staff of 25.
That growth will enable Wikimedia to make progress on its key goals: increasing quality, broadening participation, and distributing free knowledge to people without Internet connectivity. This is essential work, and will cause a short-term revenue gap that needs to be funded. We would like to invite you to be one of our "first generation" supporters and advisors during this phase of our expansion.
Beyond this short-term support, Wikimedia also wants to stimulate a bigger-picture conversation about the future of free knowledge and free education. Wikipedia's fundamental premise has now been validated: we know that mass collaboration works - that people will participate in large numbers, for free, to develop great informational material that other people want and use. That means that any financial investment in the Wikimedia projects results in a disproportionately huge impact. We believe that creates a major philanthropic opportunity for someone who wants to have a real legacy.
The collaborative creation and distribution of information -free of charge and free of advertising- can radically transform our civilization for the better. We would like your help in making that happen.
Questions and Answers
Q: What is Wikipedia?
A: Wikipedia is an online free-content encyclopedia that is open to contributions by the general public. Its founder Jimmy Wales has described it as "an effort to create and distribute a multilingual free encyclopedia of the highest quality to every single person on the planet in his or her own language."
Q: Who owns Wikipedia?
A: The articles in Wikipedia are collaboratively written and have been released by their authors under an open source license. This means they are free content and may be reproduced freely by anyone, without permission, under the same license. Wikipedia is managed and supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation.
Q: How does Wikipedia work?
A: Any Wikipedia reader can click the "edit" link on top of pages and edit an article. Obtaining formal peer review for edits is not necessary, since review is a communal function and everyone who reads an article and corrects it is a reviewer. Essentially, Wikipedia is self-correcting — over time, articles improve from a multitude of contributions.
Q: What are the strengths of Wikipedia's editorial process?
A: Wikipedia is by far the world's largest encyclopedia. The English Wikipedia, with more than 4 million articles, contains more than 25 times as many articles as the largest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which contains 85,000 articles. Wikipedia's “neutral point of view” policy makes it an excellent place to gain a quick understanding of controversial topics, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also continuously updated – often faster than major news sites.
Articles have a tendency to get gradually better over time, particularly if there is one person working on an article with reasonable regularity (in that case, others have a tendency to help). Wikipedia attracts contributors from all over the world, giving readers a genuine "world view."
Q: What are its weaknesses?
A: Given Wikipedia's highly dynamic nature, readers may be exposed to inaccurate or “vandalized” pages at the time they view an article. While the Wikipedia community attempts to correct such changes as quickly as possible, they may sometimes persist for weeks or months, particularly on less frequently visited pages.
The community uses various “maintenance templates” to identify potential problems in articles, e.g. lack of references, neutrality disputes, and so on. These are visible to the reader. The “stable version” project seeks to address the problem on a more fundamental level by identifying article revision which have been subjected to community scrutiny.
Q: How do you prevent people from ruining articles? (defacement or vandalism)
A: Wikipedia is inherently resistant to vandalism. All previous revisions of an article are saved and stored, which means that when vandalism is committed, anyone can instantly revert it. This ease-of-reversion is the cornerstone of Wikipedia's response to vandalism, and is supported by a large number of volunteer “vandalism patrollers” and by software robots which automatically and immediately reverse obvious defacement.
Q: If anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, how do you ensure quality?
A: It's true that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and when it first started it probably wasn't very good quality. But what's interesting is that over time, it just gets bigger and richer and more accurate. That's not just our anecdotal experience; it's been proven by a number of external third-party studies. For example, in April of 2007, Hewlett Packard released a study that found that the longer an article has been around, and the more people who have edited it, the better it gets. HP said that validates the basic premise of Wikipedia - that mass collaboration, over time, will produce good quality material. And in December 2007, the German magazine Stern released a study concluding that the German Wikipedia was more accurate, complete and up-to-date than the longstanding print encyclopedia Brockhaus - the Encyclopedia Britannica of Germany. In general, all the studies we know about conclude that Wikipedia is remarkably high quality – certainly, its quality is comparable with traditional encyclopedias. And of course it has many advantages over traditional encyclopedias - it is much, much bigger and more comprehensive; it is updated hundreds of times every minute; it is easily searchable, and it's accessible from any internet-connected computer.
Q: But it is true that Wikipedia often contains mistakes.
A: Because Wikipedia is editable by anyone, we can't guarantee you won't stumble across a mistake; you may. But mistakes are fairly rare: external studies have suggested they occur at about the same rate they do in traditional encyclopedias. One thing that's great about Wikipedia is that it allows anyone to _correct_ a mistake. So where a printed encyclopedia will need to wait for its next edition, for a mistake to be fixed - on Wikipedia a mistake can be fixed instantly, and often is.
Q: Wikipedia is still pretty new. Why should I support something that might be a flash in the pan.
A: We've been around for fifteen years, and we are too big and too popular to disappear anytime soon. We have every intention of still being here 10 years from now, and 100 years from now.
Q: Why are you a non-profit anyway? Surely you could support yourself with ads?
A: Sure we could. But the idea of ads on Wikipedia makes us uncomfortable in the same way 'ads in schools' makes people uncomfortable. Wikipedia is an educational resource, and it's used in lots of educational contexts. People are used to education being advertising-free, and if Wikipedia were commercialized a lot of people would be far less comfortable using it than they are today - for example, teachers, librarians, governments, non-profit workers, etc.
Q: Those people don't like you anyway - I've heard that teachers, for example, won't let students cite Wikipedia in their papers.
A: We absolutely endorse that position: students shouldn't cite any encyclopedia in their papers, including Wikipedia. An encyclopedia is supposed to be a jumping off point for research, not the end of the research process. Beyond that, yes, we are aware that some educators are suspicious of Wikipedia, and believe it's poor-quality. We think that is more a perception problem than a real one though - lots of studies have validated that we are in fact good quality, and absolutely comparable to other encyclopedias. Over time, we think teachers will naturally grow to trust us more. In general, we are eager to persuade educators that we are a worthy educational resource, and the last thing we would want to do is take a step -such as commercializing Wikipedia- that would alienate educators.
Q: How many people constitute the core community of contributors?
A: In the English Wikipedia, more than 2,000 users have made at least 10,000 edits each. These are typically highly engaged individuals who treat Wikipedia as a “serious hobby” which they dedicate hours of their free time to. This group tends to overlap with the 1,500 “administrators” of Wikipedia, users who have the right to protect and delete pages, and to block problematic users.
Q: Do administrators on Wikipedia hold special privileges?
A: Except for obvious cases, administrators can only take action in accordance with consensus requests made by the community. For example, pages are deleted through a community discussion process, and an administrator has to determine whether the community has reached a consensus to delete the page or not after 7 days.
Q: How about subject matter experts?
A: The Wikipedia community greatly values and appreciates high quality contributions by subject matter experts. However, it does not confer special privileges to experts – rather, as a meritocracy, it tends to react to the aggregate of a user's actions. This includes not only the quality of their contributions, but also their interactions with other contributors, their willingness to act in accordance with established policies and guidelines, and so forth.
Q: Why do people contribute to Wikipedia?
A: We do not yet have any statistically-reliable research into contributor motivation. But anecdotally, it looks like they are motivated by some combination of general intellectual curiosity, and a desire to help others.
Q: Do contributors get paid to edit?
A: No. All Wikipedia contributors are volunteers.
Q: What is the “neutral point of view” policy and why does it matter?
A: Neutral point of view is one of Wikipedia's three fundamental principles: as such, it is absolute and non-negotiable. The goal is for all Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content to be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.
Q: What is the “verifiability” policy and why does it matter?
A: “Verifiability” is one of Wikipedia's three fundamental principles, and as such, it is absolute and non-negotiable. The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. This means that readers should be able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source. Wikipedia should provide a reliable source for quotations and for any material that is challenged or is likely to be challenged, or it may be removed.
Q: What is the “original research” policy and why does it matter?
A: “No original research” is one of Wikipedia's three fundamental principles, and as such, it is absolute and non-negotiable. Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish opinions or experiences. Citing sources and avoiding original research are inextricably linked: to demonstrate that writers are not presenting original research, they must cite reliable sources that provide information directly related to the topic of the article, and that directly support the information as it is presented.