I was looking for clarity on a subject the other day on the Wikipedia website when a message box popped up:
"Hi," it began. This is the second time we've interrupted your search recently, but 98 percent of our readers don't give; they keep reading. We ask you to help us sustain Wikipedia. All we ask is $2.75 if you can afford $2.75, or $25 if you can afford $25. We ask you humbly. Please don't scroll away."
It's an annual thing, like the fund drive for the local Public Broadcasting Service station.
Wikipedia has been around for just over 20 years. It operates under the Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the free, online encyclopedia. The site has not been without its problems over the years — pages get hacked sometimes, and squabbles break out among volunteers.
But as the Columbia Journalism Review noted last year, Wikipedia is "better poised to offer fact-checking than mainstream and social media."
If Wikipedia had $2.75 for every time it was used to settle a bar bet, it wouldn't be having an annual fund drive. It has more than 55 million pages of information and counts close to 20 billion visits a month.
The average donation to Wikipedia is $15. "The Wikimedia Foundation is funded primarily through donations from millions of individuals around the world," a company spokesman noted. We are grateful that so many people find value in Wikipedia and want to sustain its future. Since the foundation has 501(c)(3) status, donations to it are tax deductible.
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The foundation's website points out the donations are used in many areas:
• To operate an international technology infrastructure that includes hosting servers and providing engineering work.
• Making Wikipedia available in every language on every device. The company supports more than 300 languages.
• To support community-led projects around the world. "Every year, about 10 percent of our budget is specifically dedicated to supporting community projects that enrich, grow, and improve knowledge on Wikipedia," the website noted.
• To defend and protect free access to knowledge around the world, which includes a fight "against censorship and (to) protect the right of everyone to speak and learn freely."
It has been noted that Wikipedia has a sizable reserve fund. Wikipedia officials said that fund "can only be accessed in exceptional circumstances, such as an economic crisis. ... The details of our budget and plan are always available to the public for further review."
When it comes to day-to-day operations, Wikipedia depends on those small donors, who, according to the website, make up about 80% of the donations.
Lonnie Brown can be reached at LedgerDatabase@aol.com.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Wikipedia has begun its annual fundraising drive