Pony Up: Wikipedia Needs $16 Million to Stay Ad-Free

Fund-raising pleas play on populist spirit, tried-and-true NPR-style guilt-tripping.


Today, the Wikimedia Foundation announces that it hopes to raise $16 million–“so that Wikipedia and its sister projects can remain freely available to people around the world.” Wikipedia was the 12th most popular site in September, with 80 million unique visitors that month in the US, and 398 million worldwide. Supporting an operation like that costs money–around $20 million per year, says Wikimedia–but last year’s fund-raising drive only raised $8 million.

To boost contributions, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tells Fast Company they did A/B testing over the last few weeks, placing banners on 5% rotation for certain hours.

“In the past, we basically just winged it,” says Wales. “This time, we tried to do a classic marketing campaign, and we think it’s going to increase the donations a lot.” 

Wikipedia also challenged its community to develop more effective advertisements. Soon they had received hundreds of submissions.. Traditionally, says Wales, the No. 1 “revenue-generating banner by a huge margin” is the Personal Appeal ad (pictured above).

“We put up a challenge: beat Jimmy,” says Wales. “We tried a bunch of others that didn’t work at all–I don’t know why, but so far, I win.”

Wales believes it’s because his ad puts a human face on Wikipedia, making it feel less corporate.


“Over the past 10 years, Wikipedia has become a vital public resource for hundreds of millions of people. We’ve come to depend on it being there for us — free to use, without any bias or interference, and without advertising,” the Wikipedia founder’s personal appeal reads. “If you can afford to make even a small donation, that’s important. You’re helping to keep Wikipedia available not just for yourself, but for others–kids, people in poor countries–who themselves can’t afford to donate.”

And Wikimedia Foundation Director Sue Gardner chimes in: “Wikipedia is the people’s encyclopedia: it’s written by ordinary people, and it makes sense that ordinary people would pay to support it.”

It’s a two-pronged fundraising strategy, as the two quotes show, leaving no one out: NPR-style guilt-tripping for the lefties, and a nice dose of populism for the right.


Additional reporting by Austin Carr.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.