As Wikipedia turned 15 years old in 2016, Wikimedia’s leadership looked at our vision – Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge – and acknowledged that this vision cannot be accomplished in any of our lifetimes. It is a vision with an infinite time horizon, and it was in this spirit that the Wikimedia Endowment was born.
The first gift to the Wikimedia Endowment was a generous bequest from a longtime Wikimedia donor, Jim Pacha, who had passed away in 2014 but left direction that his legacy gift go into an endowment fund to support the Wikimedia projects, if one ever was established. In the years since, over 2,000 other donors have similarly been inspired to make planned gifts to the Wikimedia Endowment.
This journey of support has led to today’s important announcement that the endowment has moved into its own independent 501c3 charity in order to better support the Wikimedia projects for the long-term. The mission and the leadership of the endowment stay the same; we just have a new permanent home. Endowments everywhere – whether at hospitals, museums, or other entities – are a way to ensure impact beyond the immediate moment.
During the endowment’s start-up phase from 2016 to 2023, nearly 3 million generous donors contributed founding gifts at all levels to help seed the fund. In this seed phase, the endowment was housed at the Tides Foundation, which helps launch nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. This allowed us to focus on fundraising and keep our costs low as we got the endowment off the ground.
With the Wikimedia Endowment now entering a new phase of its maturity, the Wikimedia Endowment Board has authorized a new multi-year fundraising campaign that will allow the endowment to return even greater support for Wikimedia projects for years to come.
How the Wikimedia Endowment works
The Wikimedia Endowment is our promise to the future of the Wikimedia projects. It’s our commitment that Wikipedia will be there for generations to come. It does this by pooling donations into a permanent fund that generates earnings – a portion of which are then disbursed to support Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, in accordance with the Wikimedia Endowment spending policy.
Each year, the Board of Directors of the Wikimedia Endowment decides on a spending rate of between 2.5 and 4 percent of the market rate of the endowment’s investment portfolio. This policy is designed to preserve the endowment’s principal while also providing funds to cover the operational expenses of the endowment and to make grants to critical projects that will help ensure a future of innovation for the Wikimedia projects.
Last year, we conducted interviews with people who donated to the Wikimedia Endowment and asked them what the endowment should support in the near future, in line with its purpose to support the sustainability of Wikimedia projects. The theme that emerged from these conversations was a focus on funding technical innovation, so that the Wikimedia projects stay relevant in a time of rapid technological change. You can find a list of initiatives that the Wikimedia Endowment supported last fiscal year in our April Diff post. This work is led by the Endowment Board’s Grantmaking and Community Committee (comprised of longtime Wikimedia community members Phoebe Ayers and Patricio Lorente).
They are joined on the Wikimedia Endowment Board by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and experts in finance, philanthropy, education, and business. The Endowment Board includes some of the Wikimedia movement’s largest donors who have been supporting the Wikimedia Foundation for over a decade. Board members must also be active fundraisers for the endowment; they have helped to host fundraising events to help grow the fund. In order to minimize costs, the endowment is supported by staff from the Wikimedia Foundation who spend a portion of their time to support the endowment (the endowment then reimburses the Wikimedia Foundation for these costs).
Why donors choose to donate to the Wikimedia Endowment
While gifts to the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual fund are spent on immediate needs in the current fiscal year, gifts to the Wikimedia Endowment are never spent. Rather, they are invested alongside other endowment gifts so that they can generate returns year after year. Over the long term, every gift to the endowment will ultimately return more funds to the Wikimedia projects than if the donor had made a single gift to the annual fund. Conversely, many people prefer to donate to the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual fund so that their donation can have the largest impact that year. We are proud to offer our donors the opportunity to contribute to the annual fund or to the endowment depending on their preference – or both if they are so inspired. You can find more information about the Wikimedia Endowment at www.wikimediaendowment.org.
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