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The curious case of Wikipedia seeking donations

What do you do when you want to obtain some information about something unknown or pressing? Definitely search it up in the web browser. And more often than not, the first link to appear to our rescue is that of Wikipedia. Wikipedia went online in the year 2001 and from then on has grown into this vast repository of information, helping people all over the world. But earlier this year, this site became a centre of debate amongst many users.

On opening any Wikipedia page, people started viewing a red and white banner on the top, asking for donations from its users. The mission of Wikipedia is to ensure the free propagation of knowledge among people and has eased up the process of information gathering. So when the message started popping up, it made everyone question whether Wikipedia would continue to offer its services for free. It also made people wonder whether one of the world’s most popular websites(In July 2020, Wikepedia.org was the eighth most popular site in the world) actually needed donations to keep functioning.

To understand the rationale behind it, we need to understand a bit more about the model in which Wikipedia functions.

Wikipedia is a part of the non-profit organization, Wikimedia Foundation. With the service of several volunteer contributors, engineers and editors, Wikipedia has been able to grow and act as this boundless online library for users across the world. Wikipedia’s functioning depends almost entirely on the donations made by readers across the world. A minor portion of its earnings comes from the sale of merchandise, such as pencils, notebooks, mugs, t-shirts and a few other objects, imprinted with the Wikipedia brand. Several notable corporates have also made donations to the website. Last year, Amazon had donated close to $1 million dollars to the Wikimedia Foundation.

With the help of these contributions, Wikipedia ensures the safety and security of its site, protects the user's data and helps in the smooth running of its servers. It also helps the site to adapt itself to the growing cultural needs(translations to different languages) and technological requirements(optimisation for the smartphones) as well. The donations also help to pay the salary of its 250 employees whereas the 250000 volunteers under its umbrella are providing their services to the website free of cost.

So seeing the message posted by Wikipedia, the readers started wondering whether Wikipedia is on the verge of bankruptcy or not. But the situation is quite the opposite. Wikipedia’s assets have grown exponentially over the years through its fundraising campaigns and corporate contributions. A charitable website of such a scale requires a steady inflow of donations. The Foundation had released a report in 2019 where it had revealed that about 49% of the donations were spent as direct support to the website, 32% for the events and partnerships of its volunteers, 13% for paying the staff members and 12% for formulating other fundraising initiatives. Such organizations tend to maintain an adequate cash reserve to support it if adversity ever occurs( like a donor backing off or due to sudden increase in costs).

This is not Wikipedia’s first fundraising drive though. Such drives are conducted in almost all parts of the world at specific times. But yes, this is indeed its first full-fledged drive conducted in India. Indian users are found to visit the site about 750 million times a month.

While the coronavirus pandemic has crippled a lot of industries, for Wikipedia the results are opposite. The number of readers visiting the site has increased in the past couple of months, considering the site as a reliable and authentic source of information.

So maybe, the next time we see such a plea by Wikipedia, we do indeed make a donation. After all none of us can deny that we have reaped the benefits of accessing this website at some point or the other in our lives.

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