Strategic Plan/Role of the WMF

All work of the Wikimedia Foundation is focused toward the fulfillment of the Wikimedia movement's vision: "a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge." The Wikimedia Foundation is but one entity within the broad Wikimedia movement with a very specific role - to protect and support perpetual accessibility of the core assets of Wikimedia for the global public good, fill strategic and operational roles that volunteers are less well-positioned to play, and help facilitate volunteer efforts to continue to grow the Wikimedia movement and projects.[1]

The Foundation is a non-profit, 501(c)3 charitable organization that was founded by Jimmy Wales in 2003, two years after the launch of Wikipedia. Since then, the Foundation's core function has been to maintain the technical infrastructure for Wikipedia and its sister projects, including MediaWiki, the software that powers them. It has provided the core organizational underpinning for the projects: legal, administrative and financial. The Foundation's stated mission is "to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally," and ultimately, the Foundation seeks to secure a long-term future for free knowledge on the Internet.

The Wikimedia Foundation believes it has the potential to play a positively transformative role in support of Wikimedia communities and, ultimately, to increase the overall impact of the projects on readers and the world. To achieve this, the Foundation must work in alignment with the priorities of the movement, playing the roles it is uniquely positioned to play (in partnership with and through volunteers, where appropriate) and recognizing, encouraging, and stepping out of the way of volunteers who play a myriad of other roles.

To work effectively in support of the Wikimedia movement, the staff of the Wikimedia Foundation engaged in detailed business planning in parallel with the movement-wide strategic planning effort that has played out on this wiki. The Foundation's business plan, summarized below, will provide the staff and broader Wikimedia community greater specificity on the key initiatives the Foundation will undertake in the next five years and their implications in terms of staff and financial requirements.

Priorities for the Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation has defined three core priorities that will guide its work over the next five years which are are consistent with the goals the movement has developed but are defined more narrowly given the responsibility and capabilities of the Foundation.

  1. Build the technological and operating platform that enables Wikimedia to function sustainably as a top global Internet organization: The Wikimedia Foundation is a young organization that has only recently been able to grow its scope beyond keeping its web properties operational at the most basic level. Over the next five years, the Foundation needs to invest in developing technology and operational systems as well as sustainable revenue streams that will enable Wikimedia to keep pace with the needs of a global movement and the ever-changing technological, cultural and economic environment. This will include making improvements to the reader experience (quality labeling of articles, improved search and content discovery) and creating improved tools for vetting and creating different types of content. In the immediate future, this will require increased investment in leadership at the Foundation, in technical operations and developer staff, in fundraising, and to work alongside community volunteers.
  2. Strengthen, grow and increase diversity of the community that is the lifeblood of the Wikimedia projects: The editors build the projects, which means a strong and healthy editing community is critical to Wikimedia achieving its mission. To support continued growth and greater diversity of the editing community, and to reduce friction amongst and between long-time editors and newcomers, the Wikimedia Foundation will need to increase investments in improving the user interface, user experience, and providing new editor supports, as well as in supporting editor self-organization of various kinds. Editors' efforts to recruit, train, support, retain, and reward other editors need to be supported, monitored, recognized, and rewarded. Here, the Wikimedia Foundation can play an important role to support approaches developed by volunteers, as well as to support the creation of new chapters and other types of organizational structures.
  3. Accelerate impact by investing in key geographic areas, mobile application development, and stimulating volunteer innovation. The Wikimedia Foundation has not to date attempted to increase impact inside a particular geography via the establishment of an on-the-ground presence. However, it is clear that the opportunity to grow the Wikimedia projects in high potential countries and regions in the Global South is significant. If the Foundation can catalyze the growth of projects by engaging with and supporting local communities to self-organize, it would help to advance the vision of Wikimedia. Therefore, the Foundation plans to establish a presence in three priority regions as a pilot: India, Brazil and the Arabic-speaking parts of the Middle East & North Africa. The Foundation will actively monitor and learn from these catalyst investments to evaluate the success of the approach and share best practices. Additionally, the Foundation will invest to improve our mobile applications, build partnerships that increase our mobile reach globally and support scalable offline solutions for those who will have limited connectivity over the next five years. And, the Foundation will need to create the capability to recruit and support current and prospective volunteer developers, as well as to support volunteer-created applications and widgets, and to set out guidelines for reviewing and investing in high-potential innovations.

Major Initiatives

The Foundation will undertake an expanded scope of work over the next five years in service of the Wikimedia movement and projects. In partnership with the community, the staff of the Foundation will engage in several major initiatives.

Make significant technology investments to guarantee the permanence of the projects and support ongoing growth

The Foundation is fundamentally responsible for securing and ensuring the soundness of the technological infrastructure of the projects. The importance of this role has grown as the value of the projects has expanded, and the challenges associated with maintaining and building the infrastructure have as well.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Build new data centers with automatic fail-over to reduce the likelihood of site outages and ensure the continued operations of the website in the case of a catastrophic occurrence at one of the data center locations.
  • Build additional caching centers in key locations to manage increased traffic from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, and ensure load times are reasonable and comparable no matter where in the world an end user is located.
  • Replace single points of failure, improve database backups, and implement critical upgrades to increase site security.
  • Manage the MediaWiki release cycle to ensure MediaWiki is meeting the evolving needs of the website
  • Develop clear documentation and a clear set of APIs so that developers can ramp-up to become MediaWiki developers and can develop applications that easily interface with MediaWiki.

Encourage the health and growth of Wikimedia communities and the projects they create and manage

Wikimedia's greatest asset is its community of editors and contributors. The future successes of the Wikimedia movement and projects depend on their continued efforts and innovation. Relative to the tens of thousands of volunteers who have contributed countless hours to the projects since their inception, the contributions of the paid staff of the Wikimedia Foundation has been and will remain relatively small. Within the movement, the Foundation can play a narrow, but critical, role in supporting community health and growth. Seeking to help the community to help itself, the staff of the Foundation will work to understand and to help the movement better understand its own needs. The Foundation will focus its attention on activities that will catalyze community leadership and action, both to sustain the current community and to help expand the community to include new individuals and groups.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Develop new products and tools such as reader rating systems, a rich text editor, enhanced navigation, social networking to make it simpler and more fun for everyone to contribute to and participate in the projects.
  • Support newer contributor recruitment and acculturation by encouraging a social environment on the Wikimedia projects that is more welcoming and supportive; collaborate and catalyze the work of community leaders who are eager to serve as recruiters, guides, and mentors for newer volunteers
  • Encourage diversity by working with community leaders to conduct focused outreach to groups with potential to bring new expertise to the projects (e.g., academia) and by supporting leaders who are from underrepresented groups in their efforts to cultivate new members from within their communities
  • Support offline and social events to increase community cohesion and commitment to the projects
  • Reward excellent contributions that are not being recognized via established community mechanisms
  • Create products and services that support affiliation among Wikimedians enabling them to participate actively in spreading knowledge while engaging their creativity and passion
  • Provide high quality customer service via first-responder systems that leverage community volunteers and technology to consistently and effectively address "hot-button issues"

Make catalytic investments and support chapters to increase Wikimedia's global footprint

Wikimedia has evolved to have global importance. No grand design or unifying strategy was needed to get to this point, however, this type of organic growth has not served all people or parts of the globe equally. Today, the average Canadian student has much greater access to an abundance of relevant and high-quality content than does her counterpart in Pakistan. To truly achieve Wikimedia's vision will require significant attention to building community, increasing content, and improving access to extend readership to new parts of the globe. The Foundation seeks to make catalytic investments that will spur this type of growth, ultimately seeking to help spark the efforts of new volunteers and groups to support Wikimedia communities around the globe, and particularly in the Global South.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Design and deploy local teams to pilot activities to spur growth in readership and the contributor base in high priority geographies - India, Brazil and the Arabic-speaking Middle East/North Africa
  • Provide financial and other supports to Wikimedia chapters to enable them to professionalize so that they can serve their local Wikimedia communities effectively, meet their own goals, and contribute to the health and growth of the movement overall
  • Facilitate community efforts to create new chapters or, as appropriate, other organizational models and structures, to contribute to Wikimedia projects
  • Support volunteer initiatives that support the growth of the projects around the world including meet-ups, public outreach activities and other volunteer innovation

Invest in mobile and offline products to broaden reach to new populations

When the Wikipedia website was first developed, people connected to the Internet primarily through personal computers. Since then there has been a proliferation of small mobile devices, including mobile phones, smartphones, e-readers, netbooks, and other devices. People in the Global North increasingly use these devices in addition to personal computers, and people in the Global South are often connecting solely through them. Currently, Wikimedia is heavily optimized for the personal computer. Recent strides have been made to develop applications to enable a smooth reading experience on key mobile operating systems; nonetheless, unless the Wikimedia Foundation can continue to make improvements in its accessibility and usability on mobile platforms – specifically, developing ways to enable participation via mobile devices – it risks being significantly less useful to information seekers in the future, than it has been in the past.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Create new products and partnerships to expand the reach and participation of users who are not able to connect to the Internet via a PC
  • Develop partnerships with mobile providers and entrepreneurs to enable wide access to Wikimedia's mobile products by users without expensive smartphones
  • Invest in technology improvements that enhance mobile features, functionality and access
  • Create new offline products and partnerships with the capacity to distribute offline versions of Wikimedia's products to large numbers of users with limited connectivity at low cost

Increase access to information to drive community and Foundation decision-making and action

Wikimedia's strategy project has provided an unprecedented opportunity to generate and gather a large amount of data, research, and expert opinions about the current state of Wikimedia communities and projects. This snapshot of data has been useful for the community engaged in strategic planning to develop priorities and for defining the Foundation's strategy. To be useful over the long-term, the Foundation wants to increase the amount and quality of information about the Wikimedia movement and projects that is available and accessible, so that it can focus its own efforts on the most important issues and to help the community self-assess and identify new endeavors to pursue.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Implement a web analytics tool to provide mission-critical information to the Foundation and the movement as a whole
  • Provide the Foundation and community with better information about the movement, by developing and publishing diverse measures of the health and growth of Wikimedia communities and projects
  • Foster a healthy community of researchers among community members and researchers interested in analyzing Wikimedia; provide access to relevant data and highlight important questions to be addressed
  • Conduct an annual reader and editor survey in order to take the pulse of the community and identify pressing issues or concerns

Expand public awareness and support for the Wikimedia movement

Wikipedia has grown to become one of the world's most well-recognized brands, but many people do not understand key elements that make the Wikimedia movement and its projects unique, including how the projects are built and maintained and the breadth and depth of the Wikimedia community. It is not well-understood that the infrastructure for the Wikimedia projects is provided by a not-for-profit organization that is largely funded by charitable contributions. Expanding Wikimedia's public base of support is critical to the continued financial health and sustainability.

In order to expand its public base of support, over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Spread knowledge about Wikimedia's history, story, vision and status as a nonprofit in service of an important social mission and vision
  • Expand the number of donors to the Wikimedia projects and increase the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns in raising unrestricted funds to support the movement

Build internal capacity to better support the movement and achieve strategic goals

The role and capacity of the Wikimedia Foundation has grown over time. Established in 2003, the Foundation was initially staffed entirely by volunteers; as of June 2010, the Foundation has 35 paid staff members. Initially, the Foundation served as a legal entity that collected donations and managed the licensing of Wikimedia's name; today, it continues in these roles and also manages the basic technology infrastructure and plays a role in supporting software development, the development of partnerships and alliances, fundraising, communications, and outreach. As the Wikimedia movement has made progress towards its ambitious vision, with the growth in the usage of the Wikimedia projects and their influence, it has made it even more critical for the Wikimedia Foundation to operate effectively.

Over the next five years, the Foundation will:

  • Increase its own capacity by adding new paid staff members who will work to catalyze, support, and partner with community volunteers in service of the movement's priorities and goals
  • Make appropriate investments in its own systems and structures in order to be able to recruit and retain talented employees
  • Spread the word about Wikimedia's role and vision while protecting Wikimedia's reputation, legal status and brand
  • Maintain and expand efforts to secure financial support from within its global community in order to enable the Foundation to carry out its work and secure Wikimedia's future
  • Continue to responsibly steward community donations to ensure long-term financial sustainability

Wikimedia Foundation Organizational Structure

As a result of the strategic planning process, and greater clarity on the movement's goals and priorities, the Wikimedia Foundation is creating a new organizational structure to carry out the initiatives described above. While staff will have distinct roles, some of which will be more community-facing than others, all will be expected to seek ways to collaborate, interact, and communicate with the broader movement as they carry out their work.

Community Department

This department will partner with and serve the broad Wikimedia community, including readers, editors/contributors and donors, to encourage the health and growth of Wikimedia communities and the projects they create and manage. The Community Department is responsible for building and maintaining the Foundation's relationships with its constituencies.

Given the financial resources required to support the strategic plan, a key priority for the Community department's efforts in the first two years will be on raising awareness among readers, increasing the number of donors and improving ongoing Foundation fundraising practices and infrastructure.

The Community department will initiate efforts to both increase the flow of new editors, retain current ones, and to make the Wikimedia community a more welcoming and diverse place through communicating, interacting, and supporting readers and editors in ways that are scalable and global.

Global Development Department

The Global Development department will focus on accelerating impact by investing in key geographic areas, chapter development (or "professionalization"), mobile partnership development, offline product dissemination, global community research, Wikimedia branded products and communications. Investments will be differentially focused on the Global South, where increasing the number of readers and editors is a top strategic priority.

Given that many of the Global Development department's activities will be new for the Foundation, the first two years of team activities will be focused on developing, piloting, and testing new systems, structures, and approaches. This will include launching on-the-ground "catalyst teams" in India, Brazil and the Arabic-speaking Middle East & North Africa, defining strategic global grantmaking processes, developing support services to help chapters more effectively serve their local communities and contribute to the global Wikimedia movement, distributing new products to increase affiliation among the Wikimedia movement, experimenting with approaches to offline product dissemination and mobile content distribution and developing a research baseline.

Technology Department

As of July 2010, the Technology department is restructuring in order to better achieve its objectives. With the goal of developing new ways to activate participation and to meet the needs of different types of users, the Technology department is developing a set of features teams which will focus on developing new products and tools for specific types of users. Given the important role that mobile devices are expected to play in the next five years, the Technology department is launching a team that will be dedicated to making Wikimedia Foundation projects accessible on mobile devices, not only to readers but also as a vehicle to promote participation.

In order to ensure that the website can keep pace with its dramatic growth and continue to provide the experience expected of a top ten website, the foundation will invest heavily in site infrastructure and the operations team to strengthen performance. Additionally, the Foundation will invest in developing a comprehensive web analytics tool that can provide data required by the Foundation and the Wikimedia community to understand user behavior and evaluate strategic investments. Finally, the Technology department will devote resources to support the Foundation's fundraising efforts so that the organization and movement are able to reach their financial goals.

Strategic Product Development Team

The role of the Strategic Product Development team will be to focus the efforts of the Wikimedia Foundation on maximizing its mission impact. The team will be responsible for consulting with members of the Wikimedia movement, including the global Wikimedia volunteer community, the global Wikimedia audience, external observers, researchers, experts and partners, and staff of the Foundation, in order to make decisions about which initiatives and projects to support first, which ones to support later, and which ones to cease to support. The creation of this team signals the Foundation's focus on engaging in a more systemic approach to determining priorities and the product development roadmap for the Wikimedia Foundation. This team will also be responsible for making these choices more transparent to the Wikimedia movement overall.

Internal Operations: Human Resources, Administration, and Finance

As the Wikimedia Foundation takes on new roles and responsibilities, it will require greater internal capacity to manage its growth and operations effectively. The Foundation will be adding a Chief Human Resources Officer to the organization in order to help recruit and retain its talented employees. The Foundation will also invest in new administrative and office support positions in order to enable the organization to focus on its mission-critical activities. Further, with a larger budget and more complexity, the Foundation will invest in its financial management systems and staff.

Wikimedia Foundation Staff

In order to undertake the initiatives described above, the Wikimedia Foundation plans to expand its internal capacity over the next five years, both so that staff are able to take on new roles and so that it can better interact, partner, and communicate with community volunteers. Growth in the number of Foundation staff is projected to be particularly strong over the next 2-3 years. Numbers in the chart reflect planned number of staff to be employed by the Foundation as of the end of the specified fiscal year. The number and types of new staff positions were determined through detailed department-level conversations with Wikimedia Foundation staff, facilitated by Bridgespan. They are the expected staff needed in order to carry out ongoing activities and planned initiatives in order to achieve Wikimedia goals and priorities, and they are subject to change, as the Foundation learns over time.


Financial Requirements

Projected Costs

As the Wikimedia Foundation takes on new responsibilities and proactively works towards the movement's goals, its budget will increase significantly. During the strategic planning process, the staff of the Wikimedia Foundation, facilitated by consultants from the Bridgespan Group, developed detailed assumptions about the number and type of staff and external contractors required, operating and capital expenditures, and other costs the Foundation would incur over the next five years. Based on these financial projections, we are estimating that by 2015, the Foundation's budget will be $51M.[2]


Projected Revenue

The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organization, and, as such, it will continue to focus its efforts on raising funds from its global community to sustain its operations. The Foundation has created the following set of guidelines which outline its approach to fundraising:

  • The primary source of revenue for Wikimedia Foundation will be community giving (through on-line donations), because this focus:
    • Aligns fundraising with the rest of the Wikimedia movement: it is global, and it empowers ordinary people
    • Enables the organization to stay focused on its own mission and strategy rather than being pulled by large funders' needs and desires
    • Creates the correct incentives: Wikimedia should be accountable and responsive to users, including readers and editors
    • Reduces the risk that donors will inappropriately grow to become more valued by the organization than editors
  • Is highly efficient and effective: by far the most scalable model
  • Is highly stable and predictable
  • Is inclusive of chapters and the global Wikimedia community

In addition to seeking increased support through community donations, Wikimedia will continue to raise limited but critical funds from foundations, through major gifts, and through licensing and other business partnerships. Major donors and foundations contribute important resources to the Foundation, but they can present some problems. Because Wikimedia projects include strongly opposing and often controversial points of view, the Foundation wants to guard its independence from any single individual or institution.

There are many large donors and foundations in the world who care deeply about Wikimedia projects and who will feel more comfortable donating the more clearly it is understood that the Foundation does not trade influence or access for donations and that (with only a few exceptions) there is firm segregation between WMF itself and the editorship and content creation and review processes. While any donor may have proposals for knowledge- and skills-sharing which align with and further our vision, Wikimedia's $100 and $1 donors do not expect special treatment from the Foundation, and neither should our $1,000,000 donors. The Foundation will seek ways of demonstrating this principle in practice as it pursues growth in major gifts revenue. The Foundation will also work to grow revenue from small donations faster than revenue from major gifts to guarantee independence and the external appearance of independence. Grants from foundations will provide credibility. Some foundations also provide useful non-financial connections and support. Therefore, the Foundation will continue to seek unrestricted grants. As a matter of general practice, the Foundation will no longer accept restricted grants for non-core operations and programs, other than those currently planned.[3]

First steps: 2010-11

The Wikimedia Board of Trustees approved the annual plan for 2010-11 in June 2010; more detail on planned activities, hiring, and financials for the first year of the Foundation's five year business plan are provided here

Next Page: A Call to Action to Support the Future Growth of the Wikimedia Movement and Projects


  1. During the strategic planning process, one task force was formed to engage in deeper thinking about movement roles. As of the writing of this plan, that work is still unfinished; one of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustee's priorities for 2010-11 is to lead a process that will engage community volunteers, chapters, and other stakeholders in resolving these open questions.
  2. Preliminary estimates are based on financial projections developed by the Bridgespan group in consultation with the Wikimedia Foundation staff. Forecasts were based on 2010-11 Wikimedia budget, taking into account all major cost categories associated with initiatives, activities, and hiring to be undertaken over the next five years (i.e., salary and wages, grants and awards, capital expenditures, etc.).
  3. While the Wikimedia Foundation has encouraged donors to make unrestricted gifts see: gift policy, in the past it has accepted restricted grants for several recent initiatives including the usability project and public policy initiative that were funded by the Stanton Foundation. Going forward, the Foundation may accept restricted gifts for core operations such as the funding of a new data center, but does not plan to accept restricted gifts for programs or activities that are supplementary.