May 14, 2009

Wikimedia Foundation Form 990, Jimmy Wales Speaking Fee $75,000+ ("salary")

The Wikimedia Foundation Form 990 for their 2008 fiscal year has been posted now. See also their FAQ for details on what's been redacted and why. For people unfamiliar with this, a "form 990" is an IRS disclosure form required for charities. And it's often full of interesting financial information. Definitely worth a look if you're interested in the internal workings of an organization. Particular in terms of what people are paid.

It should be noted that the salaries do not seem to me extravagant at all. For example, the Chief Technical Offer, who is responsible for keeping the servers running overall, is paid $62,473. I've never criticized the technical operations side of Wikipedia, it just seemed like that would be misplaced.

However, that information has to be read, well, in context. For example, a recent interview (paywall'ed, so I can't link) of Jimmy Wales contained this exchange:

[Interviewer] Do you draw down a salary from Wikipedia?

[Jimmy Wales] No. I don't get any salary. In fact, I don't even get reimbursed for my expenses. It's my charity work. I'm pretty insistent about that.

That salary statement is true as far as it goes. One can see that he indeed doesn't get any salary. However, the Jimmy Wales Speaker's Fee is now at: "FEE CATEGORY: Above 75.0k" [update 1/2010 - now 50.k - 75.0k]

Somehow, that doesn't feel like "charity work" to me. I actually wouldn't mind so much if he said something like "No, I don't take any money out of the Wikimedia Foundation, since it's a nonprofit, which could pay chump-change anyway. Instead, I fleece executives who have far more money than sense, and are crazy enough to pay me tens of thousands of dollars to spout buzzwords and blather. What do you think, that I'm some sort of silly *altruist*?" (of course, more elegantly phrased). There would still be a problem of it being built on exploitation. But it's the "charity work" part which strikes me as wrong. Nothing which results in one gig paying more than the entire salary of the person in charge of keeping the site running, can fairly be described as "charity work".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on May 14, 2009 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
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I'm a bit disappointed, Seth. You didn't mention that this document covers July 2007 through June 2008. So, the only "paid" personnel during that span (according to 2007 calendar end W-2's) were Brad Patrick (shown the door in April 2007, so his pro-rated compensation was $140K annually), Carolyn Doran (no comment), Brion Vibber, Mike Godwin, and Sue Gardner. We need to wait for NEXT year's Form 990 to really begin seeing the results of Gardner's big push for executive pay ($472,000 set aside for her and the Deputy Director's compensation, alone).

My full reply is posted here:

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at May 15, 2009 11:12 AM

Really? Jimmy's fee is MORE than Jimmy Carter's??

Posted by: Joe at May 15, 2009 11:21 AM

Carter is probably a more decent human being and asks that any offsetting fees go to Habitat for Humanity, or, I wouldn't be surprised if Carter donates most of his after-expense income to charity, anyway.

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at May 15, 2009 11:57 AM

Am I reading that correctly -- he's pulling down at least $75,000 per speech?

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at May 16, 2009 10:48 AM

Gregory: I suspect that sum includes other items.

Rogers: That's what the bureau says is his asking price. Remember, he's at the Harry Walker Agency", and those folks deal in very high cost "talent".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 16, 2009 10:46 PM

I never understand the high speaking fees. I cant imagine being that interested in what the wikipedia guy has to say that I would pay too much for an entrance fee.

But I guess I must be alone on that.

Posted by: Jill at May 18, 2009 02:34 AM


"During the opening keynote remarks Tuesday at the ad:tech 2009 San Francisco, Wales told attendees that newspapers and traditional media companies cannot compete alone in online media.

"They should just give up," he said (...)"

By the way, $75,000 per speech is not the top fee in the biz. Lech Walesa recently was paid 100,000 euros (135,000 U.S. dollars) for an engagement.

Posted by: GMW at May 18, 2009 03:30 PM

Jill: He's telling them about getting lots of unpaid workers. They're very interested in that.

GMW: Certainly not the top. But it's up there.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 18, 2009 11:36 PM