How Does Wikipedia Make Money? Wikipedia Business Model

Wikipedia is sustained by the Wikimedia Foundation, which is supported mostly by donations and contributions, which in 2018 amounted to almost $98 million. Wikipedia is among the most popular websites on earth, and it is, as of these days, an open, non-profit project, on which other twelve projects have been developed.

Wikipedia origin story

Back in 2001, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger stumbled on the idea of having an encyclopedia, rather than to be edited centrally, could instead be built by hundreds of contributors. Initially, the project was called Nupedia.

However, it later changed the name to Wikipedia, to recall the Hawaiian term “wiki” which stands for “quick” or “super-fast” – “wiki wiki.”

A few years before, Jimmy Wales had retired from his options trading career, and having made some money, he had started another website called Bomis, which would aggregate erotic photographs materials. While Bomis would eventually close, from its resources, Nupedia was created. Thus, bringing to life Wikipedia.

Today Wikipedia is among the most popular sites on earth and for sure the most known encyclopedia.

Wikimedia family


The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects brought on by the Wikimedia family. The Foundation was established as a nonprofit in 2003.

In 2012, asked how he decided the best way to go, Jimmy Wales said: “Thinking about how do we sustain it? How do we make this work? Putting it into a non-profit (referring to Wikipedia) seemed a reasonable way to go.”

13 projects are part of this family and are dvided in five main categories:

  • Reference.
  • Collections.
  • Technology.
  • Guides.
  • Collaboration.


  • Wikipedia “All the world’s knowledge” the encyclopedia written in 300 languages.
  • Wikibooks or a collection of free e-book resources including textbooks, annotated texts, instructional guides, and manuals.
  • Wiktionary a dictionary for over 170 languages.
  • Wikiquote an online collection of sourced quotations.


  • Wikimedia Commons, the world’s largest free-to-use library of illustrations, photos, drawings, videos, and music.
  • Wikisource, a library of freely-licensed source texts and historical documents.
  • Wikiversity, learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education.
  • Wikispecies, a database for taxonomy that covers living and fossil representatives of Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Bacteria, Archaea, Protista, and all other forms of life.


  • Wikidata, central storage of structured data for Wikimedia projects.
  • MediaWiki is free and open-source wiki software that anyone can use and develop. The platform on which Wikimedia projects are built.


  • Wikivoyage which aim is to provide the world’s largest free, complete and up-to-date worldwide travel guide.
  • Wikinews, a free content alternative to commercial news sites with articles that are fact-checked and peer-reviewed.


  • Meta-WikiProject is a project used as a central hub for various coordination and organization tasks.

How does Wikimedia spend money?

Source: Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia foundation expenses comprise four main categories:

  • Direct support to websites: servers + ongoing engineering improvements, product development, design and research, and legal support.
  • Direct support to communities through grants, programs, events, training, partnerships, tools to augment contributor capacity, and support for the legal defense of editors.
  • Fundraising.
  • Administration and governance with 350+ staff and contractors to support a wide variety of projects.

How does Wikimedia make money?

As Jimmy Wales, himself explained: “As a business, it’s a pretty terrible, It exists based on donations.”


Read next:

Handpicked resources:

Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"