How Wikipedia sets the standard for non-profit funding

5 min read

You may have heard the name Jimmy Wales. He is the founder of the fifth-most-popular website in the world: Wikipedia.

The American entrepreneur established the widely-used online encyclopaedia in 2001 and since then it has been stringently not-for-profit, with advertisements banned on the website.

Instead, the site has been finding success from popular, annual crowdfunding requests written by Mr Wales himself. The personal messages sent out by its founder regularly thank the public for their donations so far, and ask for more to ensure the website remains free, and advertisement-free, for another year.

These funding drives have proved to be quite successful, particularly in more recent times as Wikipedia has adopted a sustainable program for recurring revenue.

In 2012, The Register reported that Wikipedia raised almost US $35 million in donations. By their own projections, Wikipedia hopes to raise more than $50 million in crowdfunding per year by 2015.

While the scope of one of the biggest non-profits in the world makes it difficult for others to compete, their model certainly is replicable for organisations looking to ensure a sustainable service and year-on-year growth.

So, what can other non-profit organisations (NPOs) learn from Wikipedia? Here are three tips for funding your own not-for-profit enterprise.

Find funding beyond seasonal support

As Albert Einstein famously said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". While maintaining a steady stream of funds for your cause is the ultimate goal, having to run countless campaign drives is an exhausting exercise, and is enough to cause mental breakdowns in any NPO.

Wikipedia has adopted a direct debit solution where users opt to donate on a monthly basis, without needing to be prompted by monthly or quarterly campaigns. By doing this, the website's owners know they will have projectable income figures with which to service their cause and plan their growth – all without exhausting their staff (and their funds) on continual campaigning.

Successful NPOs can use direct debit integration to allow people to provide funding on a similarly supportive basis. That way, not only do they also have a sustainable model for growth, but a better viewpoint to manage their business.

Stop pestering, start engaging

No one likes to be pestered for funding. The messages from Jimmy Wales are designed to be heartfelt and personal, which has proved positive for Wikipedia's funding success.

NPOs can take a similar stance by establishing a direct debit payment method that encourages better relationships with supporters.

With donations established for a year or even longer, subsequent emails, letters or updates to donors can be positive examples of how their money is being spent instead of pleas for more.

Online gateway

As Wikipedia's donation model proves, some people will always prefer one-off payments, and that's great too. With a combined service, your NPO can receive both direct debit payments and one-off donations through a branded webpage.

With a complete solution, these donors can be directed to your site, where they can find information and donate money through your own branded area of the web.

The professional approach can have great repercussions to your funding exercises. Online donation amounts are 55 per cent greater through a branded page than they are through a portal page. It's such a popular method, branded webpage donations account for 58 per cent of all online giving.

The average donation size is also greater with this method ($118) than it is through event drives ($72).

To ensure the security of your online donation page, a service that is fully adherent with the highest level of Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is a must. A poor-level of compliance is likely to put people off donating to your cause in the future. What's more, it could damage your reputation among other would-be donors.