Are Wikimedia’s exec salaries normal?

Unpacking an internet debate about Wikimedia’s executive salaries.

In a world of constantly busted apps with unwieldy UX, the Wikimedia Foundation excels with Wikipedia, a simple trove of information for any question you might have. 

The Wikipedia logo against a purple background collage of dollar bills and lightning.

But the greater internet is abuzz with another question, per Business Insider: Do its executives deserve their high salaries? 

The numbers

This whole debate began when X user @nyaaasen posted a screenshot of Wikimedia’s 2021 IRS filings, showing that:

  • Former CEO Katherine Maher earned $789.5k.
  • Former COO Janeen Uzzell pulled in $503.8k.
  • Other execs, including Wikimedia’s CFO and chief creative officer, earned ~$344k-$396k each. 

Some of these earnings included severance for departing execs — e.g., Maher left the company in April 2021, earning $600k+ in severance. 

Surprise: Tech execs make bank

But unlike other tech organizations, Wikimedia is a nonprofit. Wikipedia’s pages are composed by volunteers, and it frequently asks users for donations (occasionally with drama). 

This led the OP to call Wikipedia a “massive grift,” while others were quick to point out these salaries are actually low among tech companies, especially considering how widely used Wikipedia is — Semrush ranks Wikipedia as the fifth-most-visited website in the world. 

So, it’s complicated

Let’s just dial in on Maher’s 2021 salary of $789.5k. 

Among CEOs of S&P 500 companies, who, in 2022, averaged annual salaries of $16.7m, it’s low. Consider these 2022 salaries:  

  • Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, $225.9m
  • Pinterest CEO Bill Ready, $122.6m 
  • DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, $47.4m 

Among nonprofit CEOs, whose annual salaries averaged $166.9k in 2021-22, it’s high — but not when compared to the CEOs of larger nonprofits. In 2021: 

  • American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern earned $640.4k
  • Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot earned $969.3k

Ultimately, it may be better to look at how a nonprofit spends its total funds. 

Charity Navigator gives Wikimedia 4/4 stars, noting its program expense ratio (program expenses divided by total expenses) of ~75%. 

Charity Navigator only awards four stars to nonprofits with a program expense ratio of 70%+, while the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance recommends 65%+BTW: Who cares about CEOs? The average US salary is currently $59.4k.

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