Google's Brin and wife plop half-million into Wikipedia's hat

It's pledge-drive time, and Sergey's feeling flush


The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit publisher of Wikipedia and its affiliate sites, has received a $500,000 grant from the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, a philanthropic organization set up by Google cofounder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, cofounder of "personal genetic information" website 23andMe.

"This grant is an important endorsement of the Wikimedia Foundation and its work, and I hope it will send a signal as we kick off our annual fundraising campaign this week," said Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner in a statement announcing the grant.

"When I founded Wikipedia," founder Jimmy Wales said in a fundraising appeal for the Wikimedia Foundation's annual drive, "I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising banners, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission, and leave waste to others."

Wales explained what he meant by lean and tight, saying "Google might have close to a million servers. Yahoo has something like 13,000 staff. We have 679 servers and 95 staff. Wikipedia is the number five site on the web and serves 450 million different people every month – with billions of page views."

And to continue as a non-profit, annual appeals are a necessary nuisance – think National Public Radio pledge drives or the UK's annual Children in Need telethon, for example, or the interminable parade of John Tesh concerts and 60s soul-singers reunions on PBS.

For the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, a $500,000 grant is significant, but nowhere near the top of its contributions. Earlier this year, for example, it awarded a $50m challenge grant to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. If that one-to-one $50m challenge is met by the end of next year, the total giving to the MJFF by the Brin Wojcicki Foundation since 2004 will reach $130m.

Brin, according to the MJFF, carries the LRRK2 G2019S genetic mutation that has been linked to a significant increase in risk for Parkinson's disease, and his mother was diagnosed with the disease in 1999.

In 2009 – the most recent year for which the Brin Wojcicki Foundation's IRS records are readily available – it gave the same $500,000 that it has now awarded the Wikipedia Foundation to the X Prize Foundation, the San Francisco Bay Area anti-poverty Tipping Point Community, and Creative Commons.

The total amount of grants for that year was over $7.75m, including $3.5m to The Parkingson's Institute and $1m each to Ashoka, an organization whose self-described mission is "to shape a global, entrepreneurial, competitive citizen sector", and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which provides "rescue and refuge for persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world."

As a former non-profit fundraiser himself, your Reg reporter salutes Brin and Wojcicki for their generosity – even if the Wikimedia Foundation can be a bit of an odd duck at times. ®

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