Wikipedia has been running banner ads featuring their founder, Jimmy Wales, more recently Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner, and finally Wikipedia volunteers, making a “personal appeal” to donate. I’ve been following the campaign for a couple reasons:
- I love Wikipedia and use it all the time. It’s a modern wonder of the world.
- I thought Jimmy Wales’ face was the wrong one to use. I had a negative emotional response at first, which kept my curiosity high. Why not Sue or himself? Because Wikipedia is powered by volunteers! I am a potential volunteer, so I identify with their stories, and I actually learned a lot about the kinds of people who contribute.
- It’s an interesting campaign: Structured like a public radio fundraiser, where as soon as you give us enough money, we stop asking! But it’s an online campaign too, and Wikipedia has a huge reach, and a unique position in people’s lives.
- One fundamental rule of the internet is that if something can be parodied, it will be, and parodies are entertaining.
The campaign recently wrapped up as they met their fundraising goal of $20M. This has been described in the past few days as a success, in part because we can now return to using Wikipedia without seeing the banners. Don’t bet me wrong – not many causes can raise $20M so easily online, and Wikipedia didn’t get there, and won’t stay there, by accident. Overall, they are doing a fabulous job. I kept thinking though – could the campaign be better? What can we measure it against?
I started by working backwards to figure out their conversion rate. Wikipedia gets 88 million unique visitors per month, up from 80 million per month last year, according to compete.com. Their campaign wrap blog post, however, notes “Wikimedia Foundation websites serve more than 470 million people every month.” I’m betting that there are 470 million visits from 88 million people, so let’s go with 88 million. Of those 88 million, 1 million people donated. Or, of every 88 people, one donor. 1 / 88 = 1.14%. Let’s just assume that either the campaign lasted a month, or that the same unique 88 million people used the site over the full span of the campaign. Aren’t math shortcuts fun?
Is a 1.14% conversion rate good? I have no idea, because causes don’t often publish their internal figures, and there aren’t many similar campaigns to compare Wikipedia’s too, even if they did. Could it be better? It depends what Wikipedia wants to accomplish:
- They were not trying to get more volunteers. Wikipedia entries are, for the most part, high quality, and a massive influx of uninformed, inexperienced boobs would create cost and difficulty. So, it’s fine that they didn’t provide a non-donation action (like volunteering) for people to do.
- They were not trying to get as much money as possible. Their messaging makes clear that they have a plan, know exactly what they need to do and how much that costs. If Wikipedia receives an extra $20M, that creates an invitation to bloat, over expand, and dilute their mission.
- My guess: They were probably looking to achieve their fundraising goal in a reasonable amount of time, and also educate their users a bit. For students in high school right now, as far as they know, Wikipedia has always existed. Wikipedia doesn’t want to be taken for granted.
Maybe the conversion rate in this case isn’t so important, compared with what the other 87,000,000 non-donors come away with. We’re all going to keep using Wikipedia next year, and the year after that, so how does this campaign affect those long term relationships?
The biggest problem with the campaign, then: It was annoying. It felt spammy and aggressive, even though it really wasn’t. Why not put a smaller link on every article that says “This article was created by 47 people in 7 countries. Learn more…” It would remain on the page for longer, assuming that $20M would accumulate more slowly. Perhaps it could be done in such a way to convert just enough donors, and also the perfect new volunteers?