It’s no surprise that Wikipedia gets most of its funding from charitable donations. If you use Wikipedia during a certain time of the year, you’re bound to see calls for a donation at the top of each web page. It is the only way that the non-profit organization can continue to function without placing ads on the site. Donations come in from around the world and from many corporations as the value of Wikipedia is important to just about everyone. Without donations, the Wikimedia Foundation (the charitable non-profit that operates Wikipedia and several other “Wiki” sites) would not be able to function.

But, a website that is truly global like Wikipedia is bound to run into some problems. Each jurisdiction has its own fundraising laws, and, using the law of averages, there is no getting around some potentially fraudulent activity. Wikipedia certainly found that out in a recent fundraising drive in Finland.

Donations in Finland between the dates of January 29, 2014 and February 10, 2014 totaled about 70,000 euros, which is a success by most standards. Around 7,700 people from Finland donated to Wikipedia on both the English and Finnish versions of the website. It is safe to say that the Finns did their part to help keep Wikipedia alive. But, the Finnish government and police have had an entirely different reaction to the 70,000 euros donated to the world’s largest online encyclopedia.

License: Creative Commons
License: Creative Commons

In fact, the National Police Board of Finland asked Wikimedia Suomi (the Wikimedia subsidiary in Finland) to review their tactics in regard to the fundraising drive. In Finland, any organization that seeks donations in any form must first request permission from the police. Obviously, Wikipedia did not do that in this case. Finnish police uploaded a letter essentially asking why Wikipedia did not first notify the police before conducting the fundraiser in Finland. Money-collection licenses are required for the permission to ask for donations in Finland. These licenses are often reserved for non-profit organizations that promote social, ideological, or educational causes. Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation would certainly fit under the “educational” part of this statute.

All that being said, the Wikimedia Foundation has conducted fundraisers in the exact same way in previous years. They have never encountered a problem in Finland or virtually anywhere else in regard to the legality of the fundraising drive. This is largely because the Wikimedia Foundation operates exclusively out of the United States. So, the fundraising drive isn’t actually taking place in Finland. There may have been some confusion between the National Police Board and the Wikimedia Foundation because the call for donations was written in Finnish. But, the Wikimedia Foundation itself does not operate in Finland at all.

As of this writing, Finnish police are still awaiting a response from the Wikimedia Foundation. The police gave the foundation a deadline of February 21, 2014 to respond to their letter. Although Wikimedia does not have any servers in Finland and they are based in the United States, some members of the Police Board have expressed confusion that the Foundation did not just apply for a license. This is also not the first Wikimedia Foundation controversy that has ever surfaced. Members of the Wikimedia Foundation are confused as to why the police in Finland are causing such a ruckus when the fundraising drive did not occur in Finland. In any event, it will be interesting to see how things play out.

Carl Richards writes for various websites and online news sources. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan where he earned a degree in journalism in 2003. He work is mainly focused on information on publicly traded companies and nonprofit organizations.

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