"People want to reach out to someone, and they know his name — it could be a famous person, a celebrity, or not — if they have a problem with their entry they will contact him."
It was in this capacity that Ms. Marsden, a columnist and a former commentator on Fox News, said she had reached out to Mr. Wales, after her article page was being vandalized. She wrote via e-mail that "Jimmy volunteered to make changes to my Wikipedia page after we became involved personally and romantically. Before that, he really couldn’t have cared less."
Mr. Wales wrote on his user page that he would not interfere before meeting Ms. Marsden, and summed up, "My involvement in cases like this is completely routine, and I am proud of it." However, the incident did pry open his personal life to Silicon Valley gossip sites (he said that he had been separated from his wife when he met Ms. Marsden) and has created the embarrassing spectacle of having his old laundry put up for auction on eBay.
At the same time, a former foundation employee, Danny Wool, has created a blog where he has been detailing what he says were Mr. Wales’s abuses of expense reimbursements, twisting Mr. Wales down-home nickname "Jimbo" to "Jimbeau."
While the allegations involve a time before Ms. Gardner arrived, she said: "I have done my own conversations with people, and I am satisfied that Jimmy hasn’t used the Wikimedia Foundation money to subsidize his own personal expenses. I believe he has consistently put the foundation’s interests ahead of his own."
Beyond the personal questions, many Wikipedia members have expressed reservations about the project’s relationship with Elevation Partners.
Mr. Wales said in an interview that Elevation Partners had expressed interest initially in business opportunities with Wikipedia, but "it took one meeting for them to realize it was off the table." He added: "Certainly there can be no investment in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a nonprofit and always will be." He said he also has had inquiries from other venture-capital firms, who likewise were told to look elsewhere.
But the initial meeting with Elevation, Mr. Wales said, led to a relationship with one of its partners, Roger McNamee, who stresses that he is acting as a volunteer entirely separately from his business. Mr. Wales describes him as "a bit of a mentor in doing fund-raising."
Ms. Gardner said that Mr. McNamee in the past had lined up a $500,000 donation, and arranged another $500,000 donation that came through last week.
Mr. McNamee would not confirm this, but did say, "I am a Wikipedia volunteer — I help with strategy, fund-raising and business development — it has nothing to do with Elevation Partners. And no on should be confused about that."
Florence Nibart-Devouard, the chairwoman of the Wikimedia board, who has never met Mr. McNamee, did not sound enthusiastic.
"It’s not a huge concern right now, but I am not comfortable with the concept," she said, of venture capitalists consistently making donations to the foundation. "I would much prefer a varied diverse base of donors, some could be large, some could be long-term friends, who help in finding new friends. I hope the foundation won’t rely on these relationships."
She said that she had proposed a resolution, passed recently, to require that any donation larger than 2 percent of revenues be approved by the board. And she said she would "make some noise" if a venture capitalist were to try to become a board member.
While Ms. Nibart-Devouard worries about the provenance of donations, Mr. Wales and Ms. Gardner say they must worry also about sustainability. "A big piece of my day is thinking about money," she said.
Mr. Wales said that "existing on donations keeps us on a shoestring budget" adding that he was not opposed to leveraging Wikipedia’s brand, consistent with its free-culture values, of course.
"There are some kinds of ways of using our brand name — a trivia game, a branded home-edition trivia game, that kind of thing seems to fit," he said. Perhaps a Wikipedia documentary TV show. He said that Elevation Partners "are flexible — they could be involved in that kind of stuff."
"We do not want to touch the core," he added. "The core of Wikipedia is something people really believe in. That is too valuable for the world to screw it up."
As long as he is involved with Wikipedia, however, Mr. Wales will continue to be a guiding light for its many contributors — as well as a lighting rod for its critics.
"Recently, I was in Thailand and I was giving a speech there and spoke about opposition to censorship of the Internet in Thailand, how this was bad for their economy, and this made the newspapers," he said. "That’s really important, that I have the ability to do this."
But he conceded that along with "my being some kind of celebrity — not a real celebrity," comes scrutiny that "isn’t a welcome part of the job."
He added: "People who have achieved a public voice find it a mixed bag."