Paying Members for Part-time Work

I feel like there’s probably a post out here about this, but I didn’t see one specifically in search, so here goes.

I’m managing a community predominantly for users of free, open-source software. We do offer a paid enterprise edition (that comes with support) but most of the members use the free community version and have access to our docs, blogs, etc - but no actual support staff.

I’ve got a budget for “developer outreach” and I’m tempted to hire members as short-term freelancers. My thought being to promote someone to “non-employee of the month” and pay them (actual $ or Amazon gift card TBD) for contributions to unanswered questions. These would be people that we are sure know enough about the software to make paying for their contributions worthwhile.

It’d be short term, and amount of times restricted.

What should I be worried about with this? (IE how can this backfire!?) I don’t want active members to start expecting payment for contributions, but I don’t want the community flooded with questions that aren’t being answered. It’s a fairly complex software that may take other community members research to resolve some issues. I’m going to have a rewards structure in place, sending members things (or publicly praising them) for contributions … but I kind of like the idea of making them official, at least for a short period.

Hey @Kristen_Gastaldo, this is a really interesting question.
So the way I see it, volunteers in FOSS communities are a tricky bunch of people. It’s more about trying to understand their motivations to see how to incentivise them. I might also suggest looking into other communities where volunteers offer support and the way they’re recognized for their contribution. An example at the top of my head would be Support Mozilla (SuMo), which have both paid and non-paid contributors who provide product support. I remember they had a program called “Army of Awesome” where they track tags and keywords on twitter like Firefox, Mozilla, thunderbird etc and make a dashboard where volunteers can then respond to tweets. They had a well-documented response format that volunteers could just copy paste.
Mozilla incentivised the volunteers with swags and they had a really good gamification with a leaderboard, that made volunteers very competitive to respond to tweets.
With FOSS communities, very few users might prefer monetary incentives. Giving $$ is never a good idea since it’s a community. I’d rather go with maybe a weekly/monthly leaderboard and give out Amazon gift cards to members of the month.
Also, considering this situation, do you think it might be a good idea to take a short survey on the existing top contributors to sort of understand what their motivations are? Like what are their key takeaways and that if they’d have an incentive that they’d like to pick, would it be an amazon gift card(which is easier) or invest that to buy a course/ebook/software license.

Thanks for the community suggestions. I’m still learning the FOSS crowd. Some of them run business off the free (community) version. They organized a conference on their own. It’s an interesting, engaged crowd.

As a side note, they all tell me the hate gamification, but were quite adamant that their points be migrated from the old platform …


This sounds all too familiar! Reminds me that when you make any change that annoys them THEY ARE GOING TO LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK. When you offer to close their account for them (the one that they’ve had for 3 years, with loads of strong stats and an identify others recognise) they, amazingly, decide to stick around…

Back on topic, gamification here is an interesting one. It can be useful, but I’d be cautious around creating a situation where a small number of highly engaged members are so far ahead that the leaderboard looks daunting to new members and they are actually demotivated.

We found a nice happy medium in my previous role where we paid for the Super Users broadband. It wasn’t much - around £10 a head, but it had a nice feel that we were actually rewarding them with a tool they used to do their job, it was enough that they wanted to retain the perk (the fear of losing something is usually stronger than the fear of not getting something you don’t have) and they felt it was appropriate.

We didn’t make a big deal about it - as people proved themselves and joined the Super User group it was given to them as part of the onboarding but we stressed that we’d take a dim view if it was bragged about in genpop.

Not sure if this would be an appropriate idea for you @Kristen_Gastaldo?

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Experienced this first hand! During our change from Hey Neighbor to Belong we thought we could bring back all our old active users. But we didn’t realize that the effort then, was from the scratch. We learned that there was too much friction for two steps that seemed really simple to us-

  • Deleting the old app
  • Going to play store and downloading the new one to join the community

@Kristen_Gastaldo, another example that was really interesting was that of Telegram. Launching as the competition to Whatsapp and focusing a lot on user privacy, Telegram quickly became popular among developers and technology enthusiasts. They had a support number, which meant that you could chat with someone from Telegram to get your issues/problems resolved. They got a huge number of messages every day and decided to launch a volunteer program called the Telegram Support Force. They have a great team of volunteers who help answer questions that come to Telegram support chat. These volunteers have a leaderboard that resets every month so that new contributors don’t get so overwhelmed that they can’t match others.

I’m just putting examples of communities that deal with the FOSS crowd. Perhaps some of these might spark an “aha” idea. Sorry if this isn’t of any help.


This could be really interesting. By short term, do you mean that you’re thinking of changing who this person is each month, or just getting one person on a short term contract?

My belief is that anything is worth a try, but make sure you have an out clause so that you can pull the pin if it doesn’t work.

I agree with your desire to make it official. Making the relationship a business one means that you have the right to have your expectations met, which is the tricky thing about volunteers.

What you describe, I think, has to do with the fact that some questions are too difficult or uninteresting to answer.

The Discourse community has a marketplace where people can post requests to pay for problems they need solved. It’s typically used for things like “I want to pay someone to import my XXX forum” or “I want a plugin that does this”. Sometimes someone will say something like “I need to do X” and someone will just answer the question. Though it’s less obvious to passers-by, they also pay people for producing “HOWTO” documents.

If people are already contributing regularly, I doubt they’ll stop because for some questions you are offering a “bounty.” If you were to pay only for questions that hadn’t gotten an answer for some period of time and you think should be answered, then moving those questions to a “marketplace” category and offering a reward for them seems like a fine idea. As long as you don’t do it for questions that people were going to answer anyway, you’ll be fine.


I’m usually not a fan of paying members in something tangible. Mostly because their perceived value is higher than any tangible value that you are likely to afford. If they take a lot of pride and satisfaction in doing a task and then you offer them $10 for it…that’s probably going to have a negative impact.

I’d also be curious to explore the laws around doing this as well. In the UK, we need to consider things like minimum wage if we are paying people for any type of work and responsibilities that paying people might entail.


I concur!
We had this debate internally on how can we incentivise our community members for being an ambassador. We found a couple things:

  • Members didn’t prefer Amazon gift cards because they were confused what to buy given the amount of choice they had.
  • There was a “feel good” factor about couple tickets to the latest movie when compared to giving them gift cards of the same amount.

What worked well for us:

  • We sent them a personal note with a cake on one of the Indian festivals to their office address. That got us a lot of “community love” because everyone in the office had the cake and we got our share of branding as well :wink:
  • They shared the personal note on Social media, which got us some engagement and visibility as well.

We tried incentivising ambassadors to get to x number of users in their local apartment/neighborhood community and we pay them y amount. However, most of the responses that we got for that summed up to- "I’m not doing this for the money. I’d rather have more people join the community so that there’s a larger knowledge pool in there from whom I can get help when I want."

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This is a great quote. One of our recent client projects was around the support sector and during our interviews this came up strongly. People were less motivated about feeling like they were owed money/gift cards/etc but much more passionate about growing the knowledge, membership and feeling like they were causing positive change.


Thanks everyone for your replies. Apologies on my delay responding.

Rather than paying anyone, I think we’re going to go with a member and employee of the quarter, which would come with a badge, Amazon gift card, etc. This might be something I let the community vote on, rather than by just point value. Still debating.

It really crossed my mind as I had a really active community member who between jobs, in a non-compete, and I thought I could really use his expertise (and he might like to keep an income!). I hadn’t thought enough about the tax situation though. It’d get complicated.

I’ll keep you posted on what we try and what seems to work!

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Love that you’re letting the community vote on this. Good luck @Kristen_Gastaldo! :slight_smile:

I am so excited to see you on here, @Kristen_Gastaldo! I connected with your team prior to me leaving IFT and am now at a company that is paying some folks for part time participation. A high level run down of what I have seen the short term is below.

-subject matter experts at the ready!
-people on the ground who can report back general member sentiment
-we are coaching them on modeling behavior and it seems to be generating some positive returns

  • we have an extremely likable and relate-able group, so other members feel represented and encouraged

-Concern about perception of favoritism
-Not sure on the tax codes, but we have them working as contractors which may help

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Hey Katie - Forgive me on the delay.

Thanks for the feedback! It’s a weird spot as we may need to pay SOMEONE to answer questions, as they require time and skill, but we want the community to be self sufficient (free open source product). We are hiring some consultants (not community members) to support a project, and that will include community support - so we’ll see how this goes!

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At Discourse we have a somewhat novel way of compensating our contributors. Just finished a blog post about that:


Just read that. Great post Erlend.