Volunteer opportunities

(Sarah Hawk) #1

I’m interested to hear from people that manage (or work in) a team of volunteers.

  1. How do you select candidates?

  2. Are there any particular challenges when it comes to dealing with unpaid staff?

I know that you work with a large volunteer staff @ralphm and @Ophelie – any tips or tricks?
@Ad_Huikeshoven – I should loop you in also. Volunteers are pretty important at Wikimedia!

(Rebecca Braglio) #2

The majority of our members are also volunteers for the organization - so there a lot of different levels of volunteers and areas for them.

For the community, we rely heavily on volunteers creating content (articles, webinars, templates, etc.).
Right now, anyone can volunteer to help. If it’s for creating content/webinar, we do a quick review of their expertise and past speaking experiences. We aren’t too picky right now because we’re growing our content.

The challenges are many. There can be a lot of hand-holding required - for some reason many volunteers expect responses/assistance on demand and have a very strong sense of entitlement (perhaps because they aren’t being paid). It also seems to create a lot of divas. It can be hard when a volunteer relationship goes sour - it’s uncomfortable to tell someone who has contributed free of charge they are no longer “needed” (aka wanted).

The other challenge is ETA - when someone is volunteering, life can get in the way. Lots of nudging, follow ups are often needed to get something produced or done.

The reward, though, is not only some great content being produced, but it’s awesome to watch some of these volunteers really shine and get appreciated by their peers.

(Doug Agee) #3

We have volunteer leaders in our org. Most of the volunteers present themselves as willing to help in projects or events and then get moved into a leadership role for the chapter. We find that most volunteers need to be asked. Sometimes they are too shy to step up. We offer training webinars and the Leader’s Community to help out new leaders. We also offer some guidance to existing leaders on seeking a replacement when their term as a leader is up.

I agree with @rebeccabraglio. There are many challenges that go with working for volunteers, but being mindful of the org’s mission and the psychological needs of the volunteer helps to direct their energy and enthusiasm.

(Chris Detzel) #4

This is a great question. I have this challenge too. Specifically within my organization. There are a few types of volunteers for us.

  1. Content volunteers - These come from people within the organiztion that receive questions from their customers and they are willing to post the question and answer the question that they get on a daily basis.
  2. Experts - employees that go on the community and help answer questions because they are the expert within a certain area
  3. Moderators - These people are in control of the community within their country. I have weekly conversations with them because they influence some of the volunteers within their country.

I explain these areas because each are different. I know I need to build a communication process. That can include emails, phone calls, and other things I’m sure I haven’t expressed. Keeping up with all these people are difficult. I have a spreadsheet that has their name and specialty.

(Ad Huikeshoven) #5

Hi Sarah,

You touch an important questions. This is a late reply. The questions remain relevant. Volunteers are the biggest asset of the Wikimedia movement. Approximately 80 thousand people have actively contributed to one the upto 900 projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, including the English Wikipedia. Most of the volunteers are online users or editors. Anyone can edit, so there is no selection to start editing, it is mostly self selection. Retention of editors is a challenge. For various reasons many people make a couple of edits and dot not continue. Apart from online editors there are a couple of thousand off line volunteers, most of them are member of one of the one hundred affiliate organizations of the Wikimedia Foundation, like for example Wikimedia Nederland. As far as I’m aware there are non formal selection processes for volunteers.

Yes, there are challenges dealing with unpaid staff. Within the Wikimedia movement online editors aren’t considered staff, and the term volunteer is more likely to be associated with people assisting in the organization of off line events and activities than with online editors.

Quite a view people belief the online and digital world is different form IRL. There probably exist a vast amount of literature about volunteer management, but somehow the mainstream consensus within Wikimedia is that doesn’t apply to the online world.

The idea of evolution of communities in several stages from inception to growing, and from maturity to mitosis is new to most within the Wikimedia movement, if they have ever heard of it. Nonetheless new subgroups are created in numbers every year. I wouldn’t say that is a really managed process.

Wikimedia had the luxury of the appeal of the original vision which drew in large amounts of users who edited the largest encyclopedia in the history of mankind within a decade. The projects and community were and are supposed to be self governing and self policing. That has been working well for a decade. My belief is that some help, guidance, training and professional help is needed in quite some places within the Wikimedia movement. The challenge is to some long term community members will resist any intervention they perceive as not coming from within the community itself.


(ForumSentinel) #6

Me and one other person are the only employees who actively monitor and administrate the forums. The rest of our ~50 person moderator team is composed entirely of volunteers from across the globe. The team has changed dramatically over 15 years, there are still a couple mods who are still around but mostly I add as needed to ensure adequate 24/7 coverage and enough mods in each section.

I have a moderator application form that users can submit to show their interest. It includes basic details like their username, ban history (see how honest they are), active sections and times, as well as short answer sections for (among other things) why they want the position, their top qualities, their fitness background and why they can be trusted with personal information.

I’ll check the app and their post history and account details before bringing them for voting with the current mod staff. I don’t require consensus but the extra eyes and experiences really help make sure they’ll be a good fit.

It can be difficult if they reduce activity because I can’t really force them to work certain times or amounts as they are volunteering. I just ask they keep me in the loop so I can make staff changes to account as necessary. I’ve rarely had disciplinary problems, often just a PM to discuss the matter resolves it. I’ve had to remove a couple for egregious violations but that’s extremely uncommon.

Some really put in a great deal of work, especially considering this is on top of their regular job and life priorities so I try to reward them as we can. They all get the employee equivalent discount at our store and a couple times a year we send them free full size products.

From a liability perspective I’ve thought it would be easier to move to an all internal team at some point but the extra benefits and salaries required are not something the business is looking to invest in when the volunteers do more than good enough.

(Sarah Hawk) #7

Great insight – thanks.

That is the biggest issue that I had when running a volunteer team. Some people burned out while carrying the workload for others who did very little, but as you say, if you’re not paying them it’s very hard to force change. People have to want to do it. I think the bottom line is having the guts to come down hard on people and cut them loose if they don’t meet their minimum requirement. And that only works if you have plenty of people that are willing to step up and fill the gaps.

Right. Why would they fix something that doesn’t look broken?