Reducing barriers to volunteering

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There’s some disconnect between non-profits and tech volunteers.

What are the challenges:

  • No dedicated community management role.
  • Defining bite sized of pieces of work.
  • Disorganization.
  • Projects that are like too big too quick. The non profit can’t support

the thing the volunteer wants to do.

  • Non-profits not knowing what to ask for. Not having a clear thing to say

“this is what we need you to do for us”

  • Onboarding process: Getting them to the process where they can actually work
  • “By the time I onboard that person, I should be hiring them”
  • The tradeoff of what that volunteer did vs. what a full time employee
  • Retention is a major issue. 70% come once twice and never again
  • Why the 30% of volunteers say - after their spent the first hour
  • It’s hard to identify something that the things that a newcomer can do


  • Organizations under-estimate how much work that it is to work with


  • Onboarding is the burden. Once the on boarding is smooth, that will take

care of what is smooth.

  • Is anybody doing this successfully? Matching tech volunteers.
  • Less so with coders and developers
  • We have success with business analysts because they are consultative,


  • “Discovery” -> “Design” -> “Build” -> “Maintain”
  • Team for tech - they do some great projects with non-profits. They

commit to work with a project for 3-5 years. They’re doing the project management for that non-profit.

Having a dedicated staff member. Project manager - the person that answers their questions and gets them set up.

  • This person checks in and

makes sure that things go okay. That person usually doesn’t exist at many non-profit.

  • It would be most productive if that person is in the

non-profit who knows the non-profit.

  • A person that holds their hand through it. Volunteers go off on a code tangent.

The coding part is unique for developers. It’s a lot of set up.

  • Have volunteers build the role itself.
  • Tech volunteers there is a hierarchy in tech - people don’t want to do

the volunteer on boarding work. Orgs want to retain the engineering staff.

  • Certain things lend themselves better to volunteers.
  • Bugfixes are much simpler but many people don’t want to do that because

it’s boring.

  • Putting a small team of volunteers onto prototyping projects might be a

good use of volunteers.

  • Skipped the onboarding, basically was just milestone checks for the day
  • The volunteer is looking for the bite-sized chunk. The non-profit needs

more comprehensive support though. So it feels like there is a disconnect between the two.

  • There is a minimum bar for contribution, some people might need to spend

some time going through some tutorials. Maybe there should be a “readiness” checklist - things you should know prior to contributing.


  • Readiness checklist with examples - “if you don’t know git here’s a


  • Dev environment spin up should be very smooth.
  • Really great documentation.
  • Needs finding has to go both ways - what’s the takeaway.
  • Have the contributor CLA verifying they’ve read the contributor guidelines
  • More time needs to be spent on devops if it’s not smooth.
  • Wikimedia has a matchmaking process where a volunteer fills out a form.
  • They have hundreds of volunteers to. What are the items to be done and

what can the volunteer do?

  • Need a checklist for both the volunteer and non-profit.
  • Direct contact with users.
  • “The journey is part of the experience”

Where is the most valuable place to use volunteers? Non-critical tasks that we still really want We have to focus on these critical tasks

Are hackathons useful?

  • Maybe, but often the non-profit doesn’t get much out of it.
  • One successful hackathon was where people came with particular area

problems, create prototypes, and it was long (9am-10pm).

  • Invite only hackathons are definitely useful.
  • Gone from a one day event to a three day event. The people that show up

for a three day event are way more committed. The quality of their presence is much higher.

  • Structured events go better.

Maybe some of the practices that have been acquired from the coding communities would be useful in other spheres.