Participation Lab Notes: Volunteer vrs Contributor

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As part of the Participation Lab’s efforts we recently began conducting  experiments on the Get Involved Page seeking to better understand how people navigate and connect (or fail to connect) to contribution opportunities. In preparation for this experiment we looked at some of the research that the Mozilla.org team had conducted in recent years, and a number of their  key learnings led us to a deeper conversation about the language and labels we use to invite contribution to Mozilla. Some of the those learnings were:

  • People need to understand what, and why before they’ll be interested in understanding how they can contribute to Mozilla.
  • We must make it immediately apparent that the Get Involved  page is seeking volunteers and not employees.
  • We need to set clear expectation of investment/journey needed to get involved or become a Mozillian.

This matched some other feedback,  and as a result we decided to conduct a series of interviews to discover more ideas and prejudices that exist around the terms volunteer and contributor. Eighteen interviews covering diverse perspectives were conducted, these included core contributors, project leaders, alumni, community project leads, those working in open science, advocacy and randomly selected people in my life who had never contributed to Mozilla.  We discovered four interesting insights shared below.

Project preference is ‘Contributor’

 

Overall, people working in, or already volunteering with Mozilla were more comfortable with ‘contributor’, but agreed that unless your background was working in a field like software engineering, or science where the term is already part of the language ecosystem, it might be challenging to grasp.  I also noticed  a trend in feedback that acknowledged  once you’re regularly involved  in a project you might no longer be objective, and that we may, in fact, be skewing even the most common understanding of these terms. One example given was the use of  ‘paid contributor’ and ‘volunteer contributor’, which made no sense for most people outside of Mozilla.

The term ‘Volunteering’ is more universally  associated with lending time and skills but…

 

While people seemed to generally understand that volunteering was about lending time and skills, I encountered sensitivities that the word ‘volunteer’ which invoked feelings of being ‘charitable’ vs the more empowered feeling of being a ‘contributor’ .  I heard that ‘contribution’ lends to a feeling we’re part ‘part of something ’ while ‘volunteering felt more detached.  One core contributor felt very, very strongly, that volunteering was not the term for what they do at Mozilla.

‘Contribution’ feels more like giving a gift or donation

 

Feedback from non-technical contributors ,and those I spoke with outside the Mozilla community indicated that  the term “contribution” was easy to misinterpret as being about donating funds or something of greater significance than some people felt they could offer.  When asked, a couple of people cited political campaigns, and fundraisers as the most common association they with the word ‘contribution’.

What’s in a Name?

 

It was also suggested that at Mozilla we should stop labouring over generalized terms like volunteer and contributor,  and instead focus  energies on clarifying ways people can help – One person felt that such opportunity  exists in more explicit ‘role titles’  i.e. Android Community Ambassador’.   The hypothesis is, that by providing role titles we can help people connect to opportunities that are resume-worthy with recognition that contribution is an opportunity.  Of course, there are already examples of success with role names demonstrated by the Mozilla Reps program and most recently Club Captains and Regional Leads in Webmaker Clubs.

Also..

We had an interesting suggestion that  we make up our own name!  Create a Mozilla-fied name for volunteers that makes volunteering at Mozilla a unique version of both terms.  An inspiring example was the London Olympics which called volunteers ‘Games Makers’, what a Mozilli-fied version would be remained unclear 🙂  but I’m sure we could come up with something.  What do you think?

Additional lure of a Mozilla-fied name is a chance to help people recognize the amazingness of the community they would be joining which MDN reported to be a factor in repeat contribution in their area  – and similar to how an Olympic volunteerism resonated with a name describing their impact.

So where from here?

 

There is the opportunity for continued experimentation and testing using the Get Involved Page, and  we would love to hear from you – contributor volunteer, Mozillia-fied name?

What experiment  do you think the Participation Lab should design  next with these new insights?

 


 

Image: “Mozilla Summit Day 2” by Roland Tanglaois licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 response

  1. Landpaddle wrote on :

    What is the point of this? A volunteer is a volunteer–they do work for Mozilla without pay because of a belief in Mozilla’s mission statement or simply a desire for better software. Do not attempt to establish glorified titles for these people, since doing such only obfuscates the fact that they are doing work on your behalf without pay.

    To clarify, calling a volunteer a ‘contributor’ is more ambiguous. A contributor could be working for you with or without pay, and it’s important to keep a distinction between paid employees and people who devote time and effort to you without salary. The latter camp are invaluable and should be rewarded for their efforts, absolutely, but obfuscating the nature of their role in the company by giving them an ambiguous title for pathos appeal comes across as insincere and a misguided vector of your effort.

    Furthermore, stay away from ‘role titles’, particularly ones as lofty as ‘ambassador’. These are overused in the corporate world to the point of being cliched, and they provide no real impact beyond mystifying the actual role of the volunteer. It is far more desirable to be direct about what someone’s role is. If they’re a moderator for a forum, call them a moderator; if they’re an add-on reviewer, call them an add-on reviewer. It’s simple and comes across as more honest from the perspective of both user and those working to develop and maintain the Mozilla ecosystem.

    I apologize if this comes across as vitriolic–I assure you that is not the intent–but I’d rather Mozilla maintain its concrete, grounded viewpoint without adopting the touchy-feely insincerity commonly found in for-profit institutions nowadays.