Task force/Recommendations/Community health 1

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Outline: volunteer recognition

Question/Problem

Define the goal that your strategy is attempting to accomplish

Although there is discussion as to the extent to which editors are leaving the project or that contributions have reached a plateau, we assert that volunteers will respond well to greater recognition by the WMF and the community. This is a strategy for increased volunteer recognition (or "wiki-love"?) which we believe will attract new editors and retain existing ones.

At least eleven proposals recommending some kind of award, rewards or recognition were submitted to the strategy process.

Strategy

recommendation of how the Wikimedia movement can achieve the goal

"Working on Wikipedia is hard, and it does not offer many rewards. Editors have intrinsic motivation not extrinsic, but even so, not much is done to affirm or thank or recognize them." - Sue Gardner, Executive Director, WMF.

The most effective volunteer recognition at traditional nonprofit organizations has been a combination of formal and informal actions (see references).

Informal recognition of volunteers happens at traditional organizations when volunteers come in contact with staff members over coffee, talk with board members and other volunteers at special events, see first hand how their contributions are used onsite at the organization, etc. Formal, traditional recognition of volunteers has included special gatherings, small gifts or discounts at local businesses. How could these traditional ways of recognizing volunteers be adapted to recognizing volunteers for Wikimedia?

In order to be effective, such a program should be informed by both a general understanding of volunteer recognition in organizations, and an understanding of the unique characteristics of Wikimedia's various communities.

For the general knowledge, we note the recommendations of Jayne Cravens, an internationally-recognized professional with more than 20 years of experience regarding communications, community/volunteer involvement, and capacity-building for nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations/civil society, government-based community programs, and corporate philanthropy programs. (Fill in some detail: who approached Jayne? How thoroughly was she briefed on Wikimedia?) See appendix for her recommendations.

Assertion: Successful Charities/Nonprofits Take Volunteer Recognition Seriously

The strategy should be supported by several assertions that explain why you believe the strategy will work. The assertions are broad statements that lay out the key points that support your strategy

An endless number of volunteer management books, volunteer management workshops and volunteer management consultants focus on ways to retain volunteers through recognition of their contributions, and most organizations that involve volunteers have some kind of scheme to recognize those volunteers.

In a survey of 2,400 non-profits/charities that use volunteers 35% of them engaged in recognition activities of some kind (such as awards ceremonies) to a "large degree" and 82% of them to "some degree" [1]. Volunteer recognition methods is one of the most popular searches on Energize, Inc., the largest publisher and distributor of volunteer management-related books.

Here is a tiny list of some charities with links to their volunteer recognition activities:

  • The Children's Society UK [2]
  • The International Children's Heart Foundation [3]
  • California Volunteers [4]
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution [5]
  • Humane Society of Northwest Montana [6]
  • St. John Hospice [7]
  • Virtual Volunteering Project [8]
  • Habitat for Humanity International [9]
  • British Heart Foundation [10]
  • Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (day in the life of a volunteer video) [11]
  • Volunteer Canada / Bénévoles Canada [12]

"Give recognition to the person, not (just) the work"

As one volunteering site puts it "Give recognition to the person, not the work". Perhaps a better way to say this is to "Give recognition to the person, not *just* the work."

For this reason things like Featured Articles and pictures should include the username alongside the content if and when they appear on the front page. This has no monetary cost (unless a paid staff person is required to undertake this activity). A downside is that it could lead to fighting over who should be recognised as a contributor to a featured article... if you recognise these three individuals what of these four? You will see discussions of this kind of conflict that can come from such volunteer recognition on online discussion groups for volunteer managers like UKVPMs, OZVPM or CYBERVPM. Therefore, it will be important that the criteria for recognition is transparent.

Volunteering should give you something to put on your resume/CV

As a British Government website says "over 70 per cent of employers would hire a candidate with volunteering experience over someone who has never volunteered" [13]. The Community Health Task Force believes that, as things stand, working on Wikipedia does not have the standing that other voluntary work has. Part of it is a function of the "anyone can edit" ethos; if anyone can do it, then you cannot brag. But we would not seek to change such an important pillar of the project. Part of it is the quality of Wikipedia; many people still do not trust Wikipedia as an information source, but this is something that may change in time and with the application of other recommendations from Strategy. However, if methods of recognition were improved - with rewards, awards and certificates - we believe that having worked on Wikipedia can become a marketable skill when looking for employment and this would be a powerful incentive for further voluntary involvement.

Many volunteering sites suggest that volunteering will look good on your resume/CV.

A few sites that specifically mention the resume/cv motivation include:

  • Barnardos (UK children's charity) [14]
  • CharityGuide [15]
  • Resume With Volunteer Experience [16]

Many Volunteers Want Certificates of Recognition

The Task Force recommends that certificates be issued to WMF's most valued volunteers. Certificates are not costly but must be tightly controlled to retain the prestige of their attainment. Certificates could be awarded to motivate people to work on specific tasks, for example those most involved in creating featured articles, featured pictures, people who successfully partner with GLAMs. The criteria for attaining a certificate could be worked out either by the WMF or by the community, as could the decision of who receives such certificates.

Many organizations give volunteers a certificate that recognize their service. These include:

  • The United Nations Online Volunteering Service [17]
  • American Dental Association [18]
  • Government of South Australia Office of Volunteers [19]
  • Children's Heart Foundation [20]

Volunteers v editors

It has been customary to call Wikipedians "editors" and many or even most "editors" may wish to continue to refer to themselves as such. However, there are many people involved with the projects who have moved far beyond the business of adding or altering text on a wiki such as providing non-text media, working for a chapter or even partnering with GLAMs. If we think of contributors as "volunteers" it immediately suggests a more than subtle shift in approach; there are many ways to help the WMF.

Most charitable organisations have a "get involved" link prominently displayed on their website and this usually leads to a page about ways to donate, volunteering opportunities and also tends to include access to "stories of the volunteers". The Task Force recommends taking this broader view of contributors, including a "get involved" link as a way of inviting more participants to help the WMF in a multitude of ways beyond editing.

Appendix A: Jayne Cravens' recommendations for Wikimedia

Jayne Cravens has recommended some possible ways to adapt traditional formal and informal recognition of online volunteers to Wikimedia:

  • Recognize high-responsibility/high-contributing volunteers the same way donors are recognized (in newsletters, program updates, press releases, annual report, etc.).
  • Emphasize in various internal and external communications the impact particular volunteer contributions have had and the difference the volunteers responsible have made, not just numbers of volunteers and hours they have provided.
  • Profile a volunteer of the week or month on your web site.
  • Prepare customized, downloadable, signed certificates of appreciation for high-responsibility/high-contributing online volunteers, that can be print outed and displayed as they like. It is very important that these be CUSTOMIZED, with the volunteer's name (be sure everything is spelled correctly) and a line about the specific service they provided.
  • If you have a printed or email newsletter or program update sent to donors and partners, give online volunteers -- or at least high-responsibility volunteers -- the opportunity to sign up to receive these as well.
  • Have a bulletin board onsite at the Wikimedia offices with a constant rotating series of photos submitted by Wikimedia contributors of themselves, to remind paid staff that Wikimedia contributors are real humans, not just a login name or numbers.
  • Give a lapel pin, pen, mug, banner, bumper stickers, or other material with the Wikimedia logo to volunteers who have contributed a certain number of hours or are serving in high-responsibility roles.
  • Invite Wikimedia contributors to participate in some way in Wikimedia strategic discussions (not just the one happening now). Inviting their participation is a sign that you value their contributions.
  • Highlight whenever an online volunteer's feedback has been used to make a decision.
  • Invite online volunteers to online special events/celebrations.
  • If you are hosting an onsite event, consider creating a way for online volunteers to view the event in real time.
  • Allow volunteers to submit photos of themselves to include in online or printed recognition (however, note that some volunteers do not want to be identified with their full name or location alongside their photos).
  • Send a postcard or letter with a personal, hand-written note from a staff person.
  • Prepare a short video thanking specific volunteers for their service. Just 30 or 60 seconds would be enough. It could come from your volunteer coordinator, your executive director, your board president, or other volunteers.
  • Develop an online badge or logo that volunteers can place on their individual Web sites or online profiles, which notes that they hold a high-responsibility role with the organization or have contributed a certain number of hours and that links back to your organization's web site.

Appendix B: Current awards, rewards and recognition

We are aware of a number of ways in which volunteers are already thanked or otherwise recognised on the Foundation's projects.

  • Barnstars - these are a great way for one contributor to thank another and we don't propose to change this.
  • Project-based awards and barnstars with criteria: Some projects and/or individuals offer up barnstars and similar recognition on a regular basis, and/or according to specific criteria (e.g., completing one Featured Article, one Good Article, and one "Did you know…" entry on English Wikipedia). Project award example: WikiProject Oregon's "Thumbs-up" Criteria example: Durova's Triple Crown
  • Self-awarded status according to specific criteria (e.g. Wikipedia service awards)
  • Published lists of contributors according to specific criteria (e.g., Wikipedians by edit count, Wikipedians by FA nomination, etc.)
  • Attaining administrative privileges, election to committees, etc. is regarded by many of an endorsement of their work on Wikipedia (in spite of many protestations to the contrary).
  • The English language Wikipedia Signpost has recently been profiling WikiProjects, which offers Wikipedia contributors an opportunity to highlight their own work, and that of their colleagues.
  • Featured content - the community values this content and the editors who provide it but perhaps more could be done to thank volunteers heavily involved in these areas. The idea of a 'featured editor' could be taken up; there have already been some independent community efforts in this direction such as User Phadriel's own 'User of the Day': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Phaedriel/Today/Archive. An attempt to make something like this more formal resulted in a deletion, albeit with absolutely minimal discussion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Miscellany_for_deletion/Wikipedia:Wikipedian_of_the_day .
  • Wikipedia Cup - this is an active and ongoing yearly contest where editors compete to provide/amend en:wp content. It has resulted in much new and improved content for Wikipedia. It would be good if the winner (and perhaps runners up) were to be recognised by the WMF in some tangible way.

Problems of implementation

Scale

There are approaching 800 Wikimedia projects (though it appears that a significant number are locked, dying or dead) http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikimedia_Projects_by_Size .

Tangible, WMF sponsored recognition therefore threatens to place a heavy toll on WMF staff. If what is regarded as possible for one project is extended to all projects, costs in time and effort would quickly mount up. There are ways to mitigate this:

  • Extend the recognition initiatives only to projects that have a certain number of regular contributors or have surpassed a certain milestone (articles for Wikipedias, 'good' books for Wikibooks etc).
  • Make substantial use of the volunteer community. Due to the potentially large number of languages involved it is likely that even a dedicated 'Volunteer Recognition' hire for the WMF would need substantial input from the project's community when making any sort of gesture.