The myth of the 'big enough' volunteer community

Large communities naturally require people with skills that small communities do not. There are leaders and managers of various kinds required, and if a formal structure is developed alongside the volunteer community then it has a host of special skills that were not previously needed.

If no one from the community comes forward, but these positions still need to be filled, you may contemplate paying someone for their skills. At this stage it is common to hear someone something like, “But we have so many volunteers, surely one of them has this skill.”

It is true that if a community is large enough, there will more likely than not be someone with the desired skill. The fallacy is in assuming that person will be happy to volunteer their time for that particular skill.

People typically volunteer in what interests them, not in what the project needs. If they become particularly devoted, they may choose to spend some time working on things that they find less interesting but the project deems more needed. While that is commendable, it can’t be relied upon.

Therefore, you may well have to pay for people with finance skills, legal skills, PR skills, management skills, translation skills, documentation skills, who knows what else.

As for leaders — you better hope your community will actually allow someone to become, and then to be, a leader.

06 March, 2008 •

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