Running a fluid and democratic volunteer-run organisation

Summary of tools, processes and theory behind an alternate open structure of management


I started Chayn, an open source gender and tech project empowering women against violence, over 2 years ago. Since then, we have launched two crowdsourced platforms, three international toolkits and run two hackathons. All of this kicked off on £500 and despite our growth, our budget remains a few thousand pounds. We’ve got 70 volunteers from 11 countries, totalling an average of 500 volunteer hours a month and our projects have reached over 60, 000 people around the globe.

So, how did we do it? In this post I’ll explain how we do things at the moment — the result of what has been a long experimental journey of trial and error. This is not a prescriptive piece — but since so many of you have been interested in a written explanation of the “Chayn workflow”, I thought I would do this. I’m a passionate advocate for open source and openly licensed materials. Given the scale of problems our earth is facing, I cannot think of any scenario where we solve them without sharing knowledge and building on each other’s work.


I define community as a group bonding over a shared problem and a common purpose. For Chayn, this is enabling women facing violence to become independent and happy.

Here’s the most important thing: Our biggest resource is the volunteers so we’ve tried to create a workflow and project portfolio that will get the best return on volunteer time in order to create the maximum dent in one of the biggest problems in our society. As a serial volunteer, I am well aware of how difficult it is to make time for volunteering.

We want to achieve the maximum with the minimum.

Contrary to what may come to mind when you think of open source/crowdsourcing communities — the successful ones are full of discipline, a code of behaviour and processes that enable free flow of ideas, formation of bonds and incredible impetus.

Chayn is no different.

As the Founder of a 100% volunteer-run charity/social enterprise (we’re still figuring this out) with a full time job, I don’t have much time. In fact, when I started Chayn 2.5 years ago (I was 23 at that time), I took a 3 month break and in those 3–4 months, I worked 70 hours/week on building a community from scratch. Over the past 2.5 years, thanks to what you’re about to read below, I’ve been able to bring this down to 20 hours/week. All of the processes and tools you read below are designed so they are less time intensive (with the exception of a few). The last thing a charity or social enterprise manager wants to do is spend all their time managing a community and neglecting the mission for which that community exists.

There is beauty in organised chaos. Over the course of this piece, I’ll make a case for why processes and discipline do not have to be boring, bureaucratic, cradling and slow.

It’s important to remember that what is true for Chayn may not work for your community. This is perhaps one of the most inconvenient and painful lessons I’ve learnt as a community manager.

Every technique and model needs experimentation and adaptation.

If I had to condense my experience of volunteering for MakeSense and Wikipedia, starting up Chayn’s and OpenCorporates’ community from scratch and participating in the various university societies, StartingBloc and Global Shapers — 4 things have struck me so far that are indicative of a good thriving community.

Here are some questions that can help you litmus test the kind of community you have or want to create:

(1) Incentives and Discipline — Why do they want to volunteer? What drives them? What are the rules of interaction? Can anyone join or are there strict expectations of volunteers? Are there regular activities? Do people see the result of their work and the impact it has on people? If so, how soon?

(2) Adaptive tasks and fluid systems — What’s the learning curve for a new volunteer? Are there easy tasks for new volunteers to do? Is there variety in terms of time burden required from volunteers? How hierarchical is the organisation? How easy is it to assume or be entrusted with more responsibly?

(3) Support and FeedbackHow much support can they get from the community and community leaders? How soon can they get feedback? How much do they feel valued? Do they feel ownership?

(4) Social and Fun — Do people get along well? Are there cliches? Is the mood light, collaborative and fun? Are there cool activities for people to do together? They must ‘get’ the concept of the organisation, tasks and must have fun doing it. It’s very important for volunteering to be social in all ways from networking to collective encouragement to ‘down time’.

In the following sections, I’ll explain the comfortable model Chayn has ‘grown into’. This is a long post. If you’re in a rush, just jump to the next section to get a summary of the post.

Here’s what you’ll be reading below:

  • How Chayn works: Summary of tools, process and the theory of micro-volunteering through a fluid democratic management system
  • How people join Chayn: Attracting the right people & making it as easy as possible for people to get engaged
  • Managing volunteers & projects: Tools & Processes to encourage community action
  • Lifecycle of a project
  • Engaging Volunteers: The stuff just as important as tools and processes
  • Misfits: Things we tried and didn’t work
  • What’s coming up ahead
  • Templates
  • Thanks
  • Call for ideas!

How Chayn works

Summary of tools, process and the theory of micro-volunteering through a fluid democratic management system

Chayn is a social enterprise startup and we use the lean startup methodology to run projects that empower women against violence using technology. Find more at http://chayn.co.

  • Prospective volunteers sign up to volunteer via a form, after which they have a call with me, and are then introduced to our volunteer HQ (facebook group). We are specifically looking for volunteers who can meet some very basic requirements — most important of which is that they believe in open source and can make time to volunteer actively.
  • Volunteering is plug and play. Chayn is very fluid and horizontal — there are almost no hierarchies and no fixed roles. People can attach themselves to projects as they choose and be as involved as they want. Initiative is key here.
  • Everything in Chayn runs on a 3 month cycle. This means we only plan for those 3 months and try to set targets for that.
  • There are only three levels in Chayn: (1) Me, as the founder, overlooks everything; (2) Executive Team — made up of volunteers who were active the previous cycle, invited by me to join the team for a particular cycle; (3) Everyone else.
  • Every cycle has a different executive team which is made up of volunteers. Executive Team has a weekly call, communicate daily on facebook / slack chats and manage the day to day running of Chayn. They spend approximately 8 hours/week (sometimes more) doing this.
  • At the end of every cycle, we do a “Spring Clean”. Volunteers are asked if they have the time to be an active member of the Chayn group for the next cycle. If they don’t, they can leave the group and can join back in when that changes. Volunteers who promised to be active but were unable to do so without any reasonable explanation for 2 cycles or more are removed from the group for at least one cycle after which they can ask to rejoin again. Spring Cleans have made the biggest difference in the activity level within Chayn. Numbers within Chayn can range from 40 to 80 depending on the cycle. Keep reading the article for more on this.
  • To accelerate work on Chayn projects — we employ a ‘sprint’ methodology which means every two weeks, we organise 4 hour sprints where volunteers sign up to come together and all work on a chosen project at the same time. It brings focus and propels a project forward in a short amount of time while fostering good relationships between volunteers. Also, it’s a lot of fun.
  • First Sunday of every month is Chayn Day. It’s our only regular commitment from volunteers and a monthly opportunity for everyone to pair up and work on Chayn projects. It helps people within Chayn get to know each other online/offline and also means we make progress on pushing all projects forward.
  • People nominate their favourite volunteers for each month for a virtual “Chayn Hall of Fame”. The Executive team then chooses and announces Volunteers of the Month.
  • The main portal of communication between Chayn is via our Facebook Group. We have occasional video calls, and use Asana & Slack for intensive projects/sprints.
  • There is no information off limits to volunteers — no secret walls. The only information kept confidential is one that relates to vulnerable women. Everything within Chayn is open, transparent and inclusive.

Tips on facilitating volunteer activity:

  • Know which volunteers are motivated by what and how they like to work.
  • Set clear goals and be as specific as you can when assigning tasks.
  • Know that volunteers will feel shy to ask for help and participate in public forums so you have to enable them to feel like their opinion matters to you and the organisations. Tag them in posts asking for their comments, private message them to get them involved and assign tasks if you feel they are not taking initiative. It’s worth it.
  • Ask volunteers what they want to do in the future & how you can help.
  • Get close to the people who are spending their free time helping out for a cause! You never know how you can help them in other ways, so important to learn all about them, take an active interest in them (and intro them/make their connections, provide emotional support).
  • Reach out to volunteers who aren’t active and find out why.
  • Stay in the loop with everyone. If you know they’re having a bad time, don’t tag them in posts. Be friends with them and share their happiness with the rest of the group!
  • Volunteers might find it awkward to get in touch with each other so put them in touch and give them context to talk over.
  • Recognise people’s contributions and attribute their idea publicly in the group, especially if they don’t feel comfortable sharing it themselves.

Templates can be found at the end of this article.


How people join Chayn

Attracting the right people & making it as easy as possible for people to get engaged.

How do we encourage the ‘right’ people to join?

Definition of the right person: Passionate about empowering women AND will make the time to do something about it. This is critical. This has been one of the hard lessons I have had to learn the painful way. I often say I would take a good 100 volunteers over £100 000. I would go as far as to say that 5 active volunteers are better than 1000 inactive or barely active volunteers.

You know what’s challenging and demoralising as a new volunteer? Having to fill a hundred forms and passing through a million interviews, and waiting months to hear back if you’re ‘approved/allowed’ to volunteer. In fact, having one such experience with a woman’s charity in Glasgow that really demoralised me for a year and drove me to make sure we didn’t do that in Chayn.

Stages

Typeform analytics for Chayn volunteer sign up form

The main thing to ask here is why someone is motivated to volunteer, where they heard about Chayn, where they are based and how they would like to help. I highly recommend using typeform over google forms (we switched to it in Dec’14) — it’s more fluid, renders better on mobile and has in-house analytics (see the picture). I use this to form an initial impression of the volunteers.

  • “Inviting to a call” email: This email is to set up a Skype/appear.in call. The main thing here is to get a call in as soon as possible and get them to read the Impact Report before anything else! It cuts down the time required to bring people on board and also encourages them to dig around the website. The email goes like this:
“Thanks for signing up to volunteer with Chayn. We’re very excited to hear you’re passionate about women’s empowerment and have a thirst to do something about it. We’re all about action!I’m the Founder of Chayn and I like to have a Skype call with volunteers before they kick off so they can get to know Chayn better, how we run and figure out how they would like to help. We have a variety of people from different backgrounds, skills, locations so there is always something to do!
Please reply back with a time that suits you in the next two weeks! I’m based in London.
Until we talk, please go through our Impact Report from 2014.Speak soon! :)​”
  • First interview: This is an informal 30–40mins chat where I get to know the volunteer and vice versa, talking to them about myself as an individual, how Chayn started, the projects we are working on and the workflow. We have only a few requirements from volunteers: (1) Passionate about empowering women, (2) They want to volunteer, (3) They believe in the power of opensource and co-creation, (4) Are able to dedicate at least 1 hour a week to Chayn, (5) Participate in the monthly Chayn day unless they absolutely cannot. The call also gives me an opportunity to see if they will fit in with the organisation and what there reservations are. Common ones: “I’m not too techy”, “I don’t know much about the issue” and “I’ve never volunteered online before”. I also reiterate that they can make as much impact as they want through Chayn as we are not bound by stiff hierarchies and ego-driven cliques. Unless they say something outrageous, they get invited to our facebook group!
  • Introduction to the team: This is something I’ve learnt from MakeSense — the best community I’m a part of.

When people join MakeSense, they either record a video clip or post in our main facebook group to introduce themselves by saying: Name. Where they live, Where they are from, What they do, Why they want to join MakeSense and their one “Super power”. e.g. mine was I’m great at communicating with people online and offline.

Additionally, the MakeSense Community Manager will sometimes also message old members of MakeSense and ask them to speak to the new member to encourage them to participate more and welcome them.

In Chayn, we do something similar. I tend to introduce people to help them settle in as it can be daunting to introduce yourself.

  • Getting on to the first task: This is perhaps the most important stage in the volunteer cycle. Our facebook group can be a little overwhelming with lots of people messaging at the same time and new volunteers may struggle to find their place. It’s probably the same for any organisation. So, we try to get people on a sprint (more on this later) or a mini task within the first 2 weeks — ideally the next day. Sometimes it’s worth creating a mini task (takes less than 1 hour to do) just to engage new volunteers.

Managing volunteers & projects

Tools & Processes to encourage community action


Fluid & rotating — an alternate open structure of management

I hate bureaucracy. I hate asking for permissions and I hate inner clubs. All of these things stifle innovation, hold people back, create a polarising personality cult and disenfranchise contributors leading to a disengaged, old fashioned, ineffective organisation that doesn’t promote new people and new ideas.

What we needed was an open, progressive, and rejuvenating management system. Taking inspiration from MakeSense and Wikipedia — two amazing examples of huge organisations where almost every thing is done by volunteers, and two years of iteration — we have now grown into what feels like an efficient and comfortable workflow.

There are three tiers to Chayn: me, as the Founder overseeing everything; The Executive Team — made up of volunteers and chaired by me, and our community of volunteers.

The Executive Team is a rotating team of volunteers who invest considerable time into Chayn and are extremely passionate and proactive. The Executive Team is responsible for the administration of Chayn as an organization and decisions on strategy. This is not fixed and any volunteer consistently active in the previous cycle and having been part of Chayn for at least two cycles will be invited to join the Executive team. The team roughly spends around 8 hours/week per person running the organisation. Similarly, members of the Executive team can leave if they feel they cannot meet the commitment. We have weekly or biweekly calls, a running facebook and slack stream and no fixed roles. Having no fixed responsibility allows the Executive Team the flexibility to choose tasks — according to their skillset, time schedule and what interests them. The one thing that I have done so far and no one else is onboarding new volunteers and that’s because new volunteers find that very encouraging that they get to speak to the founder from the get go. It’s the antithesis of what a big charity does — we want people to feel welcomed and that they can really make a difference.

Whenever possible, we post meeting notes from our calls in the group and divide tasks as they come along depending on who wants to do it.

The one thing we do that can be considered counterintuitive is that we don’t care as much about skill as we do about passion, commitment and eagerness to collaborate/learn. Skill is an immense asset but so is commitment and that’s harder to find. You would think that it’s highly inefficient to get new volunteers, who may or may not be good at community management and strategy to take on this role and then by the time they get good at it, they have to leave. That’s a fair point and one I’ve thought long and hard about. We want to mobilise the volunteers that we currently have, helping them gain new skills while they are with us and this makes us stronger. An organisation should care about its volunteers growing with it. A few of our volunteers have gone on to start their own social projects or take the learnings from Chayn and make their communities better. A closed or corporate way of viewing this will be that Chayn is suffering from brain drain and our IP is flowing out of our hands. We view this as a success. Not only were they able to make a contribution while they were with us, they gained more skills and are now paying this forward by running their own projects.

In my eyes, Chayn’s impact just doubled.

There is no information off limits to volunteers — no secret; no walls. The only information kept confidential is one that relates to vulnerable women. Everything within Chayn is open, transparent and inclusive. Whenever I need to make difficult decisions, we discuss within Executive Team and then consult the wider Chayn group — consensus or majority of votes usually win unless I make a case otherwise.


Processes to encourage community action

Structure within community helps volunteers organise their lives around volunteer work, makes them more motivated to get involved and provides a framework to operate within. Some of the information you will read here is already mentioned in the Summary section at the start of this piece.

  • Chayn tasks: Each cycle, we will post a list of projects that we will be working on. These can include a Hackathon or a new How-To Guide. Each project will have a Project Manager. The projects will require various skills ranging from research and content writing to graphic design and website building, sending e-mails to NGOs to event organising. Volunteers can then sign themselves up for a project that speaks to them and contribute weekly according to how much free time they have. Any project at any time can have a volunteer working on it for 10 hours per week, as well as a volunteer who can put in 2 hours over the weekend.

Anatomy of a typical Chayn task request: (1) Description (a few lines), (2) Why it’s important / how it impacts Chayn’s goals, (3) How long it will take, (4) Link to a Google doc with Instructions & a place where the output can go (if required)

  • Mini tasks: We’ll post mini tasks (taking less than one hour to complete)
  • Sprints: 3 or 4 hour intensive work sessions that get everyone working towards a singular goal. We have been doing these on Slack. We do a quick poll of what times people can make during week(evenings) and weekends. The sprint starts with the volunteer leading it announcing a hitlist of tasks and people claim the ones they want to do. We use slack and calls to talk through the issues we come across while doing the tasks. Sprints are a lot of fun and highly productive. Lack of focus was a major concern in the start of 2014 which is why having a sprint-based model of work has made this much easier! I’m a great believer in having outcome-focused work sessions and sprints are a great way to make sure everyone is working towards the same goal.
  • Chayn Day: The first Sunday of every month is Chayn Day, a whole day for us to catch up and work on various projects and tasks throughout the day. Volunteers in the same city can meet up in a workspace, and international volunteers join in online. The Executive Team prepares a to do list for everyone before hand which gets posted in the facebook group/slack.
  • Updates: I do video updates — whenever I can on projects and other Chayn news to bring everyone up to speed and solidify the connection of online volunteers to each other. I’ve been encouraging other volunteers to do the same.
  • Project Leads: There are no fixed project managers in Chayn. If a volunteer wants to make the lead on a project then they can do so and become someone who not only does tasks themselves but also delegates by posting tasks and organising sprints.
  • Volunteer of the month: People nominate their favourite volunteers for each month for a virtual “Chayn Hall of Fame”. The Executive team then chooses and announces Volunteers of the Month.
  • Spring Clean — keeping the group fresh & active: We perform a quarterly refresh of the team to remove members who have not been active in over 3 months, though this does not mean you cannot join later!

Rationale for Spring Cleans

Why Spring Cleans do more good than harm

The idea for a self-fulfilling, self-managed community is a dream we’ve all been chasing. No matter how many Forbes articles you read, the chances are your efforts are resulting in hits and misses. Ours is no different. With not a single person full time or paid in Chayn, we’ve had a strong set of challenges in terms of establishing and maintaining a community that delivers results. From my experience of participating in other communities, I know what I found most useful was transparency and a horizontal meritocratic structure. Chayn is a meritocratic organisation and merit for us, is not the desire to contribute, but it is based on action itself. We want to move away from the legacy model where volunteers who have long ceased to contribute remain. While we really appreciate their contribution in the past, we believe to have a vibrant community, the volunteer in the group must be those who we know we can count on to help, to take initiative and to commit. Volunteers are able to rejoin after 3 months but it is important that we set the terms of the relationship right and get the incentives to be active right as well. We’re able to do so much with so little because our most valuable asset is the will of volunteers to make a positive difference to the lives of vulnerable women.

Here are the three things we notice happen because of Spring Cleans:

(1) Active volunteers become more active & take more responsibility.
(2) People take stock of their own commitments and leave the group accordingly
(3) It weeds out the volunteers who aren’t a good match for Chayn and vice versa.


Tools

The nitty gritty of what we use

  • Facebook group for all: The Core Team is composed of long term volunteers who choose to be as involved as they want, whether it’s dipping in every few weeks to offer a big burst of support in one go or actively participating in projects every day. Why Facebook? Simply because that’s where most people spend their free time so that’s the most convenient place to interact with volunteers.
  • Slack for the regulars & sprints: Slack
  • Asana for task management for Executive Team, project leads and super contributors
  • Google Drive: This is the house of all our working documents.
  • Appear.in / Skype / Hangouts for working together on a sprint sometimes or to have a meeting.

Lifecycle of a project

Each project is different which makes it difficult to create a formula which we can run potential ideas against. In general, we try to go for projects that are (1) innovative, (2) lean, (3) rely on the least amount of variables to succeed and (4) enables women “now”.

The following is the lifecycle of a project within Chayn and the workflow we have grown into.


(1) Idea — initial research and defining the minimum viable product
(2) Defining and prioritising tasks — figuring out what needs to happen, when and how much time is required.
(3) Gearing up the tools: This stage starts out with creating an Asana board / Google drive folder, facebook chat of interested volunteers and a Slack channel. Each task needs a description and a google doc with instructions. Where possible, we provide a template for the output in the google doc to assist volunteers.
(4) Delegating tasks— We’ll post tasks along with google doc links and instructions in the group and/or slack.
(5) Recruiting for survivors, and sometimes, experts— We believe in ‘building with, not for’ so we always try to find women who have experienced what we are trying to solve, which includes most Chayn volunteers in any case, but we do additional canvassing to make sure we account for geographic and cultural differences!
(6) Sprints — Organising sprints to accelerate the project and create a momentum within Chayn.
(7) First draft design— Our design volunteers get to work and post the drafts in the group to get feedback.
(8) Intensive internal and external editing — Once a piece of work is complete. We get as many fresh eyes on it as we can through sharing the google docs on a “Comment Only” version.
(9) Improving content and testing it— This involves deliberating over feedback on Slack and calls, as well as testing the content over different devices, browsers and internet speeds.
(10) Launch of version 1— Whatever it is, it is ready to be seen by the world. Let’s get it out and improve later.


Engaging Volunteers

The stuff just as important as tools and processes

It’s been an interesting but intensive past two years. I went from being a volunteer for MakeSense to managing a complex network of volunteers from different parts of the world, different skill sets and working on an issue considered ‘unsolvable’, especially through tech.

Here are just some tips on working with volunteers I’ve picked up from Wikipedia, MakeSense and Chayn:

  • Know which volunteers are motivated by what and how they like to work.
  • Set clear goals and be as specific as you can when assigning tasks.
  • Know that volunteers will feel shy to ask for help and participate in public forums so you have to enable them to feel like their opinion matters to you and the organisations. Tag them in posts asking for their comments, private message them to get them involved and assign tasks if you feel they are not taking initiative. It’s worth it.
  • Ask volunteers what they want to do in the future & how you can help.
  • Get close to the people who are spending their free time helping out for a cause! You never know how you can help them in other ways, so important to learn all about them, take an active interest in them (and intro them/make their connections, provide emotional support).
  • Reach out to volunteers who aren’t active and find out why.
  • It’s hard to admit it to yourself but know that many want to help, some people will just not be the right fit. You’ve got to let go. Changing things around for one person when the 99% others are fine with the way things are, is not worth it. Take the example of volunteers who want Chayn to also run tasks through emails. We — just — can’t. It would take too long to duplicate effort so we have to let those volunteers go who cannot engage through facebook.
  • Removing toxic individuals from a group is in the public benefit — no matter how passionate that person is about the cause. Toxic people drain energy from the collective like a leech.
  • Stay in the loop with everyone. If you know they’re having a bad time, don’t tag them in posts. Be friends with them and share their happiness with the rest of the group!
  • Volunteers might find it awkward to get in touch with each other so put them in touch and give them context to talk over.
  • Recognise people’s contributions and attribute their idea publicly in the group, especially if they don’t feel comfortable sharing it themselves.
  • Always be available and offer feedback as soon as possible
  • It’s good to have fun. Share stuff that’s funny. For Chayn, we have a lot of back chatter on all things from movies to relationships and pop culture. We’re also fans of funny GIFs. Seriously — it’s our favourite past time. Don’t believe me? Check this out from a sprint a few months ago.

Misfits: Things we tried and didn’t work

There is a long list of things that we tried and failed. Some we’ve rejuvenated and trialled again to a fruitful outcome which is refreshing. Here I’m going to through some of them:

  • Having the same people in the exec team again: This doesn’t work because it causes volunteer fatigue even for the most active ones, and also discourages new volunteers to get involved. We now ask one of the more experienced Exec team members (who has been on the team for two cycles) to mentor a new cycle for a month with me before stepping down.
  • Giving people lots of chances if they have not kept to their word: Asking people to leave Chayn for at least one cycle if they have consistently not been able to make time for Chayn is a difficult thing to learn and do. It feels crude and sometimes petty but it has probably been one of the few things that kickstarted Chayn’s community when it became stagnant with inactive volunteers. Only the people who deserve to be in the volunteer group are the ones that have your back by having the time to dedicate to volunteering! It’s important for morale and incentives.
  • Giving people specific long term roles: Like any other job, doing the same thing over and over again gets monotonous and may lose appeal. While some volunteers prefer to use their skills for one thing only, I’ve realised that the temporary nature of mini tasks appeals to most as they can decide to mix up their volunteering routine whenever they feel like it. For those who are determined to do only things they are good at, they can ofcourse do just that in any case.
  • Facebook group for volunteers — too much noise: There is just far too much happening on our facebook group with about 5–7 posts/day, various nested comments and facebook chat groups. Not everyone has a temperament or lifestyle that can filter through so many posts (not all of which are task related). This results in some volunteers feeling overloaded, confused and completely unaware of where they can jump in.
  • Facebook page: As much as we would like twitter to be our main source of communication with users, facebook remains the primary forum for engaging with vulnerable women. And unfortunately, because of the way facebook now works it’s audience algorithm, only 10% of our audience see what we post. This is soul crushing.
  • Creating a newsletter for supporters: supporters want to stay in touch. newsletters are cumbersome to put together. Facebook screws us over.
  • Having a functioning and active Board: I gave up on the idea of a Board a few months after I tried to create one. If anyone has ideas about this, please do share.
  • Nominating peers for Volunteers of the Month: We’ve been doing Volunteers of the Month for almost a year now and even though, every month, like clockwork, I ask volunteers for nominations for their peers — I’ve only received a handful. I’m keen to figure out how to change this!
  • Trello: Looks pretty, is easy to use, but fails when it comes to managing complex projects and recognising complete versus incomplete tasks.
  • Separate facebook groups for supporters and volunteers: When I started Chayn, I realised many people wanted to ‘support’ the organisation and I didn’t know how to let them know what’s happening.
  • Having a weekly blog: Nida and I started doing weekly blogposts to increase the visibility of our platforms but even though we made it into a news roundup (less text, more links) — it was still very difficult to stick to it so we gave it up.
  • Active in-person Chayn Days: This is something Chayn did really well in London for over a year but something changed a year ago and even though we are double in numbers now, getting people to turn up, in person, has been an infuriating and baffling challenge.

Feel like you’ve got a solution for some of these challenges? Drop me a line at hera@chayn.co. There is also a call for ideas on two particular challenges at the end of this post.


What’s coming up ahead:

There are quite a few exciting experiments we’re conducting at the moment which I’ll be sharing later. Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Chayn Leads: We’ve noticed that whenever we have one person taking the lead of a project/event then the project happens faster and is done to a better quality. In the past, we’ve helped organic Project Leads by pairing with them and co-driving (is that a word?) the project. Now we’re the doing the first-ever trial of it. It’s a one-month commitment which rolls on to the next volunteer unless they love it so much that they want to keep on doing it. Myself and experienced Chayn Leads will help others to organise their own sprints, tasks, and goals for the month to ensure they have proper support and get trained in the process. So like the executive team, it rotates giving volunteers the flexibility to work when they have time and opportunity to learn how to manage a tech for good project.
  • 2 hour minimum online time on Chayn Days: Volunteers must come online for atleast 2 hours during Chayn Day unless they absolutely cannot and have a good reason for it. This is to make sure we develop a sense of regularity to Chayn sessions. We’re also going to try to get volunteers to pair better through short video/voice calls.
  • Blogposts for significant Chayn events by contributors: My desire is to cultivate the expertise and experiences of volunteers, giving them the profile on news, media and blogs that they deserve. Too many organisations don’t do this and it can be demoralising and unjust. We now encourage and push volunteers to write blogposts before and after a significant Chayn event so they have a platform to share their ideas and experiences. You can see an example of this on the page for #PeaceHackBEY.
  • Chayn House Rules: We’ve been lucky to only have a few instances of problem with volunteer conduct and at all of those times, the problem was with a mismatch between expectations and ethos. In true open source fashion, we’ve now crowdsourced a friendly House Rules page to act as a guide and filter for new volunteers. Will it work or just be a useless relic forgotten and ignored? Ask me in a year’s time.
  • Creating an incentives-driven sustainable contribution framework: Research: Internet users’ participation and contributions are critical to the growth of Wikipedia. Based on self-determination theory, this study investigates the impacts of several motivational factors on two different types of user behaviors: content contribution and community participation. The research findings show that content contribution is more often driven by extrinsically oriented motivations, including reciprocity and the need for self-development, while community participation is more often driven by intrinsically oriented motivations, including altruism and a sense of belonging to the community. This paper contributes empirically to the research on Wikipedia, and it has practical implications for open content system development and management.
  • Getting volunteers to report back what they did at the end of Chayn Days and Sprints: We’re hoping this will encourage volunteers to realise the contribution they make and also create a supportive nudge system for volunteers that hold back.

Templates

Most of these are very simple and made in a way to be useful but easy to fill.

I hope what you’ve read so far has been useful and insightful.

Thanks

Thank you to Nida, Nikki, John and Amy for checking this blogpost and all the mentors, advisors and volunteers who have made Chayn what it is today. Also, I wanted to acknowledge once more is how much of what you see in this is the result of the inspiration I took from MakeSense, Wikipedia and various tech startups. And lastly, if this was useful — thank you to those who encouraged me to write this.

Depending on the response to the piece, I would be happy to keep adding to this piece as we learn more.

Last word: Whatever you do, please do not call this model Heracracy. Please. I beg.

There are two big challenges which remain to be solved and I need your help. If you’ve got any ideas on this, leave a response or comment here so it can benefit all:

CHALLENGE 1: How do we make it easier to interact with people who are passionate about the cause, want to help but in reality, will never do anything substantial for the organisation?

CHALLENGE 2: How do we demonstrate the impact of the work volunteers do, to them? Currently, we (1) post in the facebook group with thanks to tasks done well and cool ideas, (2) feature volunteers of the month and (3) occasionally post feedback from distraught women on projects and how it was of use to them.