The Care and Feeding of Volunteers: Lessons from Non-Profits and OSS

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 20, 2013 from 4:45 – 5:30pm in B302/303


Volunteers are the lifeblood of OSS projects. From behemoths like the Linux Foundation to every little project on SourceForge, volunteers keep things moving forward. Retaining happy and motivated volunteers is a crucial step in creating a healthy organization. In this talk, I will discuss the whys and wherefors of encouraging and directing your volunteers in the context of both traditional non-profits and OSS projects.


Working with a team which consists primarily of volunteers can make herding cats look simple and straightforward. Not only do you need to find volunteers, but once you have them, you need to foster, encourage, and motivate them to accomplish not only their goals, but your organization’s goals as well. This is difficult to do, but not as impossible as it may sound.

The first step is to understand that not every person interested in helping with your project will actually know what they’re doing. Most non-profit organizations understand that there’s some amount of mentoring required to get even the most talented volunteer ready to actually help. This a step that OSS projects often forget, and it is why recruiting and retaining dedicated volunteers can be so difficult.

I will discuss ways to create an environment that encourages volunteer participation, direction, and retention, using a variety of methods garnered from my experiences in both OSS and non-profit organizations.

Speaking experience

I have several years of classroom presentation experience under my belt, talking about everything from chemistry to sociology to bioethics. This would my my first formal conference, though.

I do a fair bit of public speaking with the Society for Creative Anachronism, both within the group and externally. I have taught several classes on 13th century Icelandic poetry, for example. I also regularly conduct "court", speaking in front of groups of 20-300 people.