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Learning patterns/Supporting volunteers in administration

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Supporting volunteers in administration
problemGroups of volunteers doing Wikimedia activities may become overwhelmed and demotivated by the amount of administration work that is required to be done to sustain their activities.
solutionConsider a number of ways to support volunteers in administration, including refining roles in your organization or hiring temporary or permanent paid administrative help.
created on6 December, 2013

What problem does this solve?[edit]

As volunteer groups grow their activities and impact, they may accrue an increasing amount of administrative work which needs to be done in order to sustain activities. For example, this could be applying for funding, submitting reimbursements, organizing events, answering helplines (phone, email, etc.).

What is the solution?[edit]

One important driver for hiring an employee or contractor for Wikimedia organizations seems to be the increased amount of administrative time being stuck on the volunteers running other activities. This could be paperwork for receiving grants/funds, booking travel, administering expenses, etc. Before you consider bringing on an employee to do administrative work, consider the following alternatives:

  1. Avoid taking on onerous administrative duties in the first place. For example, consider functioning as an informal group until you have a significant record of success with program activities to justify funding for administrative work. Keep in mind that hiring and managing staff itself may be a time-consuming task involving significant administrative work, so make sure that the long term benefits for your organization will be worth it.
  2. Assess ways to make your organization function better. Consider reorganizing your project roles or organizational roles to make sure the work is shared and better supported within the volunteer team.
  3. Recruit volunteers with the skills and interests needed to do administrative tasks.
  4. Bring on a firm or temporary employee to handle some administrative duties associated with your projects or operational activities. (E.g. an accounting firm to help your organization with accounts on a periodic basis.)

General considerations for hiring an administrative employee[edit]

  • Be mindful of the work that volunteers are currently doing, and be sure not to devalue that work or demotivate those volunteers as you are considering bringing on an administrative employee. Be sure to involve them in the conversations. Bringing on an employee for the first time may sometimes cause conflicts within your organization, especially if leadership or volunteers do not feel good about this choice. Getting money to hire an employee may always seems like a good thing, but you will want to consider the consequences for your organization carefully, as bringing on a long term employee will create an ongoing responsibility for your organization's leadership.
  • Volunteer organizations doing excellent program work may benefit from bringing on staff to do administrative tasks, but funding for administrative work will always be tied to program results. If you're not able to show that you're already doing effective program work and that an administrative employee will allow you to do more, you are unlikely to receive funding for the employee.
  • Consider that funding options for full-time and part-time staff may be different if your organization or group is asking for funds from one of the Wikimedia Foundation Grants Programs for your activities. For example, funding for part-time staff is available from the Project and Event Grants Program or the Annual Plan Grants Programs, while funding for permanent full-time staff is only available through the Annual Plan Grants Programs.
  • Be careful not to hire permanent or long term staff that isn't necessary for the long-term! For example, if paperwork is only required once or twice a year, maybe just bring on a contractor for that period of time. Or, if there is an event that needs to be planned, consider bringing on a short-term contractor for just the event.
  • Be clear and specific about what you will need this person to do. Be honest in the job description! Make sure to accurately portray the amount of administrative work that is required for the position (see quotes from 2013 First Employee study).
  • Hire the right person. Extend your search beyond people you currently know or people who are currently on the board, to ensure that you hire the person with the skills and experience needed to succeed in this position, as well as the interest and motivation to do the work planned. A volunteer who is brilliant at managing programs may not be well-suited for administrative work. For a small organization, hiring the right employee (or the wrong one) can make a huge difference.


Wikimedia D.C., 2013 Bootstrapping report
"The biggest lesson to learn is applicable to all U.S.-based chapters, present and future: forming a chapter should involve experts in non-profit governance from the start to handle the incorporation and tax-exemption recognition processes. While between the several Wikimedia DC founders we had some knowledge, enough minor details were overlooked to cause considerable delay to the process."
Wikimedia Österreich (WMAT), 2012 Annual plan report
"The extent of administrative tasks related to the grant process (application, reporting, closing)is a further strain for the limited personal resources, usually it is easier to spark volunteers for supporting projects, photo contests or events rather than for administrative tasks and accounting."


See also[edit]

Related patterns[edit]

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