Online Community Incentives For Volunteer Based Communities

Taniksha Gupta
February 4, 2022

Volunteers donate time because they want to make new friends or feel a greater sense of community. They feel connected to the community and its mission. Sometimes, these volunteers have an indirect contribution to the community, but it is still nice to appreciate how they are helping. This can be done by providing them with some online community incentives.

The best way to incentivize a volunteer is to show them how much impact they are making on the community. A great community builder stays in touch with the volunteers and motivates them constantly.

In today’s blog, we will talk about:

  • What incentives can you provide to the volunteers?
  • Do you give different incentives to different volunteers?

And much more So let's get reading!

But before we dive deeper, if you are into community building and looking to build a volunteer program, then check out LikeMinds right now! Our platform offers great inbuilt features that will make it super easy for you to scale your community.

What Are The Online Community Incentives That The Volunteers Join AJVC For?

As Raj has been telling us throughout, there is zero money involved at AJVC, whether they receive anything or give anything. Their entire distribution channel spends zero on marketing. So, that essentially means that for the volunteers who come in, there is absolutely no expectation of any monetary gains happening.

However, what they do end up offering are two huge things that a lot of people would love to have but then they struggle a lot.

  • Social Capital - Everyone wants to essentially be heard and the best way to be heard is when you have a set of followers who want to engage with you in your tweets, LinkedIn posts, YouTube videos, etc. So, they essentially let their volunteers have a go at building up their own brand by having AJVC as the base from where they started.
  • The next thing that they provide is 'Complete Ownership Of A Product' that the volunteers feel is going to add value to the entire startup ecosystem. And the value addition does not limits itself to India, but across the globe. For instance, one of their products, 'Startup Concept' got shortlisted in the top 5 products across the education category.

It's massive, the amount of impact at scale that you can create. And that's something which you offer to every new fellow that comes onboard. But at the end of the day, it all depends on how much effort the volunteers are putting in because there is no freelance.

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How Do Online Community Incentives Work Out At Headstart?

It's been about 14 years, and with volunteers, Headstart has never dealt with money. Because you really can't evaluate a person's contribution with money. What happens is that at the end of the day, money is what you get valued by in your professional life. Hence, if you bring the same degree or same value of recognition into the volunteering world as well, there is a subconscious degree of comparison that all human beings end upbringing. Headstart consciously tries avoiding that.

However, they have tried different things. They failed and they learned, that's how Headstart builds its communities. You keep experimenting, you shouldn't hesitate to experiment and all experiments are one volunteer saying, "I'm sure this will work", and three others who haven't thought it through, but say "Yes, let's do it!" That's how most of the experiments run.

  • What they've done is that there's a great amount of learning. Learning and growth is defined at the beginning. So what they've realised is two classic recipes for volunteering to fail is a volunteer going too fast or too slow. Too fast is also bad. Too slow, the others will get frustrated, if the guy is not at the same pace as others.

Because most of us are in the volunteering space, we are usually very fast. You give us an event to pull off in 24 hours and we'll do it. You give us an event to pull off in 24 weeks, we won't. So, too fast or too slow ends up being kicked out or it leads to the volunteer being burnt out.

  • So, defining growth or defining the journey of the volunteer is important. And that growth in terms of learning is an incentive in itself. And for a larger community, the diversity is very big. The building of the network, both within the community and outside is massive.

They have had volunteers who are 16 years old and they have had volunteers who are 60 years old. And they have also had volunteers who are even today who are volunteering from Helsinki, Berlin, Sikkim, or Bangkok. And they've got a good ratio of men and women. They also have a good ratio of tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

  • So, it's important for them to also showcase what is the kind of network that they will build, not just with the fellow volunteers and evangelists in the community but also the various initiatives that they will be involved in. For example, discussing something about a Fireside chat with a Kanacha - not something you'd otherwise get. Here you would actually be representing an org that some of the bigger names in the ecosystem respect and you would be able to chat with them. You definitely earn that.
  • What they've also done is that they have tried, every quarter they bring all the volunteers together and during those quarterly catch-ups where they've got hundreds of people from across cities coming together -they've tried also recognising the best performers that caught up, the initiatives that really stood out, call out people who've been consistent over a period, call out people who did something really big in the last 3 months. So, acknowledging publically is also very important, that has also been one of the incentives.
  • They also launched something, called the Star box, a couple of quarters ago. What they did was, they said - let's not translate anything into money but we can definitely keep aside some budget - it could be 500, 1000, or 5000, and let's create a box which is nothing but sample of 5 to 10 d2c brands from our own community of startups, let's put it into it and let's give it out to folks. What happens - it's a win-win. There is something that brings smiles at the end of the day to the volunteer. There's also our own brands that are very less heard and get visibility here.

They have completely moved away from money to providing visibility to some of our lesser-known startup brands.

How Did The Black T-shirt Become An Incentive At Headstart?

From the volunteer's perspective, the T-shirt has been a big incentive at Headstart. You may have seen Headstart volunteers wear a black t-shirt, that says 'Time to startup is now.' They have been sticking to the t-shirt for a decade.

  • As a VIP, you don't get the t-shirt. When you go beyond your VIP tenure and turn into a volunteer is when you earn that t-shirt.
  • They work with a lot of partners, they work with a lot of friends in the ecosystem. Everyone gets a Headstart tshirt at some point, just that it won't be the black one.
  • You may have seen many of the VCs that they work closely with may have worn a 'Time to startup is now' t-shirt, but it would have been maroon in colour.
  • Some of the founders who have gone through their programs and cohorts would have probably worn a 'Time to startup is now' green t-shirt.
  • The black t-shirt is earned as a volunteer, and there's so much pride when he wears that Headstart logo on his sleeve with a black t-shirt.

So, that's something they have done, and some volunteers come in and ask, "Hey I will now enter into my fourth month, when will I get my t-shirt." That's the first thing that they ask.

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The Product Folks' View On Gifts And Monetary Online Community Incentives

Suhas' personal ethos about volunteer-driven communities and incentives is very much in line with what Gautham and Raj shared. That being said, over the last 2 years, his thought process regarding this has changed and has only accelerated with web3 coming in. He believes that the entire structure perfectly aligns with volunteer-driven communities.

The Product Folks is tending towards that and they are going to be launching a roadmap soon. So, that is what they are moving to, in 2022. In his words, "It's something that might be at its peak and might die down because there are tons of doubts coming up. Someone is contributing their time and social capital is a big incentive that they get. They grow in the community, they meet a lot of folks, but everyone complained that exposure is not everything."

He further adds, "In volunteer-driven organizations, you are not coming with expectations, so that's where things align. But what if you could align things even better. You're creating tons of value, so what if some percentage, like 10% of this value could go back to volunteers. Do you think they will be more aligned towards it?"

Hence, Suhas seems super interested and TPF plans to explore web3 wherein they intend to raise sponsorship, create a treasury and give the volunteers tokens. That's a very crude way of putting it.

But for now, here are some fun incentives TPF provides its volunteers:

  • They use this app called 'Thunderbolt', all volunteers get access. So, it's like a gamified way of staying in touch. There are games they keep playing with each other. That is something that has worked well for TPF.
  • So, they don't have any monetary incentives. However, they also have volunteer incentives in the form of swag, d2c brands, gifts, Amazon vouchers, etc.
  • They also provide referrals to help the volunteers grow in their career. If you can help a volunteer break into a top tier startup, that's a huge win for them. Everyone is going to believe in the power of a community a lot more.

On that note, we run a community called 'CommunityHood', which is an independent community with 450+ community members already a part of it! If you want to learn from the experience of leading community builders themselves or feel you can help other community builders in upskilling themselves, then join 'CommunityHood' now.

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