Should You Work with a Volunteer?

Working with Website Volunteers

If you can find someone willing to build you a website for free, that price tag is hard to overlook! Yet having a nonprofit volunteer build your website comes with a number of tricky issues you need to consider first.

Understand Their Constraints

If someone is volunteering to build your website, it’s important to understand why they’re offering you such a valuable service for free. Do they do this for a living and want to support your organization? Are they looking to improve their own technical skills? Are they required to volunteer for some reason?

Consider this reason and make sure you’re comfortable with it. Think about the constraints (time, technical, motivational) that may arise and how you’ll deal with them. Anytime you have a volunteer working on a website, try to have a backup plan in case things don’t go well. (True story: I was once the 7th developer on a website project, the first six of whom were volunteers.)

Find a Way to Compensate

Once you’ve agreed to work with a website volunteer, have a discussion about what they’d like to get from the project. They may be “working for free,” but it’s crucial that you find a way to compensate them. If they’re looking for work experience, talk about ways the you can support them. If they’re doing it for publicity, talk about ways you can promote them and their service after the project. If you have events, products, or other things you can offer them in return, ask if they’d like a complimentary one.

No matter what, give your volunteer positive feedback, and help them understand how the work they are doing helps your organization achieve its mission. That positive feedback can be the difference when they face a bug, an email they don’t want to reply to, or a frustrating conversation.

Positive Collaboration

Once the project has actually started, make sure to do these two things:

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Don’t get in the way.

Remain open to compromises so that the volunteer can save time, do something they’re passionate about, and have some control over the way they work. Nitpicking a volunteer’s work or demanding certain things in spite of their opinions or concerns can frustrate volunteers to the point of leaving. Everyone who builds websites has some type of creativity they express through their work, so don’t suck that out of the project!

Second, make sure that you meet your deadlines, offer constructive feedback, and clearly explain your organization’s needs to the website volunteer. If they ask for content by next Friday, make sure you’ve go it! The longer a website project goes, the higher the risk that it could derail, so keep your momentum going.

Most importantly, remember that these are volunteers that want to have a positive experience with your nonprofit and feel like they’re giving back. When you’ve got three deadlines and a tight budget, an offer of a free website can be hard to turn down, but don’t fall into the trap of treating your website volunteer like a website-building machine (i.e. you tell them what to do and they do it, no questions asked). Truly collaborating with and supporting your volunteer will give you a much higher chance of getting a beautiful new website with a low monetary price tag.

Want more good advice like this? Check out “Notes from ‘Decoding Tech Volunteerism’ at 501 Commons” for more details like these and “Vetting a WordPress Consultant for Nonprofits” for questions to ask a potential volunteer.

Want a few more tips like this? Read our notes from a presentation on tech volunteerism.