The 4 “Gets” in WordPress Community Organizing

People all over the world want to organize WordPress community events, which is humbling and exciting. This comes with a lot of responsibility for the global community team, which carefully reviews all applications and vets all applicants, before moving forward with them. Part of the global community team’s process when vetting applications is to find out what motivates aspiring WordPress leaders to sign up for a lot of hard (but fun!) work — to ensure that the applicant’s goals fit well with the team’s goals.

The  community organizer handbooks have lots of public information about how we suggest people achieve these goals (what the organizers will “give”), but doesn’t outline very clearly what our volunteers can reasonably expect in return for their work (what the organizers will “get”). While everyone knows that WordPress is made possible through volunteer time, that doesn’t mean there is no reciprocity — for everything that someone gives, there are things that they also receive.

In this post, I’d like to start a conversation about how we can better clarify expectations for new and experienced contributors in our group. Here’s my first attempt at explicitly outlining our volunteers’ main “get”s.

What WordPress community organizers get (for all their hard work)

  1. Impact. WordPress community events are promoted by the WordPress project and tap into resources that other tech events don’t have — like being marketed on the WordPress dashboard. WordPress community event organizers choose the topics that are shared at monthly and annual events,  and who will lead those conversations. Your choices affect who will feel comfortable in the spaces where people connect. WordPress events change lives, and your choices define what kind of change might happen, and for whom.
  2. Growth. Volunteers are given opportunities based mainly on their interests, not their experience. WordPress community organizers aren’t required to have organized an event, or have managed a team, before taking on a leadership role in their local communities. WordPress community event organizers have the opportunity to develop a broad array of skills: leadership, communications, design, logistics, marketing, fundraising, management… the list goes on. Every one of these skills can create opportunities in someone’s professional career or personal life.
  3. Training/Support. Learning to organize WordPress community events is a very open process, and unusually short compared to many other global volunteer programs. All of our training, documentation, best practices, and tools are produced by experienced organizers. And when organizers run into problems they don’t know how to handle, there is a team of experienced helpers available, practically all the time.
  4. Protection. Back before 2011, WordPress community organizers took on a lot of risk in their work — more than any other WordPress contributor. Event organizers experienced financial loss, inquiries from tax authorities, lawsuits, and other life-damaging problems as a result of unexpected things happening at/due to their events. Our current fiscal & logistical infrastructure shields our volunteers from financial and legal risks they might suffer when organizing WordPress community events.

Those are some pretty great things you can expect when joining this courageous team of leaders! But there are things that no one gets, or that only come with time or experience — and it’s important to call those out too.

What WordPress community organizers don’t get (right away, and sometimes ever)

  1. Complete autonomy. Local organizers make a lot of powerful choices when creating events and building community. However, organizers aren’t free to pick and choose which meetupMeetup All local/regional gatherings that are officially a part of the WordPress world but are not WordCamps are organized through A meetup is typically a chance for local WordPress users to get together and share new ideas and seek help from one another. Searching for ‘WordPress’ on will help you find options in your area. or WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. program expectations they follow through on. If you accept the WordPress community organizer role despite disagreeing with some parts of the program, you’re still expected to do the things that everyone is asked to do — they’re part of the job.
  2. Commit-level access. WordPress community organizers are full of bright ideas, which is a lot of what makes this project so great. Not every bright idea meshes well with WordPress community values or works on a global scale, though. The WordPress community programs — just like the WordPress open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. project as a whole — are open source, but they’re not “open commit.” Even if you are certain that your idea is a good one, it still might not work at a WordPress chapter meetup or WordCamp. By the way, there is a way to earn “commit-level access” on the community team — and it starts with becoming a community deputy.
  3. And other things.  There are other things, too, but those all come up in orientations and in our handbook (they’re outlined in the 5 Good Faith Rules for meetups, and Should You Be An Organizer? and Representing WordPress docs in the WordCamp organizer handbook). To summarize, it’s best not to try to establish a leadership position in WordPress for self-serving purposes, such as trying to make a profit off the local group or to promote your business or friends’ companies over other local businesses. Likewise, if your leadership approach includes hateful or very controlling behavior, this organization probably won’t be a good fit for you.

Share your thoughts

What do you think about this list of “get”s and “don’t get”s — does this help clarify the kind of personal return that contributors can reasonably expect for the time and attention they invest in our programs? What did you expect you’d get out of participating as a WordPress community organizer, and what did you actually get?


The Community Expectations working group had its kickoff…

The Community Expectations working group had its kickoff chat today (irc log). In attendance were Mika Eptein (@ipstenu), Aaron Jorbin, Siobhan McKeown, Tracy Levesque, George Stephanis, Brooke Dukes, Carrie Dils, Kronda Adair, and me (@jenmylo). Cátia Kitahara is also on the team but couldn’t make the meeting.

The plan:

  • Carrie and Brooke and Aaron are on the front line, reviewing similar policies from other open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. orgs and seeing if there’s good stuff that we can reuse (if licensed appropriately, of course) or be inspired by. They will be dropping the chunks they think would be good to use or reference into a doc by Tuesday, 10/29/13.
  • I will drop a headings outline into the doc, also by Tuesday.
  • On Wednesday, 10/30/13, the “write new content” group will step up and start creating sections as needed. This includes Aaron, Mika, George, with Jen and Siobhan as needed (who’ll also be editing all the pieces together as they’re added). Complete this portion by Tuesday, 11/5/13. The rest of the group will drop in and comment as time allows in this period.
  • Regroup to review what we have so far, and plan how to proceed to finish draft for community review.

A note on creating this working group:
There were some comments on the thread that announced this project that indicated some discomfort at the idea that I wanted this working group to be diverse itself. Without getting into who’s male/female/gay/straight/disabled/etc, I want to make it clear that no one was added to this group based on some sort of diversity quota rather than merit.

As it happens, the process for creating a diverse group is pretty similar to creating a diverse speaker roster for a WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more., so I thought I’d share the process I used.

First, I started with the people who volunteered on the post by the time we got started. This is the same as choosing from speaker applications. You check them out and if they look good you say yes. Really very easy on the organizer, not hard work. As it happened, those people were all people known to me, and have all either written or presented on a topic related to appropriate behavior in our community, diversity, etc. on their own, so that made it easy to say yes to all of them. No one who explicitly said, “I want to help with this,” in the comments by the time we started the group was excluded.

Within these volunteers there was some diversity in sexual orientation, family makeup, religion, politics, length of time in WP community, etc, but it appeared to be all white women* from the U.S., so I wanted to broaden the perspective of the group by including some more people of different backgrounds (with a cap at 10 for logistical purposes). That meant I needed to reach out and make an effort to see if there were any qualified people that could round out the team that maybe hadn’t seen the post or had not felt comfortable volunteering.

This is the step that tends to freak people out. For WC organizers, it’s a lot of work, and if they don’t know a lot of people who are qualified then it turns into a choice-based-on-demographics, which is obviously not good for anyone. I’m lucky enough to be familiar with a lot of talented people in our community from many regions, levels of involvement, areas of expertise, etc. so that wasn’t a problem here. Everyone I reached out to met the same professional WP standards as the original volunteers, as well as having spoken or written somewhere about these issues already (including the 2 white dudes with beards 🙂 ).

In the end, our group of course could be still more diverse, but within the limited number of people we do have there is a pretty broad variety of viewpoints and experiences to draw on in our drafting process, which is the goal. Not to prioritize one demographic group over another, but to be sure that more viewpoints are included in the process and have a voice.

*Remember you can’t tell much from a gravatarGravatar Is an acronym for Globally Recognized Avatar. It is the avatar system managed by, and used within the WordPress software. Someone who looks white may be biracial, someone who looks male may be female or vice versa (remember how we all thought Mika was a man for years because of her Frank Sinatra-eque hat gravatar?), and there are all sorts of other diversity components that have nothing to do with what your face looks like, so we have to remember not to make assumptions.

#community-expectations, #community-management, #diversity, #meeting-notes