Since moving online in 2021, MozFest has engaged more people than ever from all around the world with the movement for a healthier internet and more trustworthy AI. The entire MozFest community of Staff, Wranglers, Facilitators, Participants, and Volunteers have created a new kind of virtual MozFest magic. While nothing quite replaces the organized chaos and happy collisions of an in-person MozFest, our online events have delivered innovative experiences and accessible, inclusive, creative, and participatory sessions for festival attendees.
Our Volunteer program is one of the many supports that makes MozFest work so well online. The program began as an essential part of our past, in-person festivals in London. Onsite Volunteer Coordinators (VCs), recruited from Mozilla communities near and far, would manage a local team of Volunteers who set up the festival, staffed its help desks, managed its supplies, answered tweets asking for help, and struck the event at its close. The Volunteers stood out in their hallmark t-shirts and stood ready to help every year. The Volunteers would meet-up and help out at other local tech events aligned with their Mozillian ethos throughout the year, as well.
When the pandemic hit and MozFest moved online, we knew we wanted to bring our Volunteer community along with us to sustain their vital role and the many relationships they’d formed with Mozillians from around the world at MozFest. We also knew that the Volunteer program would have to be different and focus on helping people navigate the festival and its platforms at home instead of an event.
For MozFest 2021, we designed a new kind of online Volunteer program drawing on the expertise and experiences of several veteran VCs from past London events. We iterated and improved on that design for 2022, bringing in a few new VCs to ensure that we offered meaningful returner roles for virtual Volunteers interested in helping us organize the program.
Below are a few take-aways from our process and the changes we made between 2021 and 2022 to improve the program. We hope that they’re of interest to other event organizers as a catalyst for engaging and recognizing community Volunteers in their work and they’re of interest to anyone curious about what it means to Volunteer at Mozfest and wondering how to get involved. You can also check out a longer, more in-depth reflection on the program here.
Be sure to ask for feedback throughout the volunteer process and your online event. As you meet with your VCs, ask them what they need from you to succeed. As you train your Volunteers, ask them what worked and what didn’t. What kind of help do they still need from you after training? What remains unclear? During your event, which questions seem to be asked the most? What kinds of responses seem most helpful or frustrating? Which questions surprise you and the Volunteers? How can you be more prepared to answer them next time?
Some of the feedback you get will be tiny and help you revise specific answers to specific questions that come up during the event. Other pieces of feedback will be bigger and help you rethink things like data collection, information architecture, recruitment and scheduling between events. Prepare yourself to gather, appreciate, and act on the questions and suggestions that your VCs, Volunteers, and Participants offer.
Organize and schedule your VCs and Volunteers in such a way that helps them support one another in responding to help requests as they arrive. We use a Zoom room as a production office where VCs and Volunteers can discuss each new request with one another before picking someone to respond to that request. This helps each Volunteer feel supported in supporting others at the festival and allows VCs to assign Volunteers by request, rather than to specific platforms or online areas. We found in the past that assigning people to overly specific roles online sometimes created an uneven distribution of Volunteers across platforms (depending on who showed up for a shift) and created single points of failure if any single Volunteer assigned to a specific space or session did not show up for their shift. This year we took the production office approach instead, and it worked well.
The goal isn’t to train every Volunteer to be an expert on every part of the festival; rather, it’s to help all Volunteers feel comfortable and confident answering frequently asked questions and sharing tougher ones - and things like safety reports - to the right people in your organization who can help.
It’s important to show up and help alongside your VCs and Volunteers. By helping your VCs organize, schedule, and deliver your Volunteer program, you get a super clear idea of the workflows, documents, and resources your program needs to succeed. You also get a clearer idea of how to roadmap or milestone your program for success. By showing up and helping with the documentation your VCs ask for - and by pitching in on things like Volunteer recruitment, data collection, and scheduling - you learn your program, understand how to improve it as you go, and become part of its community. Take a few shifts during your event, as well, to get an idea of the Volunteer experience and how to improve it for your Volunteers.
Remember that one purpose of your program is to provide an on-ramp to your organization’s event, ongoing work, and ethos. Another purpose is to create returner roles for Volunteers interested in becoming VCs. One way to make those invitations especially welcoming and meaningful is to join in your VCs and Volunteers’ efforts alongside them. Provide a dedicated, human connection and invest your time in the people who are investing theirs in your event.
Similarly, use your feedback and observations as you go and year-on-year to iterate on your processes for recruiting, training, and supporting Volunteers during your event. Keep refining your data collection and comms processes to make it easy for potential Volunteers to share their interest in your event. Structure your data collection to make it as easy as possible to schedule and confirm Volunteers for each shift at your event. Schedule multiple training calls across different days of the week and times to make them as accessible as possible for Volunteers to join from several time zones. Update your FAQs and any automated systems you use (like Slackbot) to answer those questions to make it easy for Volunteers to find and share the most correct, up-to-date information about your event and its platforms and schedule.
If there is something that would make it easier to contribute to your event, build it into your Volunteer program for your VCs and Volunteers.
The virtual Volunteer program at MozFest seems to run on a kind of half-of-half rule. Our call for interest in Volunteering usually brings in 250-30 responses from all over the world. About half of those people are available for a shift during MozFest, and about half of those people confirm their shifts and show up to help. These are the Volunteers who make our virtual help desk work and whom we appreciate with the annual MozFest t-shirt.
However, we think of everyone who shares their interest in Volunteering with us as part of the Volunteer community. Just because a shift doesn’t work out for someone at MozFest one year doesn’t mean it won’t work out for them the next.
To thank and recognize everyone interested in Volunteering at MozFest, we invite them all - regardless of whether or not they have been assigned a shift - to our Volunteer onboarding and networking events. We also invite them to connect with staff, VCs, and one another on our Volunteer Slack channel and invite them to a Discord run by the Volunteer community for the Volunteer community.
To grow the program and improve its inclusivity over time, we want to welcome in everyone interested in Volunteering at MozFest so that when everything works out, they can contribute to the live event. In the meantime, we want them to feel like a welcome and valued part of the internet health and trustworthy AI movement year-round.
If you have more questions about how we designed a new kind of Volunteer program, check out this brand new resource documenting and reflecting on our virtual volunteering program at MozFest.
You can also email program manager Chad Sansing or ping him on the MozFest community Slack (chadsansing).
Remember, to keep up with the latest news about MozFest, influencing its Volunteer program, you can subscribe to our newsletter, join the Mozfest community Slack, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also enjoy all the recorded content from MozFest 2022 from today through 25 June 2022 by registering for an on-demand ticket right now!