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Freelancers: It’s Okay to Say No

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Last Updated on 26th August 2020 by Dan Maby

Working from home may seem less important somehow and often others view your time as more flexible or, frankly, less valuable. When it comes to volunteering, it’s important to protect your business by protecting your time. This also includes your volunteer time.

Volunteerism In The Open Source Ethos

The goal of Open Source is to break down the barriers to code that creates software. Accessibility regardless of language or position in a company is a primary goal.

“The thing is, while the Open Source ethos was built on top of similar principles, the label itself was at least partially meant to close the gap between the free-software movement and the more mainstream business community.”

Chris Velazco, Engadget

In Open Source, volunteerism is the engine that drives innovation and keeps the project alive. Some of the people who contribute to projects use time allocated by their employer, whether full or part time. And in many ways, the corporations and businesses are sponsoring the volunteer work, but they are also taking the financial risk — not the volunteer herself.

“Open source communities are made up of hobbyists, but also professionals from tech companies large and small, as well as folks from the broader business universe who get involved to solve interesting, complex problems. These inclusive communities give their members agency to participate in and shape the development of the software they use. The resulting work makes the best software possible.”


Freelancer Volunteers in Open Source

As an Open Source Project, WordPress is completely dependent upon volunteers. This is a great thing. And many of us love WordPress. After all, it powers more than a third of the top websites online.

“WordPress is a user-driven project, and all developments and enhancements depend on users like you! Please consider contributing to the project and the WordPress Community in one or more of the ways outlined below. Contributions from users like you keep the project vibrant, alive, and on the path of progress.”


It’s important to have volunteers, but what about the toll it takes on the business and mental health of those volunteers? There’s been some debate in WordPress about who is and isn’t a volunteer. Is a paid volunteer, a volunteer? Yes and no. Regardless, the freelancer’s volunteer time is much more expensive: mentally, financially, and physically.

Be Intentional With Your Volunteerism

Giving back is great. But what is your passion? What, specifically, do you want to give back? Is it speaking at a WordCamp or contributing to support in forums? Starting and running a Meetup is just as important as being a core contributor. Understand that there are distinct time differences in the type of volunteerism you engage in. If your passion isn’t organizing an event, then why are you doing it?

“Sometimes we feel so compelled by a cause or issue that we just want to throw ourselves in yet wonder why a few days or weeks down the road we feel a bit out of place. Knowing what you want to give, like knowing what you want to get, will allow you to determine whether or not the opportunity will be a great fit.”

Allison Jones, Fast Company

How Many Hours Should You Volunteer?

So, how many hours should you volunteer? I’d go with 10%. If you have a 40 hour work week, volunteer for four hours. Now, it’s up to you, but allocating that time both sets your personal boundaries and manages expectations with your community. For example, if you run a WordPress Meetup, that’s a minimum of four hours each meeting. So, if it meets once a month, you have 12 more hours a month to volunteer.

Other advice is two hours a week. Either way, set your expectation and stick to it. It will help you feel happier in your volunteer work.

“A hundred hours a year breaks down to just two hours a week. Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem go up a year later.”

Ask Men

How do you say no to a volunteer project?

It’s pretty simple: “no.” You may have to practice. It may look like, “Wow. That sounds wonderful, but my volunteer time is budgeted for this year/month/quarter already.” It may be, “Maybe next year.” Or it may be, “Organizing isn’t my gift. Can I do something else?” Either way, it’s up to you.

Saying no is okay. Volunteers are meant to come and go in the project like a tide – ebbing and flowing. New ideas, new solutions, and a diverse community is what we celebrate in Open Source and WordPress specifically. A mix of the old and new is what invigorates a volunteer community and protects the volunteers’ whole-health.

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