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Membership Personalization—An Improved, More Empowering Global Strategy for Community Focused Organizations

I joined the community at Open Library to help mobilize and create volunteer-driven projects that help us better connect with different cultures from around the world. 

Since my early days of reading National Geographic magazines back in kindergarten, I've been passionate about creating models and solutions to inspire collaboration across different cultures. Like a Velociraptor, I jumped at the opportunity to build a similar help build new systems of outreach and engagement at Open Library.

A nontraditional approach to volunteerism

It's important for me to note that Open Library is open-source. 

the largest open source, non-profit, community-powered digital library.

In short, that means, people from all over the world come together to contribute to the developments and advancements happening at Open Library. How members of our community contribute to the work is what makes us unique.

In many organizations, volunteerism or involvement means contributing in ways that are predetermined. An example of a predetermined volunteer position could be a nonprofit bird sanctuary seeking to fill a Bird Keeper position. The responsibilities of the Bird Keeper position are defined by the nonprofit. When a volunteer fills that role, the volunteer hits the ground running according to "predetermined responsibilities." 

Though we have many predetermined volunteer opportunities at Open Library, there are ways volunteers can contribute that aren’t predetermined. That aspect of Open Library is what I find to be quite thrilling. I'd like to tell you more about that.

An innovative solution to reaching the world

For the sake of this article, I won't go into the details of the system I created. I'll write a separate case study on that later. In the meantime, let's go back to the topic of predetermined volunteer projects.

Earlier in this article, I used a 'Bird Keeper' volunteer position as an example of what a predetermined volunteer position might look like. In my view, the opposite of a predetermined volunteer role is personalized volunteerism—a form of volunteering that invites volunteers to create and lead projects that align with the over-arching organizational goals. 

Both predetermined and personalized volunteering have been part of Open Library's culture since its founding. However, integrating both predetermined and personalized volunteering in a new communications program presented its own set of complex challenges. For instance, parts of any successful communications program involves the creation and deploying content (i.e., videos, podcasts, blogs, articles, stories, promotions, social media, informative resources, news, or how-two materials) 

Typically, organizations develop and deploy communications through content centralization. However, in a open-source community that has global reach such as Open Library, maintaining a centralized content strategy often minimizes reach and hinders accessibility. Thus, in order to maximize organizational content reach, that content has to be localized. 

Localization of communications means, if your company sends marketing or business messaging to customers beyond its border, those customers expect that messaging to align with their culture and language. Without that localization, the relationship between the consumer and the business remains or will become broken. 

The diversity within Open Library's community and its mission to ensure access to all has enabled the communications program to attract a wide-range of contributors with diverse skill-sets. 

Having a strongly diverse volunteer interest in Open Library's communication program paves the way for the next stage in its communications. That is, create a volunteer onboarding and participatory culture that has structure, is not rigid, and offers heightened flexibility for such a widely skilled group of volunteers to contribute in a open-source environment (librarians, bloggers, authors, techies, engineers, book-lovers etc.) 

From my observation, the integration of both predetermined and personalized volunteerism spurs a level of creativity, growth, and participation that I have not experienced in traditional volunteer driven organizations.  

ecruiting volunteers for Open Library communications, 

Creating relevant content on a global scale

1. Volunteers gain specific experience that's related to their future or present career path. Early data and feedback from this model already show that volunteer retention and satisfaction is significantly higher than it has been at the start of the communications program.

2. Personalized volunteering empowers volunteers to partner with global-focused organizations to help extend their reach across borders. Volunteers can be aligned with personalized projects that have an element of cultural advocacy to inspire global participation in ways that are richly meaningful.

The Program Lead at the Open Library, Mek Karpeles, inspired the creation of this new volunteer model. When I first joined the community at Open Library, Mek asked me, "Nick, I'm excited to see what you take the lead on here at Open Library." The moment our conversation ended, I knew I found my place... I found my tribe.

Not long after my conversation with Mek Karpeles, I made the decision to take the lead on building a global communications program at the Open Library. Had Mek Karpeles not been supportive of personalized contributions at Open Library, I would not be where I am today.

Do you need help with building your community or extending your business reach across borders? Share your thoughts or questions below. If not that, send me a message here on LinkedIn... I'd love to chat!