Participation Lab Notes: Volunteer vrs Contributor


I recently read this article on the about:community blog and it got me thinking.

First of all, I think that it was the right research to do. It is difficult to increase participation without understand the drivers behind the existing contributor population. I also fully agree with the key learns around the increased need for clarity in the volunteering process. Before I volunteer to work a large event, I like to have an understanding of the role and what will be “required” of me in that job. Whereas with employment the onus is put on the employer to decide whether you are suitable for a job, with volunteering the balance tends to be the other way round, and the more information I have the better I am able to decided whether the event or role is suitable for me.

Whilst I appreciate and respect the research that has been done, I have always tended to use the term “volunteer”, whether it be in respect of events or what I do with Mozilla. I guess there are two main drivers behind this. The first is that it makes it much easier when explaining it to people that you work with that this is not additional paid employment. Some the tasks that I do tend to be things that (non-Mozilla) people expect to be done by employed staff, so there is naturally some trepidation that I have taken on second (or third) employment that that this my conflict with the job I am contracted to do.

The second is out of respect to those that are employed by the organisation. Whilst I am in no way suggesting that volunteers care less, Mozilla is not paying for my evening meal or is giving me an annual performance review. I could walk away any time I want. However good I might be at what I do, I am not an employee of Mozilla, and I respect those that are to the extent that I would not want my small efforts not be confused with those of Mozilla staff.

Whether the word is “contributor” or “volunteer” to me is largely irrelevant, but I think that those are the two choices to use. Whichever the choice, I think that it should be used throughout Mozilla for all of the voluntary roles, as far as grammar supports (I am not on Remo, but I think that Reps should stay as Reps). I am not trying to be divisive, but I sometimes feel that there are many, many different job titles. Having worked for a very large multinational, I have had the experience of seeing job titles that are anything but descriptive and lead to confusion about what someone actually does.

What made me first want to comment on the Emma’s blog entry was the idea of a Mozilla-fied name, in fact that one section has been stuck in my head for days. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were a magical, enthralling, amazing event in the history of the UK. Out of economic uncertainly and a national sense of pessimism, London felt like the centre of the world. Even though I was not volunteering, the uplifting sense of being part of a large multi-sport event was amazing. People from all over the world were talking on “the tube”, cheering on countries that were not their own, and did not stop cheering until the last person crossed the line. Any cynicism people may have had for the Games beforehand vanished as Olympians and Paralympians competed.

The “Games Makers” were part of this, people that had given up significant amounts of time to not only work at the Games, but also to attend training sessions before the Games. Some were bringing professional skills, whilst others came to learn new skills - not too different from Mozilla. Whilst their efforts are important, the legacy they have left is more so. Not only has recognition of volunteers improved - events are now better understanding of the need to treat volunteers well so that they volunteer again - but also other events have a similar naming convention. At the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, there were “Clyde-siders” and the RideLondon event now has “Veloteers”. These names not only keep the sense of London 2012 alive but also create a sense of common purpose.

But each of these titles forms part of a wider job title. At RideLondon you might be a “Crossing Marshal” or a “Yellow Flag Marshal”, but collectively you are a Veloteer. At London 2012 you may have been an “Event Services Team Member”, but you were still a Games Maker.

So when it comes to a Mozilla-fied name, I think we already have one. It is a name that joins a community together, a name that indicates common purpose and contribution to a wider group.


This post did not set out to be as lengthy as it is, but I hope that people have found it interesting and thought provoking, without being controversial. Names are important things - this is why parents spend time agonising over them and why Birth Certificates are so important. Whether it be “contributor” or “volunteer” is for others to decide, I would proudly use either, but regardless, we are all Mozillians.


Hey @seburo thank you for this interesting and insightful post! I think it captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking about and has some great ideas!

I like the idea of having “Mozillians” as the larger terms with volunteer/contributor titles de-emphasized underneath.

Thanks so much for sharing!!


Does the word “Mozillian” make sense to people outside? I mean, the places where we use “contributor” or “volunteer” are not a lot inside Mozilla communities, but rather outside them. For example, when I go talk to people about Mozilla, should I introduce myself as, “I’m a volunteer at Mozilla”, “I’m a contributor to Mozilla”, or “I’m a Mozillian”?


¡Hola @seburo!

I’m just going to leave this here…

I believe it is only fitting =)


Like you I take a few minutes just to write, “not reinvent the wheel” mozillian is the word, after it you have to ask to yourself, which kind of Mozillian you are (or new people want to be) and you can chose multiple guide people from different points of view to get the kind of work they want to do:

  • By geographic area (example: Mozilla communities)
  • By language (example: Mozilla Hispano, MozFR)
  • By kind of activity (MDN, SUMO
  • By kind of people (workers, students …)

And remember this site do by a mozillian:!/progornoprog/teach


Thank you for the responses on this topic that not only defines who we are, but also how we are seen.

@lucyeoh - Within the wider Mozilla community, the term Mozillian helps build a sense of team, regardless of discipline such as MDN, SUMO & ReMo (apologies to others not mentioned!). If someone tells me that they are a Mozillian, regardless of their skills and abilities, I know that we have common ground and a shared sense of purpose.

@asdofindia - You raise a very good point that goes back to the decision to use “volunteer” or “contributor”. One benefit of using term “Mozillian” is that it can provoke the question “what is that” for you to explain what Mozilla is about and what we do. If your audience is aware of Mozilla, perhaps the contributor route would work better.

@alex_mayorga - Hi! It is funny that you mention that video. Whilst I was not at the Summit 2013 event, it was the I’m a Mozillian! version of that video that played a part in me wanting to contribute to Mozilla. Seeing such a large number of people coming together with common purpose and self identifying as being part of something much bigger is quite powerful. Maybe there should be a follow up with lots of Mozillians trying to describe “what is a Mozillian” or “describe a Mozillian in three words”?

@digitalfredy - That website is really good - I have used it myself when people have expressed (through a question on the SUMO forum) that they want to get involved. I think that the split that you mention is more by team and obviously a Mozillian could identify with one or more different teams depending on the contribution they are making and how closely they identify with a particular group. For example, people may identify with Mozilla Hispano more than they identify with MDN. I would not suggest there is anything “wrong” with that, if anything it shows an active, multi-disciplinary community.

The term I generally use is “Volunteer Contributor” to introduce myself where I am using the Mozilla nametag.

The terms don’t need to be mutually exclusive and for me, it captures the appropriate essence. I don’t really like writing “Mozilla Representative”, which at least to me is often deceptive even if I am actually representing a specific subset. It normally conveys a different meaning to those not familiar with how things work within Mozilla.

Hi rabimba

Thank you for your thoughts, really interesting and I think you raise a good point about conveying meaning.

Since I wrote my original post, I have found myself having to explain to people what I do with Mozilla. Outside of what i do with SUMO, I am an event volunteer, so am used to describing myself as “a volunteer”, but when it comes to Mozilla, I have found myself going down one of three different routes:

  1. I am a Mozillian (when the subject is more brand related)
  2. I am a contributor to Mozilla (used more in conversation when explaining what I do with Mozilla)
  3. I am a MozFest volunteer

Is this the right way to view it? What do people think?

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You have mostly answered yourself. Among the three titles you use, Doesn’t the second one convey the most meaning in terms of functionality of your role as well as the capacity of your involvement? And beyond any doubt of misunderstanding?

Both the terms “Mozillain” and “Mozfest” are relatively niche and is known to a very limited audience, where mostly you probably don’t need to explain yourself normally. Whereas the second identification is more generic and universal.

My opinion

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