I’ve been involved with various voluntary communities and societies over the years, and have always been interested in how they regulate and reward their members without there being any sort of financial reward mechanism.

I’m quite lucky to move in circles where financial reward is not the only motivating factor. Everyone needs to eat, but there is also a strong need to create, to help people, to be seen as being useful and to participate in something greater than one person could create on their own. These things motivate me quite a lot, and actually contribute towards why I like my day job so much. But the problem with everything I’ve mentioned is that is doesn’t work for everyone. Just like in the world of work, people need a number to associate with the contribution they make. This is usually represented by pay, but in the voluntary sector there has to be something else, which is why a lot of organisations develop a system to reward members with “points” that represent their standing in the society, and may also allow them access to other benefits.

I’m currently involved with both the Ubuntu community (in particular the Launchpad bug reporting and support software) and Camarilla UK (a live role-playing society), both of whom use some sort of non-financial reward mechanism. Launchpad has a karma system, where each time you deal with a bug or answer a question you get points (and more points if the end user agrees that you have indeed sorted their problem). Karma is listed on the profile of each member, so you can get a vague idea of how much each person has contributed. People who do a lot get thanked, talked about, and generally revered, which makes people feel like their contribution means something. Camarilla UK has a similar mechanism called Membership Class (MC) where people get points for everything above and beyond just turning up and playing games. MC can be used to have a more powerful starting character on the understanding that if you abuse it then you will lose both the character and some MC. In both systems it is assumed that members with a higher “score” will mentor newer members, and should act in a way befitting of a senior member of a community.

And that is where rules come in.

In the working world it is fairly straightforward. We have job descriptions and codes of conduct, and if we don’t adhere to them then we lose our jobs. In the voluntary sector there is no financial reward, but there still needs to be an expected standard of conduct and behaviour. Both societies I work with have a code of conduct, and both have roles and positions to which people can be appointed or elected to. So in some ways it works exactly like a job; just without the money. The one big difference is that Ubuntu doesn’t force people to sign the Code of Conduct (although there are certain things you can’t do until you’ve signed), whereas you can’t be a member of Camarilla UK without agreeing to abide by a (fairly common sense) set of rules. Both Codes of Conduct are very similar (Be excellent to everyone and don’t cause problems being the main themes), and they act more as a set of guidelines than a set of rules.

It could be said that we don’t need these things, but if you look at the number of societies that have folded due to internal squabbling or people not knowing where they stand then it is quite easy to see that we need rules and we need a way of saying “thank you” to people who give their time and their effort for free. I’ve certainly felt more involved in societies that have these things, but there is one more thing that is needed; great people who instill a sense of community and belonging with everything they contribute. Because let’s face it, one of the reasons we do these things is to meet other like minded people who understand that it is possible to thrive in a society that is not motivated by money.