Site icon Dan Soschin

Digital Volunteerism

Traditionally, when I think of volunteering, two general themes come to mind. First, I think about opportunities to physically assist someone or some organization, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter, cleaning up a highway, or staffing an event at your child’s school. Second, I think about local opportunities, such as what groups nearby need my help. These two themes are intertwined, of course. Because, when we think about volunteering, we typically think about volunteering locally through a nonprofit, religious organization, or otherwise.

These are all very noble endeavors. There is no doubt in my mind that these organizations need help.

But sometimes we cannot help. Be it because we, ourselves, are limited in some way that precludes us from helping. Perhaps we have a physical, mental, or economic challenge we are dealing with that distracts or even prevents us from lending a hand. Maybe volunteering in person is just not the right fit for who we are as an individual, or our skillset.

Some people have a lot of money and very little time, so they choose to write “checks” to organizations as a show of support. That’s okay too.

I’m here to say that all of this is perfectly okay.

Philanthropy is not about a benchmark – you give what you can – and it doesn’t matter if you cannot give a lot compared to your neighbor.

But, there’s another way to give, and it’s called digital philanthropy. Instead of volunteering on your feet on the side of the highway or along the sandy shores of beach doing cleanup, you can contribute to something that is also impactful – open source software.

Now you might be thinking that contributing to software is not volunteering and should not be equated to volunteering at a hospital visiting sick children. I’m not here to opine on what is equivalent to what. Draw your own conclusions, if you must and I will not judge you. But open source software, like WordPress, can empower individuals through the freedom and democracy of publishing. That’s a fairly noble cause (I have bias, of course, because that’s where I contribute some of my time.)

The foundation of open source software is the idea that it “belongs to the community” and that the power of community produces something better (when compared to a closed and proprietary system). By drawing on a global community of volunteers to create a software product, it benefits from broader perspectives and skillsets.

If you want to learn more about what open source software is and why it is so important, here are some great introductions, both using Legos (I have two kids who are into Legos, so this is very relevant to me right now.) If Legos are not your thing, go to YouTube and type “open source software” and you’ll find more than a dozen great primers on open source software.

Open source as explained by Socialsquare using Legos
Open Source explained via Legos by Danielle Thé

Here’s an article by Google entitled, “Why Open Source” which goes a bit deeper.

And finally, here’s a verbatim excerpt from my employer, Automattic, that sponsors my time spent contributing to the WordPress open source project and community:

We believe in democratizing publishing and the freedoms that come with open source. Supporting this idea is a large community of people collaborating on and contributing to this project. The WordPress community is welcoming and inclusive. Our contributors’ passion drives the success of WordPress which, in turn, helps you reach your goals.

But now to my actual point (sorry it took so long to get there – but I wanted to catch you up.) Anyone can contribute to open source software, especially WordPress. You do not need to be a software developer! You can be a designer, a user experience expert, an accessibility specialist, a writer, a site creator, a publisher, or a translator. Certainly I’m missing something here, but you get the idea – you don’t need to be a programmer and you don’t need to know programming languages. If you do, good for you! If not, you can still volunteer your time in other ways.

For example, in the WordPress project, we power more than 40-percent of the world’s websites (as of 2021). That’s a lot of websites. To get there, WordPress has been translated into more than 70 languages (90% or more) and another 40+ languages have been completed at least 50-percent or more. Many of the contributors that work on translating WordPress are not programmers, they just happen to know more than one language (usually English plus another language).

So, if you want to become part of one of the largest open source software projects in history, even if you do not have programming skills, you can.

And, if you happen to speak more than one language, there’s a great opportunity awaiting you with WordPress. If you are interested in learning more, check out or send me a message. If you would like to help translate WordPress, there’s a call for contributors right now.

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