What motivates a community to collaborate with you?

Jaime Arredondo
June 28, 2022

In previous articles we’ve seen what you can put in open source to start creating collaboration as well as how it can benefit your own project. You can find these articles here and here. And in the latest article, we saw where you can find a community who wants to collaborate, and how you can make it easy for them to contribute to the project. 

So by now, you should know who are the kinds of audiences you have to go look after to sell your idea and to build it collaboratively.

Once you’ve found people willing to pay for your services and download your open source content, it’s time to invite your peers to contribute.

But why will people contribute to your project?

It’s not enough to give them your idea. They will also have to see a benefit in doing so. 

And if you don’t design these win-win relationship beforehand, you’ll be releasing a work where you’ve invested time, sweat and tears without being able to get anybody on board.

But if you can get them to understand what’s in it for them, this will make your open content more valuable, and will also attract an audience even more contributors want to reach. Building a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle of contributions.

Today we’re going to see how you can reward your community and motivate it to contribute to an open project.


Let’s check out what are the main benefits you can offer to invite your community to join your project:

Access to new powerful ideas they can reuse to make or save money

If you’ve created something that others are willing to pay money for, or you are releasing freely an alternative to something people are already paying for, it’s very likely you’ll find users ready to re-use your tech for their own benefit, either because it can help them make money, or save money.

Linux, Ubuntu or Red Hat are open alternatives to Windows or Mac OS, and it has become the main solution in the server market.

Unsplash is the open alternative to Shutterstock, Photolia or Getty Images, and it’s already serving more photos than all of them together.

Tesla has released its patents for free so other car manufacturer can re-use their technology to help them create an electric charger infrastructure without having to reinvent designs of their own.

Logodust releases free logos that can be reused in website mockups, instead of having to pay an agency for a logo.

Wordpress released a free and easy to enhance alternative to the paying and uncustomizable blog services that were out there when they launched.

So by releasing a free alternative that others can use for their businesses, these projects are getting an immense adoption and ecosystems are building around them.

Could your idea be a powerful alternative to closed business tools that helps others make or save money?

Gaining Visibility towards a large audience to make money

Let’s look at Unsplash as an example: at the beginning, photographers could post ten photos every ten days on Unsplash if they had been approved. That’s when Unsplash took off to another level. 

But why would photographers give for free photographs they put so much effort into?

There are many reasons, but the main one, is that Unsplash was able to show them that giving photographs that were probably going to be sitting in their hard-drives could help them piggyback on the massive audience Unsplash has created.

Photographers report they’re getting client work booked after posting just a couple photos on Unsplash. Others have been flown around the world on photoshoots. Some have gotten enough work to leave their jobs and become full-time photographers. Some have been able to build audiences for new products. And every contributor Unsplash spoke to has enjoyed the impact their photography has made toward moving creativity forward.

Today, a photo featured on Unsplash is seen more than a photo on any other platform. More than on Instagram. More than on the front page of the New York Times. And all thanks to the collaborative nature of the website.

As you can see in this screenshot, it’s not unusual to see Unsplash photographers get hundreds of thousands, and even millions of views on their work. There is a high chance that, in this huge audience, someone who used their pictures for their website will want to pay them to create a custom campaign for them.

Photographers no longer need to come with an audience or have an agent to be great. Unsplash brings an audience to them.

“As an independent designer myself, I understand you can’t do everything for exposure because exposure doesn’t pay the bills. But to completely dismiss the value of exposure doesn’t make sense either.

All artists need an audience to survive. Why do we spend time posting on Instagram if we don’t get paid for it? Because those posts build an audience over time.” says Mikael Cho, Unsplash’s founder.

Open Source platforms can open up an opportunity for so many people to share their craft with huge audiences instantly. New platforms create a distribution channel and community that would be impossible to gather otherwise.

And there are plenty more examples of open projects serving as platforms to create visibility for their contributors.

Wordpress is a huge platform for theme and plugin developers to become visible for its millions of blog creators.

Adafruit and Arduino are constantly showing and documenting what their contributors do. One example is Adafruit’s Show and Tell show organised weekly to showcase what makers from all around the world come in are doing on their electronic projects.

Bootstrap has opened a theme marketplace to sell curated ready-made themes

As we’ve seen, FreeCodeCamp has opened its Medium publication to other writers. This way the publication gets quality content published, and in exchange the writers get their articles seen by an enormous audience of over 550,000 followers that would have taken them years to build.

Can you open your own design or creative media to gather a large audience that can then serve as a podium for others to showcase their work? Can you open your idea to their contribution to make it even more relevant and powerful like Free Code Camp or Unsplash or Adafruit, and even sell the services of other professionals like Wordpress or Bootstrap?

Learning new Skills

Besides gaining visibility, another powerful motivation to entering and contributing back to a community is to learn powerful skills. 

Ubuntu has been putting useful tutorials on how to use their technology to advance one’s skills, from creating a bootable USB stick with their OS, to installing Ubuntu on a server.

TED’s guide shows people how to organize their events, whether it’s with their brand or not. But once people see the power of their guide, and how much easier it would be to attract people to their events with the TEDx brand, it makes a lot of sense to organize a TEDx event and to create content that TED can curate and reuse in creative commons.

Adafruit also got its initial community by posting DIY tutorials for her projects on her personal website. Soon, a crowd of viewers bombarded her email inbox with requests to sell pre-assembled kits of the electronics she showed in her tutorials. And that’s how Adafruit’s business started.

Or Ethereum has many tutorials on how to start your own crypto-token, how to do a crowdsale, or how to build a Decentralized Autonomous Organization with their technology. All things that are interesting to their audience.

Teaching new skills to your community has two advantages: 

  1. You get people to learn about your culture and if they learn this new skill with you, it’s likely they’ll stick around for more and you’ll build a loyal audience attracted by your generosity.
  2. And once people go through the learning and advance their skill set, they can contribute back to improve the project with you.

What new skills have you mastered to a community of like-minded folks could you teach? Would these help them improve their careers or help them develop their purpose? 

Meet new like-minded people and practice together for a worthy cause

Meeting people who share our same goals is always a great motivator. The Free Code Camp community has created  84 meetup groups all around the world so they could meet other people trying to learn how to code with others. 

And there are countless other groups that gather people who want to change the world. 

Ouishare and Makesense gathers people who want to create a more collaborative society through their Drink events or their Summits. Repair Café or the Restart Project gathers people who want to stop creating waste.

Incredible Edible gathers people who want to green their cities. Precious Plastic gathers people who want to stop plastic waste through upcycling. Let’s Do it organizes country-wide events to invite people to clean their cities and nature.

And youngsters like Greta Thunberg or Victor Noel, who are 16 and 14 years old, are leading movements of people to strike to stop climate change and to preserve biodiversity.

If you are looking to advance a cause and you feel like you are alone, you probably want to invite others to jump in. They might also be expecting someone to lead and gather a tribe that works to change the status quo.  And people won’t do it for the money. They do it because it makes sense to them.

What do you feel should change in the way things work? Are there others who want the same change? If so, How could you invite them to work towards this mission together?  


Now you know how to motivate communities to collaborate with you and help you spread the impact you’re looking for in the world.

The next step would be to find how to enable this collaboration.

In the next article we’ll see what channels you can create and enable the interactions needed to work together.

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Photo by Allie Smith

Written by:
Jaime Arredondo
Creator at Bold & Open. Deconstructing how to turn radical ideas into transformative impact.

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