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A commitment requires reserving some time. If you strongly believe you will enjoy what you are doing, consider your dedication of time. Time commitment is as little as 4 hours per week. Some volunteers may spend 15-30 hours per week contributing. Doing that level of commitment while holding down a proper day job is a difficult time management skill. As a volunteer, you should ask yourself whether you can devote 2-4 hours per week, even though it's less than an hour per day. Four hours a week for most people is an entire afternoon one day. That's a significant chunk of time.
After you've decided what you're looking to do and what team you are looking to do it with, it's time to send an introduction to the list. When sending an introduction (usually by mail list), include the following information:
As with other volunteer organizations, there are high turnover rates in the free software universe. Training volunteers is time consuming, especially for more complex tasks, and requires a commitment from currently busy volunteers. Spending days or weeks training someone only for them to vanish can be disheartening for mentors and sponsors. By giving out small tasks that have been hanging around, a sponsor can help you take small but vital steps, and learn whether or not the work you're going to be doing is really for you.
Audience for this document
Basic skills and experiences
Contributing
Don't be shy about asking questions and getting to know people. Plan to spend several days or even weeks attending meetings, emailing on mailing lists and hanging out on IRC before you get to do any actual work. Offer suggestions on topics being discussed, and share any experiences (good or bad) you've had that is relevant to the discussion.
Don't jump into the deep end
Find a mentor or sponsor
First and foremost, though, don't just vanish. When a contributor or potential contributor agrees to do work, can't follow through for a valid reason, and vanishes, the team may not know the work can be reassigned. In some cases, people in the team may even worry about the contributor's health or well being.
First contact
For example, if you're a database expert it is very unlikely you'll be given access to databases (where personal info, passwords, etc are stored) within your first several weeks of volunteering. If you're looking to become an ambassador, it is unlikely you'll get marketing materials shipped to you in your first week. This may seem unfortunate, but it's necessary to keep the project members working well together. The same can be said about any major changes, like a complete redesign of a system or a new look and feel for a website. Don't get discouraged. Show up as often as you can, and get to know the team.
Get permission from work and family
How much time you can contribute (usually hours per week)
How to be a successful contributor
If any of the above questions are not clearly answered, don't send the email yet. You're not ready. Remember, be specific about what type of work you're looking to do. Saying "Whatever needs to get done" isn't helping anyone. Saying "I'd like to help document system A," "I'd like to translate software for my native language," or "I noticed this webapp is particularly slow sometimes and I'd like to help fix that" is perfect.
If work says no, then you will have to volunteer in your own time. Your family may be enthusiastic to help you. Volunteering is very rewarding.
If you have access to a repository, system, or content, consider yourself a partial owner. This doesn't mean you should immediately re-design everything. Remember that other owners have time and effort invested in the current material as well. It does mean, though, that you should take pride in the work you are doing. If you see something not quite right, do research on it and notify the list. Seek work out, keep yourself busy and help others.
If you've found you've over-committed or decide volunteering isn't for you, that's OK. You don't need to be embarrassed that you can't contribute further. Contributors will not make you feel bad about it either. Realize that lots of contributors come and go every day. Being busy with your day job or not having enough free time is a perfectly valid reason for not being able to contribute. It's even possible that you might not feel a good fit with the team or organization. You're entitled to offer help as a volunteer how you want and when you want.
It is important to get to know the organization and teams you are looking to work with before you try to join them. Learn what they do and how they do it, and try to get to know the people involved. It is extremely unlikely you will be able to actually contribute from day one. In organizations with hundreds or thousands of people working together, understanding how things work is critical.