Jarek Jarzębowski
14 minutes
January 18, 2024

Cultivating Long-Term Engagement in Your Champions Program: Conversation with Luca Buchholz from Camunda

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In today's digitally connected world, building a robust community around a brand or platform has become more important than ever. But how do you encourage active participation and ensure that members are engaged, valued, and heard? Enter the Camunda Champion Program, an initiative designed to recognize and empower active community members. 

This article dives deep into the philosophy and strategy behind the Camunda Champion Program, exploring topics like impostor syndrome, the term “champion,” and the significance of long-term relationships in building a vibrant community with Luca Bahchollz an independent consultant and coach, formely global community lead at Camunda.

Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Beginnings of program

Program was introduced to formally recognize and support active contributors in their community. The program is overseen by a developer relations team, and they use software to monitor engagement. Starting with 10 champions, the program has since expanded to include 35. Each application round sees around 25 to 30 applications, and there have been four rounds to date. Champions are involved in the program for a year, with the possibility of renewal based on their activity.


The pandemic made it difficult to organize face-to-face events, but they've since been able to host successful conferences. Another challenge was clarifying the expectations from a "champion", so that participants didn't feel they were being used for marketing.

Champion vs. Ambassador

The Champion program is not a typical ambassador program. While ambassador programs are often financially incentivized and aimed at brand awareness, their Champion program is about community engagement.

Future & Quality Control

For the future, the intention is to offer more resources to champions to support their projects. To maintain the program's integrity, there's a committee in place to review applications, assessing them based on contributions, expertise, enthusiasm, and a willingness to aid others.

Conversation with Luca Buchholz

The shortened transcript below delves into the intricacies of launching an ambassador program, its progression over time, and the significance of recognizing contributors. For a comprehensive understanding and to grasp the finer details of their discussion, make sure to listen to the entire episode available on Advocu Podcast.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Hello, Luca, and welcome to our podcast. For our listeners who may not be familiar with you, could you please introduce yourself and share what do you do?

Luca Buchholz: Of course. Thank you. My name is Luca, and I'm based in Berlin. I work at Camunda, a software company focused on process orchestration. On a personal level, I've always been extremely passionate about building meaningful relationships and programs that genuinely help others thrive.

I believe this passion is one of the reasons why I initially came up with the idea for the Camunda Champion program. I'm really excited to discuss the program with you today, and thank you so much for having me.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Before we dive into the Camunda program, could you share what you were doing before joining Camunda?

Luca Buchholz: Certainly. I've been at Camunda for about five years, which feels like a long time. During this period, I've switched roles within the company. My background is mainly in marketing. Even before entering the tech industry, my focus has always been on community building. Over the years, I've created various types of programs.

Jarek Jarzębowski: It sounds like you've been in the community management sector for quite some time, making you a veteran, especially given how new this field is in the tech industry.

Jarek Jarzębowski: You're currently responsible for the Camunda Champions program, correct?

Luca Buchholz: Yes,. I launched the program about two years ago, although it was a team effort and involved collaboration with other talented people within the company.

Jarek Jarzębowski: How many people are involved in running the program at the moment?

Luca Buchholz: We have a developer relations team of nine people, and I'm the one primarily responsible for the program. However, everyone on the team is involved to some extent. We aim to connect champions with various team members and have other team members join our Champion events for more comprehensive support.

Luca Buchholz: There's also a team that reviews applications once they're submitted. While I may be the main person running the program, the whole team is involved.

Jarek Jarzębowski: And you've mentioned two years. It's easy to start the program. It's easy to even run it for a year, but to run it for two or more years, you need to show the value of the program. You need to show some progress towards the goal. So probably it is going at least pretty well. Let's start with the goals then. What were the goals initially when you were starting the program? Why did you start the program?

Luca Buchholz: Yeah, I think that is always super important to ask yourself, why do you even start a program? Because I think sometimes I mean, it is super obvious, but it is something that sometimes is missing, right? So really asking yourself, why do I even need this program? Does it make sense? And is it actually worth establishing the program? Because maybe you have particular goals and you can meet them by doing something else even more easily. But for us, it was definitely the case that we were always super lucky to have a really invested and dedicated community. We have a lot of people who contribute to the community on a regular basis, for example by contributing code, by creating content, by supporting others within the community, for example in our forums. Or we also have a lot of meetup organizers in our community who organize meetups all around the world on a regular basis. So we always knew that we are really lucky. But we really wanted to find a way to reward these individuals and to really show them the appreciation that we have for what they do, because they invest a lot of time and effort into the community. And this is what we really wanted to reward in a more formalized way. And I think definitely an important goal for us in the beginning was also really identifying these contributors because I think we always knew that we have a lot of people contributing to the community but sometimes we didn't know exactly who these people are or it was really subjective. Maybe one person out of the team knew person X really well and then another person knew another person really well. And for us it was really about identifying who are actually these people and we wanted to connect with them further and really wanted to build a relationship with them. And then yes, obviously we wanted to reward people, so we wanted to make them feel appreciated and then also support these individuals along their journey. So we wanted to support them better, to support other community members better by, for example, offering resources and things like that. So I think these were the main three goals in the beginning.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Let me deviate a bit. You mentioned you already had an established community. Do you think having such a community is a prerequisite for starting a program?

Luca Buchholz: Not necessarily. While we were already quite mature in terms of our community when we launched the program, I know of other programs that started at earlier stages. Those programs were more about encouraging engagement and potentially accelerating community growth.

Jarek Jarzębowski: getting back to the goals you've mentioned, such goals are often not that easy to track because they are intangible. These are not financial goals, these are not numbers that you can easily track. How did you approach it? How did you think about tracking progress of the program?

Luca Buchholz: That's definitely a challenge in the community industry. To address it, we've implemented both internal and external tracking methods. Internally, we conduct surveys every six months to gauge members' feelings about the program. Externally, we track the types of contributions made, be it events, content, or code.

We've noticed that our champions tend to contribute even more since joining the program. It's an intrinsic motivation for them, boosted by the dedicated support we offer through the program.

Jarek Jarzębowski: How many champions are currently part of your program?

Luca Buchholz: We currently have 35 champions.

Jarek Jarzębowski: How many contributions do they bring to the table? Let's say, quarterly, monthly? And how do you track it?

Luca Buchholz: That's actually a good question. I can't break it down monthly, but we definitely have a contribution form where it's more about content contribution.
For example, not code contributions, but things like blog posts, events, and such. I think we have almost 300 contributions tracked over the entire course of two years.
But also, not everything is tracked because we obviously have a lot of code contributions and personal interactions. We conduct feedback sessions where people participate, and these are activities we're also tracking.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Have you seen any changes since the beginning of the program? At first, it was one way, and now it's evolved?

Luca Buchholz: Absolutely. It's always a work in progress. At the outset, we had to think about why we even needed this program and what our goals were. One thing that's super important is to involve the people you're creating the program for, right from the start, which is what we did.

Before launching, we asked people for feedback. We inquired if this was something they'd be interested in joining and what they'd do differently. Their feedback was immensely valuable for us in fine-tuning the program.
Initially, we welcomed a lot of people we knew who had been active community members for a long time. Over time, we've seen more people apply to the program who we hadn't been in touch with before, which is great because it helps us discover new members in our community.
Absolutely, that's one significant change. Another is that we've expanded our offerings. For example, we have a Slack workspace for everyone to connect, and we invite people to our annual conferences for face-to-face interactions. One of the things definitely that we are doing now is that in the beginning we hosted a lot of events where we informed people about things that have been happening, which is super important, for sure. But also we now want to encourage more collaboration amongst other champions because they always said they want to get to know each other better because it's a group of people who also some of them know each other well, but some of them they have never met. So this is definitely one of the things that we are working on right now. That they also collaborate more with each other and then in turn that they can support others within the community.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Considering you started two years ago, which was a more challenging time due to COVID, has the situation affected your program? Specifically, regarding the conferences and meetups you've mentioned.

Luca Buchholz: Yes, the pandemic did impact us. So when we launched the program, obviously everything was way more restricted in terms of meeting in real life. Something that I have to say is that we have champions all around the world. So we have people in Brazil, we have people all across Europe. They are really spread out, which obviously makes it harder to meet in real life anyway. So something for us, definitely with the program, I know that a lot of people are always really interested in meeting in real life, but most of the things that we are doing, they will stay virtual either way because everyone is so distributed. Also really interested in gathering virtually. And this is something I think we can all tell that right when COVID hit, everyone was super interested to meet virtually and join a lot of zoom calls and do nice activities virtually.

But now definitely we also get the feedback that people are super interested in gathering in real life because I think it just creates also a different kind of connection when you have met before. So, in October, actually, we had a big conference. It's called CamundaCon. This is like an annual conference that we host as a company. And that was the first time since we launched the Champion program where people gathered in real life. And that was actually such a nice atmosphere and people were really looking forward to it.

And we get really good feedback for that. And you can really tell after this conference that people are closer. The people who have been there, not everyone joined, but obviously this is definitely something that we want to focus on more.And we have right now two conferences a year. So one will be now in Berlin and then actually in Autumn, it will be in New York. And we always offer free tickets to our Champions. We definitely see the value of that.

Jarek Jarzębowski: That's great to hear. What's the future for your program? Do you plan on scaling it? Right now, you mentioned having 35 people. Do you see it growing to, say, 3000?

Luca Buchholz: We're definitely open to growing the program, but we're more focused on adding value for our existing members. We initially had application rounds every six months, but now we've moved to a yearly cycle so we can focus on improving the program throughout the year.

Jarek Jarzębowski: That's really interesting. I recently spoke to another program manager who's looking to switch to ongoing recruitment, so it's fascinating to see different approaches to similar challenges. Can you share how many applications you usually get?

Luca Buchholz: We started with ten champions in the first batch. At that time, we didn't have many additional applications because the program was not well-known. However, the number of applications has grown a bit each round, and last time we had around 30. It's worth noting that we haven't been actively recruiting as much as we did at the beginning.

If you see that there is someone who would be good for the program, it's important to note that we've gotten feedback from people saying that some individuals, whom we saw as 100% champions, didn't apply because they weren't sure if they are champions. The term "champion" does put a lot of pressure on you, right? So, I think it's definitely super important to really reach out to people and encourage them to apply if you see that they would be a great fit for the program.We did this less often in the past. So far, we've had four rounds, and each time we received around 25 to 30 applications. Currently, we have 35 champions. People stay in the program for one year, and they can renew their status if they stay active during that time. Our goal is to keep people in the program and build long-lasting relationships. It also serves as a good check-in point to see if they're still committed. We assess past behavior, rather than setting hard expectations. We want to understand what they're interested in doing.

Jarek Jarzębowski: On the note that some people don't see themselves as champions—well, impostor syndrome is strong and it's often felt by people who are actually experts. But you've decided to call your program the Champions Program. We briefly discussed that there are many names for such programs, like ambassador programs, champions programs, expert programs, and many others. What are the differences, in your opinion? Are these interchangeable, or do you see them as separate programs with separate ideas?

Luca Buchholz: That's a really good point. There are a lot of different names, such as ambassador programs, super user programs, and top contributor programs. I don't see the Camunda Champion Program as a typical ambassador program. For me, an ambassador program is often financially incentivized and aimed directly at increasing brand awareness and sales. Our measure of success isn't sales or brand awareness. It's about engagement. We look at how active people have been in the past year and then communicate what is expected if they want to stay in the program.

If you want to stay in the program, you do need to stay active, but we don't specify that you have to, for example, write five blog posts or give ten presentations. That's not a reasonable expectation for our champions.

A classic ambassador program works differently. There's a lot of expectation that comes with the term "champion." Some people love it, and some don't. But you can decide what you want to call your super users. It's always interesting to consult the community, because it's their program, not just ours.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So you want to grow the program in both numbers and quality. You're opening the application process once a year to focus on quality. How do you plan on improving the program's quality?

Luca Buchholz: As a program manager, you always want to improve. We've added rewards, for example. But what we're really focusing on now is providing more resources to our champions. It makes it easier for them to contribute to the community.

Quality varies depending on what you're looking for. We want to amplify their contributions and support them in their endeavors.

We have a champion committee that reviews applications, looking at their contributions, expertise, enthusiasm, and willingness to support others.

After one year, we do a check-in. At that point, we either renew their status or offboard them from the program.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Have you made any mistakes that were perhaps avoidable, which you could share to help others who are starting their own programs?

Luca Buchholz: When starting a new program, you'll never get everything right. But it's important to be open to making mistakes. What has helped me the most is staying in touch with community members.

I think this is something what we always want to do, that we always try things out and then see how they work. But definitely something that I always try to do is trying things out and then asking people, getting feedback, and then also let go of things if they don't work. And I'm sure that we did different things that didn't work, like, super well in the beginning. I also think of something for example regarding rewards I sometimes feel w expected maybe people would really love this or that and are into badges or whatever, because you see that everywhere. 

 When you read about Champion programs, you have to create a lot of badges, and people are interested in that. But we found out our Champions are way more interested in connecting with each other, finding out about what other people are up to. And it's really about this community spirit. And also, I think something, for example, where we really had to be clear is, for example, this Champion term, exactly what we talked about before, an ambassador program, it's different to a super user program. And I think this is maybe something right in the beginning, we kind of yeah, maybe you have to be really clear what you expect from people, but also make sure they are not your marketing people or whatever, so they don't feel that you are using them for something or making use of them, but that it's really about creating value for that. And also communicate that within the company and also make sure this is something we have the Champion program for. But maybe this is also something that we cannot do because our goal is not to directly drive sales and this is not how we are measuring it.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Thank you, Luca, for your openness and for sharing your experience. Let's talk again in six or seven months for round two.

Luca Buchholz: I would love that. Thank you so much for inviting me. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Camunda Champions Program Overview 

Camunda Champions are loyal, helpful and collaborative community members who actively support the Camunda Community by answering questions, speaking at events, publishing content or contributing to online communities.
Camunda Champion Program

Key Components

Contribution Mechanics: To become a Camunda Champion, one applies with their Camunda Discord, GitHub, and social media credentials, showcasing their notable community contributions. The title isn't about mastering Camunda tools, but significant engagement with the community.

Awards & Recognition: Champions relish exclusive swag, like the unique disco bag from the Camunda Community Summit. They're also privy to special events, networking opportunities, and deep appreciation. Through the “Developer Relations” facet, champions experience genuine connections, discussing not just Camunda but myriad topics.

Resources: Being a Camunda Champion is a journey of learning and engagement. While proficiency varies across Camunda tools, the emphasis is on discovery and passion. The title lasts a year, highlighting continuous community involvement rather than mere perk-driven participation.

🔗 Further Information

Closing Thoughts

Navigating the landscape of community engagement is no small feat. From selecting the right terminology to setting realistic expectations and measuring success in ways that matter, every aspect has its complexities. The Camunda Champion Program serves as an exemplary case study for how thoughtful program design and effective communication can lead to a vibrant, engaged community. As Luca Buchholz and Jarek Jarzębowski have illuminated, a champion program is not just about numbers or sales; it's about building lasting relationships and offering genuine value to the community members who make it all possible.

It's clear that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, and that's why constant evolution and active listening are key to any successful community program. With insights from the trenches of community management, this article has aimed to offer a comprehensive view of what it takes to build a truly impactful champions program.

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