I'm a big fan of supporting non-profit organizations. It's in our DNA as humans. We give birthday presents, give rides to the airport, give time to mow someone's lawn, give our money to causes we believe in. We serve in various capacities in our communities, or maybe sit on the board of a non-profit organization. We do it because we believe it is the right thing to do.
There's so many organizations doing great and wonderful things for our communities and individuals throughout the world. Some of those organizations are large, well funded, and probably have good sized technology organizations to help support them. But there's a large number of organizations out there that are small, struggling to figure out how to spend their limited money in the most effective way for their mission.
A few weeks ago I participated in Seattle GiveCamp. It was a part of a larger GiveCamp weekend happening in 14 cities across the United States. 2011 was the fourth year GiveCamp has been held, and there were more projects built for non-profit organizations this year than had been built in the previous three years combined. In Seattle, we had 50 volunteers working on 22 projects for 20 different local charities. We started at 5PM on Friday night and wrapped up at 5PM Sunday. John Bennett was also signed up for the GiveCamp happening in NYC.
I worked on building a donor management system for two different charities: AtWork! Washington and the Haiti Sustainable Development Foundation. Both charities had been using a series of spreadsheets that were emailed among different users to keep track of their donations and donors. You can imagine the pain of trying to keep that kind of a system straight...
Being primarily a .Net developer, I'll admit I had a little anxiety going into the weekend. What if the team I was working with wanted to use Rails? Or Java? I figured it would be a great learning experience either way.
I ended up coming away having learned several things:
- There are a lot of developers out there that have a passion for helping non-profits in their free time. This was my first time at an event like this, but many of the volunteers have done stuff like this together previously.
- The night before our kickoff, Microsoft released a ton of goodies: ASP.NET MVC 3, SQL Compact Edition 4, NuGet, IIS Express 7.5, WebMatrix, etc. That stuff enabled me to prototype a web based donor system in just a few hours. Awesome stuff!
- Build vs. Buy: Salesforce.com provides non-profit organizations 10 user licenses for free and discounts on additional licenses. There is also an open-source Non-Profit Starter Pack project that applies non-profit centric customizations on top of Salesforce.com. In the end we leveraged this for our solution. Turned out all of our work was already done for us! All we needed to do was some minor customizations and prepare some training materials.
- Non-profits have technology needs just like businesses do. Every dollar they spend towards that necessary "stuff" is a dollar that they cannot put towards fulfilling their mission. The people who run these organizations are extremely grateful for the people who organize and work at events like GiveCamp or dotOrg Weekend. It makes their organizations more effective and able to focus on what really matters to them.
- Accomplishing stuff in a weekend is great. I love the fast pace and desire to get stuff done!
- Giving of my time is a very fulfilling act of service.
Consider giving your skills and expertise to a cause that is near to your heart, or to any organization that has a need. You really can make a big impact in your community and in the world.
Msnbc.com has a Giving Program as one of the benefits for employees. Msnbc.com matches up to $12,000 annually for employee's cash donations to eligible organizations. What a great way to get more bang for your buck! If I give $100 to the King County Boy's and Girls Club, they actually get $200. Sweet!