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Techies’ Guide to Volunteering in Seattle (Revisited)

We’re revisiting our first Techie’s Guide to Volunteering in Seattle. Read the first post here.

The Seattle metro area ranks #8 in the country in our rate of volunteerism, with 31.1% of residents giving time to causes and organizations we care about. It’s not exactly breaking news that our tech economy is booming, and Seattle ranks #4 in the country in the percentage of the workforce employed in tech. So with all this civic spirit and technical expertise, why do so many of our communities’ problems seem so difficult to solve?

While focusing on things like tax structure and elected officials can feel daunting, it can be empowering to focus on what’s within our direct control – what we do with the time we have and how we choose to engage with our communities. The purpose of this article is to provide some shortcuts so that you, the tech-savvy local reader, can more easily find volunteer opportunities that are personally fulfilling and make an impact in our communities.

There are a few forks in the road to contemplate when deciding what kind of volunteer engagement is right for you. The first is whether you want to use your most valuable skills when volunteering, or if you’d prefer to do something completely different from what you do all day at work. This is the choice between skills-based and experiential volunteering, and is the organizing factor for the graphic at the beginning of this article. Other considerations are the duration and intensity of your volunteer engagement, what issues you care most about, and whether you’re using volunteering to thaw the Seattle Freeze and make new friends.

Volunteer Marketplaces

There are several local organizations that have developed platforms that aggregate volunteer opportunities from other nonprofits. It’s easier to start by highlighting these platforms rather than trying to distill opportunities from the 10,000+ nonprofits operating in King County alone. For people looking to find a way roll up their sleeves and do some good on a random Saturday, check out The World Is Fun. Seattle Works also offers short-term experiential opportunities, but goes deeper by supporting longer-term team-building engagements through their Team Works program and training future leaders through their Bridge Board Training. The United Way of King County has the city’s largest database of volunteer opportunities from a wide range of nonprofit organizations, and supports personal development through their Emerging Leaders program. DemocracyLab’s platform launched last year and gives skilled volunteers an opportunity to easily find tech for good projects that match their skills and interest. Volunteers can contribute their talents in research, design, development, project management and more to help worthwhile tech projects launch or iterate.

Cohorts

If you’re looking to take a deep dive with a team of people to do extended work on a challenging project, consider joining a volunteer cohort. WTIA’s Ion program brings together a diverse set of team members to define a problem, then research, design, and implement a solution. The AIGA Changemaker Series chooses a cause each year and convenes designers to help nonprofits use design thinking, sustainable frameworks and creative tools to help advance their mission.

Community

For people who want to start by engaging active tech communities and letting the volunteering follow, New Tech Northwest is a great place to start. They have over 44,000 members and have a useful Giving Back and Making a Difference page. The Seattle Tech4Good Meetup has over 1,500 members and gathers for educational events focused on improving skills of tech volunteers. Open Seattle is the local Code for America Brigade that meets monthly and focuses on helping local government become more inclusive, accessible, accountable and efficient. 501 Commons is an extensive resource for nonprofits, and has run an Executive Service Corps to bring expertise to nonprofits for over 25 years.

Diversity

Lack of diversity in tech is a big problem, but it’s interesting to note that a recent report found that that tech for good is significantly more diverse than the industry as a whole. There are a number of things you can do to help move this needle. HERE Seattle connects people committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture in technology. WTIA has created an extensive list of tech diversity resources that highlights many other ways you can get involved and make a difference.

Education

Achieving greater diversity and inclusion in tech won’t happen overnight. Educating today’s youth is a slow but sure way to create lasting change. The Technology Access Foundation has worked to improve access to STEM and technology fields for students of color and underrepresented communities for the past twenty years. iUrbanTeen works to expose and inspire underrepresented youth to become tomorrow’s business and technology leaders through their iEngage, iLearn and iSucceed programs. Techbridge Girls excites, educates, and equips girls from low-income communities by delivering high quality STEM programming that empowers girls to achieve economic mobility and better life chances. SPIN is a network providing low-cost STEM programming through dynamic, centralized content creation and decentralized service delivery, with current opportunities for instructors and mentors. First Washington uses robotics to teach STEM concepts to youth ages 6-18. The Greater Foundation seeks to create upward mobility for at-risk youth through technology and entrepreneurship education.

Other Opportunities

For people who want to better understand how the gears of local government work, the Seattle City Club’s Civic Cocktails program provides an entry point to develop a deeper understanding of issues and the work being done to address them. Sea.citi engages Seattle’s leading tech employers to create programming for employees that reduces barriers to participation in volunteering and civic engagement. Current programs include the Greenlight Initiative benefiting public schools and the Innovators Engage campaign that includes a pledge to vote in the upcoming City Council elections. Tech4Housing focuses on helping tech employees be part of the solution to Seattle’s housing affordability and homelessness crises. The Seattle Hackathon Meetup maintains a list of upcoming opportunities for techies to come together to hack solutions to a variety of problems. Giving Tech Labs recently rolled out Giving Planner, a tool to help people plan and track their volunteer and philanthropic contributions. If you like using Mint to track your finances, you’ll like using Giving Planner to track the social impact you’re making.

This is, of course, only a small sampling of the extraordinary organizations working to make the Seattle area a place we’re proud to call home. In addition to giving back to the community, volunteering has tremendous personal benefits – helping connect you to others, improving physical and mental health, bringing fun and fulfillment to your life, and even advancing your career. So be the change you want to see. Do it for yourself. Do it for your community. Do it because you can, and you should. Find an opportunity that’s right for you and start making a difference today! 

Author

  • Mark Frischmuth

    Mark is the Executive Director of DemocracyLab, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization empowering a community of people and projects that use technology to advance the public good. Mark earned a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy from Miami University, and Master's degrees in Business Administration and Public Administration from the University of Washington. Mark is married and the father of two young daughters.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thanks for the comprehensive list of resources including Giving Planner. We hope to inspire a broader community of givers of time, talent and treasure. Together, we can make a huge impact and technology can be a catalyst for change.

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