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Volunteering offers many benefits, from connecting with the community to learning new skills, but what drives a techie to give their time? Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) decided to find out.
We checked in with three organizations that work with a large numbers of volunteers who are members of Seattle’s tech community: Seattle Works, United Way of King County, and Social Venture Partners.
Despite the large population of workers, we landed on several common themes.
Reason #1: To Connect
Seattle is known for its large influx of tech transplants. People flock to the Emerald City for a variety of career opportunities, from small startups to behemoth corporations.
“Tech folk who have just moved to Seattle are frequently painted as new, not connected to their local community,” said Liahann Bannerman, Volunteer Center Director at United Way of King County (UWKC). “I don’t necessarily see that. I see a lot of people that are striving to connect with the community, and make this place somewhere to live beyond their first job.”
Other techies are looking to find people they can relate to and connect with.
Ben Reuler, Executive Director at Seattle Works, said “Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Millennials are coming in droves. Many people are new to this region; no roots, no networks, no real history to the community. Many are 35 and under. There is a deep motivation to act locally and connect with the community, and answer the yearning for human connection and sense of purpose.”
Reason #2: To Find Variety and Meaning
Bannerman said many tech volunteers like to use skills different from what they use during their day job.
“If you're coding all day, you might want to dig in the garden for a nonprofit,” said Bannerman. “Tech workers don’t want to keep doing tech things. They want to use some muscles that don't require them to sit in a chair. A good variety can lead to being around other volunteers, meeting new people, and getting introduced to people outside of tech.”
UWKC's income tax program trains people to help with low-income free tax credit preparation. Volunteers get to have a face-to-face interaction with people seeking the tax credit and help them understand it. This program results in many people being able to access an earned income tax credit.
“These volunteers get to have a direct, personal experience," Bannerman said. "There’s that opportunity to see the result at the end, and for many nonprofits thats hard. The more that you can show the result, the stronger the connection to the volunteers. You're dealing with human beings here.”
Natural curiosity is another driver for techies.
Rebecca Stephens, who leads partner engagement and fundraising efforts for Social Venture Partners Seattle, says the opportunity to learn something new motivates techies to volunteer.
“There’s a lot of educational opportunities when working with SVP,” said Stephens. “We’d prefer volunteers that have a sense of wanting to learn about new skills that can lead to helping others.”
Reason #3: To Problem Solve
Volunteering is an opportunity to make change and Stephens said volunteers from tech typically want to provide solutions.
“What we’ve found in tech employees is that they’re builders and problem-solvers,” she said. “They have a want to be engaged with an organization that will share the challenges that they are having.”
Bannerman believes that techies like tackling difficult issues.
“Volunteers don’t just want projects that are the easiest tasks or something anyone with opposable thumbs can do,” she said “They really want to utilize their skills to the fullest.”
Many people in tech are natural innovators, looking to solve issues using innovation. But from time to time, it may get in the way of understanding why an organization operates in a way that they themselves may not see as ideal.
“There’s a strong desire for tech employees to use innovative technology to disrupt the local market,” Stephens said. “To do this in a different better way, you need to understand the context that nonprofits operate in, the complexity of the sector. We encourage partners to use a systems lens; there's a reason this system process exists to address issues.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, start your search at Giving Compass.