A Techie’s Guide to Volunteering in Seattle

Stories of entitled tech bros dominate the media. They do exist. And so do people working in the tech industry who want to do good and give back. They often don’t know how or where to start. If you’re one of the latter, here’s a guide to where techies can go to volunteer.

I’ve created three major buckets of volunteer opportunities based on organizations I’ve encountered over the years as head of community engagement for Washington Technology Industry Association. If you know of other organizations that should be included, please let me know.

Getting more kids to go into tech

If you like kids and young people and you want to inspire them to go into the tech industry, you have a lot of organizations to choose from. Do you like hands-on learning? Do you have a competitive streak in you? You can coach a FIRST Washington team. The program exists in many schools throughout Washington and they are part of a national FIRST network. If you’re particularly interested in helping girls and kids of color, check out the Tech Diversity Champions infographic WTIA created in partnership with HERE Seattle. It lists over 30 organizations helping children from pre-K through college. IGNITE, Techbridge Girls, and Technology Access Foundation are always looking for mentors  and speakers to inspire their students.

Skilled-based volunteering

Interested in volunteering your technical, design, or project management skills? There are many civic tech organizations that engage tech volunteers to work with local nonprofits. If you want to work on a team of volunteers on a project, check out  Open Seattle, Seattle Data for Good, and AIGA Changemaker Series. Seattle Data for Good has over 1000 people on their Meetup list and they have a handful of projects like No School Violence you can join at any time. They meet on a monthly basis. The Changemaker Series chooses a different theme for each cohort.  

WTIA accepts volunteers working in tech, government, and community-based organizations for 6-month engagements with our collaboration development program, _ion. Instead of serving a nonprofit to start, the cross-sector, cross-functional _ion teams choose their problem and design their own project after an initial discovery stage.

501commons and Social Venture Partners connect those who want to volunteer in a consultant capacity to nonprofits. These two organizations are open to a broader range of professional functions as well. For the past two years, Zillow has organized a #SeaTech4Change Volunteer Fair to match techies with nonprofits. Interested in housing and homelessness issues? Check out Seattle Tech 4 Housing. Tech experts who want to support immigrants should go to WA Immigration Solidarity Network and the Welcome Back Center.

Do you only have a few hours, a day, or a weekend to spare? Seattle is home to many civic hackathons. Sign up for the Seattle Hackathon Meetup and you’ll get notifications of upcoming volunteer opportunities. Past hackathons include Hack to End Homelessness, Hack the Commute, and City for All. Seattle Give Camp is organized at Microsoft on an annual basis and connects developers with nonprofits. HERE Seattle organizes volunteers as well–sign up for their notifications. Every June, WTIA looks for recruiters and engineers to conduct mock interviews for job seekers for our Training Camp + Draft Day program.

In 2017, WTIA organized two cross sector collaboration conferences, FullConTech, that brought together tech, government, and the community. The first focused on civic collaboration and the second on the immigrant workforce. The resulting playbooks have a long list of resources on how to get involved.

Watch out for an upcoming effort by Democracy Lab to organize these civic tech volunteer opportunities into a portal. Many tech companies encourage their employees to self-organize volunteer teams. I know Amazon recently organized their employees to conduct mock interviews for job seekers from untraditional backgrounds. You should bring your ideas to your employers.

Non-technical skills based volunteering

You already work at the office and you don’t want to work in your off hours? Don’t worry. According to Seattle CityClub’s Civic Health Index, Seattle ranks top for volunteering.

You can join a team of techies to do non-techie things like street cleaning and tree planting through Seattle Works. Check out this Geekwire interview with their executive director Ben Reuler and what he says about the great contributions of techies who volunteer. United Way also has a great volunteer match portal. Both Seattle Works and United Way can point you to organizations that need board members too, if you prefer to take on a leadership role. Volunteer run nonprofits like HERE Seattle and Seattle Startup Week are always looking for more people to join their organizing teams.

New Tech Northwest is driving a Tech Coalition to End Homelessness and they organize monthly search and rescue trips with Union Gospel Mission you can join on a drop-in basis. I’ve been on one of these and it opened my eyes.  

Many tech companies organize special days to volunteer together and with the community. Ask your employer.

In case you’re like many people who aspire to volunteer more but you just don’t have the time, then know that any of these nonprofits would also greatly appreciate your donations. If you don’t have time or talent to give right now, give treasure.

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