Volunteering Geeky Skills

It's a day on, not a day offYesterday was “a day on, not a day off” for many of us; then, President-elect (today, President) Obama called on Americans to serve their communities on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

A friend of mine here in Portland, Nate Angell, organized a geeky volunteer day, called Day On about a week ago. The twist, this is a geek’s day on:

On MLK Day, Monday, January 19, 2009, geek volunteers will congregate at CubeSpace to start answering questions from worthy nonprofit organizations. Volunteer in person at CubeSpace between 9am-5pm PT, or check back here at the Day On site to see all the ways you can help out remotely during our Day On.

Remember, you know more than you think you do and even if you help answer only one question, you’ll be an important part of Geeks Day On.

Having volunteered with several nonprofits, I know from first-hand experience that any technical skills can help, and just being proficient with a computer is often enough to make a difference.

As an example, I learned most of what I know about hosting and maintaining a web presence from volunteering for a nonprofit. I didn’t possess all the skills right away, but I learned as I went, making it a win-win proposition.

Relying on donations and volunteer time leaves the vast majority of nonprofits without any kind of IT or online marketing strategy at all; so, even the ability to sign up for and use a Twitter account could be beneficial. We take these things for granted as baseline knowledge.

Day On officially started yesterday, when we met at CubeSpace to pool our various skills. Nate’s call for nonprofits yielded a few walk-ins and a few questions online, and the ratio of geeks to nonprofits was really high. Still, Day On isn’t meant to be a one-day thing; it’s an ongoing way to volunteer your spare cycles.

Through the Day On site, requests for assistance are collected from nonprofits, and anyone can reply. You can monitor requests via RSS too, if that’s your style. Geeks enter profiles at Day On, including experience, so non-profits can browse by experience and engage geeks directly.

The model seems solid, so all that remains is the execution.

Of course, a big thanks to the Intertubes and Open Source for making outsourcing volunteering possible. It would be nice to see a network of geeky volunteers coalesce like an Open Source project; if you’ve ever wanted to contribute to an Open Source project, but feel nervous about your coding chops, this is a great way to get experience with a production environment and hone your skills.

Thanks to Nate for making this happen. Portland has a geeky culture that supports this type of effort; Beer and Blog started as a way for bloggers to help each other, over beer. It’s recently grown into all-day workshops on how to start and sustain a blog, End Bloglessness. The Legion of Tech puts on geeky events, like BarCamp Portland, completely sustained by volunteers and donations. Local user groups, like the Portland WordPress User Group, feature help from experts (a la Genius Bar).

Although this is part of the Portland culture, other regions can support this spirit. If you’re interested in joining Day On or starting any other geeky volunteer venture, find the comments.

Or just do it and let us know.




  1. You can contribute to Day On from anywhere, just as any nonprofit can join Day On and solicit help. Unlike B&B, there's no in person requirement. But, I'm sure Nate would welcome the spread of his idea into other time zones 🙂 He's @xolotl on Twitter.

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