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You probably know TechSoup's hardware and software donation programs. But did you know about NetSquared, our volunteer-driven network of in-person nonprofit technology training and peer support events?
NetSquared has groups in 20 countries, and it held over 600 events last year, helping more than 17,000 nonprofit employees, board members, volunteers, and community leaders with technology.
Want to know if NetSquared is right for you? Meet a few of the people who make this volunteer network work.
Eli van der Giessen is TechSoup's Netsquared community manager. He tirelessly organizes volunteers for Netsquared events all across the world.
In a nutshell, what drives Eli is his preference for getting things done rather than thinking about getting things done. He likes to work with volunteers because they're passionate about the work, just like him. Here's how Eli got his start as a NetSquared organizer, in his own words.
When I was in my 20s, I had two groups of friends: nerds and activist hippies. There was no crossover between the groups, and I kept these two communities and parts of me separate like matter and antimatter (that's the nerd talking!).
When I moved to Vancouver in 2007, my employer sent me to the Web of Change Conference (they noticed that their volunteer manager kept asking why the database was broken), where I first encountered the progressive nonprofit tech community. IT BLEW MY MIND!
It may not seem strange you, being worldly and reading this in 2016, but for me the idea that nerds and activists could co-exist or even be the same person had never crossed my mind. These communities had always been oil and water in my mind. Activists are anti-technology: that's what I had learned growing up on a hippy commune.
I discovered an entire new universe that week at Web of Change and it changed the course of my life irrevocably.
The friendly conference attendees scoffed at my naiveté and recommended that I start attending Vancouver's NetSquared, which had recently been formed. I did. And I learned, while sitting quietly in the back.
But after a few months the organizer (Joe Solomon, who went on to 350.org and #GreenMemes) left town. The idea of the group folding was too tragic, so I volunteered to take it over. And six years later here I am!
But WHY did I decide to take on NetSquared Vancouver?
I was in a new city and I didn't know anybody. I discovered that being a NetSquared organizer turned me into a community hub — I quickly met all the key players in the sector, many of whom have become friends. It can be hard to find fellow #nptech-ies, but hosting a NetSquared group brought them to me.
I had learned a lot at the local meetup. The best way to learn more was to schedule more events! And this time I could guarantee that I'd be interested in the topic, because I was planning it. "Scratch your own itch," they always say. :-)
As I developed my career in nonprofit tech, I quickly realized that being a NetSquared organizer was doing wonders for my reputation. People (irrationally!) assumed that I was an expert on every topic I had a speaker present on! I started to receive job offers.
I can get really quiet in a group of people, unless I have a clearly defined role. Being the host of a meetup gives me an "in" to talk with people.
I spent my 20s doing production on large outdoor festivals and I didn't want my event expertise to atrophy. Planning a monthly NetSquared meetup (with my co-organizers) helped me keep those muscles strong.
Somewhere along the way, life taught me that the more I gave, the more I received. I enjoy serving others, and being a NetSquared organizer has been the most rewarding volunteer gig I've ever taken on.
And that, in a giant nutshell, is why I become a NetSquared organizer.
When TechSoup started recruiting for a new community manager who could support the 50 NetSquared groups building nonprofit tech community globally, I leapt at the opportunity. And through some miracle, TechSoup hired me! It's been my privilege to be the advocate, cheerleader, and curriculum developer for my fellow NetSquared members over the last four years.
I continue to volunteer my time with a team of co-organizers in Vancouver, but get to spend my work days dreaming up new event formats and supporting NetSquared organizers as they grow their communities.
I'm so grateful that I'm now employed to support a network that is so aligned with my values that I came in as a volunteer. I am invigorated every day by the passion and drive of the NetSquared organizers, and you will be too when you get the chance to meet your local group leader.
If you've read this far, I bet you share the same drive to build the technology capacity of civil society. So don't be shy — apply today and we'll help you build your own community of #nptech-ies.
A version of this post originally appeared on the NetSquared Vancouver website.
Image 1: Noah Ferguson / CC BY-NC
Image 2: Jack Jardine / CC BY-NC
Image 3: Elijah van der Giessen / CC BY-NC