The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

IT Volunteers / Circuit Riders - the movement continues

  • Not sure how many people know this, but TechSoup started off as an organization called CompuMentor, From the February 1997 version of the web site:

    Schools and nonprofit groups come to CompuMentor for affordable, appropriate help with their computer problems and projects. Volunteers come to CompuMentor for the opportunity to use their skills in well structured projects that benefit schools and nonprofits. 

    CompuMentor, now TechSoup, was one of the first such ICT volunteering initiatives - that part of TechSoup’s programming has moved entirely online, via the TechSoup forum you're reading now, and TechSoup still offers Working with Technical Volunteers: A Manual for NPOs free online. 

    In English, IT volunteers or ICT volunteers are also called circuit riders - volunteers that help both individuals as well as staff at nonprofits regarding using computer and Internet-related tools, and such volunteers can be both onsite and online. The United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) tried to track all of these various ICT volunteering initiatives globally once upon a time – UNITeS both supported volunteers applying ICTs for development (ICT4D) and promoted volunteerism as a fundamental element of successful ICT4D initiatives. UNITeS was launched in 2000 by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and was hosted by the United Nations Volunteers program.

    After seeing many of those 1990s initiatives go away, IT volunteering initiatives seem to be experiencing a resurgence. Examples now include all volunteers that help teach people computer skills at initiatives like Austin FreeNet (Austin, Texas), FreeGeek (Portland, Oregon), EmpowerUp (Southwest Washington state, Vancouver area), and World Computer Exchange - and even PeaceCorps and VSO. HandsOn also has several IT volunteer tech initiatives, which they brand as skilled-based volunteer engagement under the name HandsOn Tech:

    HandsOn Tech Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechPGH,
    HandsOn Tech Atlanta, Georgia. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechATL
    HandsOn Tech Boston, Massachusetts. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechBOS
    HandsOn Tech Chicago, Illinois. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechChi
    HandsOn Tech New York City, New York. Follow on Twitter at @NYCHandsOnTech
    HandsOn Tech Detroit, Michigan. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechDET
    HandsOn Tech Seattle, Washington
    HandsOn Denver, Colorado (Open Media Foundation)

    I still volunteer my tech skills one-on-one with nonprofits, though not through any of these programs. I find that there is still a HUGE need for volunteers to help nonprofits with data mining (how to gather data via databases about volunteers, clients and donors that help show impact by the organization), choosing databases, making a web site fully accessible, using social media, etc. 

    So, what about you?

    • Do you help nonprofits, libraries or schools through an IT volunteering initiative - any of the above or another?
    • Do you wish your community had an IT volunteering initiative to help nonprofits, libraries and schools?
    • Does your nonprofit, library or school actively seek volunteers to donate IT expertise?
    • Do you think there will always be a need for these type of initiatives?

    Jayne Cravens
    TechSoup Community Forum Manager

  • I do not know about specific organisations Jayne, as you are well aware it takes a huge amount of energy to keep a volunteer based organisation going, some will fail, some will just run out of steam, the fact that an organisation drops out of sight does not mean that the need they served has gone away.

    I agree with you that there is a huge need for this kind of help and advice and always will be, I have just had an email from a friend who is far from a beginner with IT, she is complaining bitterly that the interface of Windows 8.1 on her new computer has changed from Windows 8.0. How these initiatives are provided and who provides them will change but I do not see the need going away anytime soon.

    Peter Cheer
    IT & Archaeological Consultant

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