Non-Profits are crazy. Volunteer anyway.

For geeks or anyone else familiar with the corporate world, non-profits tend to be bafflingly inefficient and occasionally a bit irrational. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that corporations are the most rational, efficient places around. It’s just that, when you’re used to operating in a corporation or if you’re the sort of geek who “optimizes their workflow” with apps like Omnifocus, the culture shock of dealing with non-profits can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t believe me? Organize a group of people from your work to volunteer. I guarantee at some point, you will catch someone who is new to volunteering with a look of terror on their face. And you’ll be able to read their thoughts: “Oh, my god. No one knows what the hell is going on.” Embrace the madness. Non-profits have it rough in various ways. Often they're staffed by a majority of volunteers, who may or may not have any business world experience. They frequently don’t have enough money, people, or talent. And we live in a world where you are increasingly insane for working full-time for a non-profit.

Don’t believe me? You should check out what Dan Pollatta has to say in his 2013 TED Video. [1]

Dans 2013 TED Video

See. Our society almost persecutes you for working for a non-profit and making a dime. But, hope is not lost. You don’t have to be Dan, railing against injustice. You can still help out a non-profit. Donate. Does your work give you a volunteer day? Mine does. Got one weekend? Or, do one of the many events inspired by Dan’s work.

I do volunteer work with two different organizations and they’re both outstanding examples of doing good and making the volunteer experience a good one. First is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. If you know someone affected by blood cancer, you should put them in contact with this organization. If they’ve been newly diagnosed, point them at First Connection. They do a lot of good.

The second organization is Habitat For Humanity. For the last two years I’ve organized a habitat group at my work. This year we had 18 Identians [2] [3]building houses and being exposed to my horrible advice on proper hammering technique. I was a bit worried about it going in. The year before we had four people putting siding onto a house. This year we framed walls, lugged wood around, put in flooring and generally worked our behinds off. In the end, everyone was tired and happy. The culture shock had come and gone, and the good people at habitat had brought order to chaos and assured everyone had a safe, successful time.

Build a house, volunteer for something, or just help out with some donations and get a bump on your taxes (it’s nearing the end of the year.) Science says it might be good for you. If you’re metrics driven and you’re unsure whether to work with a particular charity, you can use Charity Navigator to evaluate them. Just remember that even they acknowledge that you must be careful when looking for simple metrics to measure charities.

Ideas to volunteer or donate for Coloradans (most are national organizations):

If you’re a geek, you could be supporting:

  1. If you want a more in depth view of Dan’s thinking check out his econtalk interview or his book Uncharitable  ↩
  2. Yeah, that’s what we call ourselves 'cause we work in Identity.  ↩
  3. There’s only 17 in the photo. That’s because @__b_c had to skin out a couple minutes early, right before this shot. He was there. There are many bent nails to prove it.  ↩