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Human Resources

#Charity: A platform for IT pros who care to donate their skills

When we spoke to Jozsef Czapovics last year as part of our ‘Crowdfunding Innovation’ series, his company, #Charity, had just launched its campaign on IndieGoGo. The company had a noble goal: create a platform where IT professionals donate their time and skills to charities and NGOs with their IT-based needs, whether it’s creating a website, optimising a mobile site or helping build an app.

But despite its noble concept, the project failed to raise anything close to its £25,000 ($39,000) goal, raising just a few hundred pounds. “Our IndieGoGo campaign… we could say it was a massive failure and a realisation that we were true novices in the startup space,” says Franziska Becker, Head of Business Development & Marketing at #Charity. “However, we’d like to look at it from a learning perspective. We started the campaign at a very early stage. #Charity was not much more than a project and our product was too much of a concept than a product.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Since that failed project, #Charity has secured $270,000 in funding, meaning that the platform could launch and start its philanthropic mission. Becker says that one of the main missions of the platform is to “increase commitment and lower communication and collaboration hurdles” as well as working hard to create a proper online community.

#ITProsWhoCare

The company officially launched on April 9th, and ready seen nearly 2,500 people sign up. Becker says the most common skills listed include Javascript, Project Management and HTML/CSS. “This first step is part of our long-term goal to increase impact creation through IT skill-based volunteering and unite the world of social impact and innovative technology, and put action behind the commonly heard buzz word ‘social innovation’”.

To get the ball rolling, the company selected 49 NGOs to launch their projects on the platform. “We see everything from new websites and fresh ups for mobile versions, to new visualised storyboards, to CRM requests, and apps. It is great to see how charities conduct business just as any for-profit does and has the same business needs.”

As well as promoting philanthropy, the company has some serious ambitions. “In five years, by 2020, we would like the #Charity community to include over one million ‘IT Pros Who Care’ actively engaged on impact projects through our platform,” says Becker. “Ultimately, we see #Charity bridging the gap between the social sector and the technology field, turning these two communities into one.” Part of that community focus is highlighting the people who sign up; the company’s blog has a regular feature focusing on members who have joined the cause; from San Fran to Budapest, India and beyond.

franzi“Ultimately, we see #Charity bridging the gap between the social sector and the technology field, turning these two communities into one.”

“I like to help people. Through my whole life I have always helped people — relatives and strangers too,” says volunteer, George Fischhof.  “If you could use your passions to make a difference, why wouldn’t you?” asks Alex Guffey from Florida. “The biggest motivation has been to share my knowledge and make a difference,” says Somali from India. The list goes on.

“Our goal is to create a community rather than a transactional marketplace,” Becker explains. “We want to give volunteers the feeling that our platform is a place where their contribution is valued and where they can learn new things about their skill while working on great projects with others.”

“For our charities we want to create a place where they feel like their problems are being solved, where they know they can find help and a community with a focus on driving results. All our collaboration tools, as well as a Community Slack channel, should only be the start of our community development.”

As well as helping the charities, the company hopes the projects can help the volunteers too, allowing them to earn and display their work credentials as well as build new professional relationships.  “On our platform, young engineers get the chance to work with experienced engineers from great companies around the world, such as PayPal, Prezi, IBM and many more. Our platform gives these them the opportunity to meet, work with each other, stay in touch and thus build meaningful relationships that can lead to career opportunities.”

“We believe that tech volunteering can help young engineers build meaningful credentials while building their awareness of how their tech skills can play an important role in tackling humanity’s most pressing challenges.”

Business model

According to Becker, NGOs and IT pros are matched through a “SmartMatch” algorithm which is based on the needs of the project vs. skills, interests and location. “About 80% of all our users sign in through LinkedIn, which enables us to use their skills and expertise on their profile for a sound smart matching.”  

What about if I’m willing but only have a small skill-set or am a hobbyist, not a professional? “The minimum criteria is that you have a skill our charity projects need. We understand ourselves as a self-generating marketplace and so every IT pro can join. The nature of skill-based volunteering is that you offer something you can do - talented hobbyists can be just as good as professionals.”

Just as any IT pro can join, any NGO is free to set up a project page for their needs. The project is then reviewed by the #Charity team to ensure feasibility, scoping, and sufficient information and data. “If the project seems too raw we send back suggestions to improve. We submit every project into the platform ourselves,” says Becker. “We are also putting together valuable resources for NGOs to learn more about anything digital to give them a better idea on what their actual tech needs are - customer education is absolute key.”

What about possible abuse of the system? Of course most NGOs will have genuine needs, but some might simply see a willing community of free labour. “To be very honest, we have no indicator who has enough money and is free-riding on our services and frankly, we do not even want to think that way,” Becker explains.

“What we do know is how hard it is for NGOs to fundraise money for technology and digital overhauls. The charity world is behaving on rather old assumptions of investing in direct impact and has not yet fully embrace the opportunity technology has to leverage direct social impact. We are here to support this industry to move towards the digital era.”

Next steps

Once a project and pro are connected, #Charity offers an integrated project collaboration platform. “We offer our teams a 360 degree service for task management, chat tools, plus integrated third-party apps such as file storage (Dropbox), code repository (Github) or community help desk (Slack).”

“We’ve been observing that many project owners kick off their projects with a Skype call and add TODOs to the platform afterwards. It all happens in a very agile way.”

Becker says that creating a sustainable business model is a “high priority” at the moment and is currently working on finalising its business partnerships and corporate deals, but won’t say how the company plans to make money until those deals are finished and announced.

“One of our goals is to help big companies (or much more so their employees) to use our platform in their daily lives by contributing to high-impact projects. We are already working with a few companies who are eager to use our platform to engage their engineers through hackathons on our platform - we see this as a new form of bridging employee engagement and CSR.”

So what would Becker say to IT pros reading this to get them to join #Charity?We believe in the intersection of tech and social impact and using the power of technology to impact people’s lives. If that sounds like you, keep reading our Manifesto or join our community slack channel and learn more about our work. We hope to see you on the other side!”

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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