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Donating expertise

Many people wish they could afford larger financial donations to causes they believe in. However due to circumstances, like student loans, dependent family members, mortgage payments, or underemployment, that often isn’t possible.

But, non-profits rely on more than just financial backing, they also benefit from pro-bono services. In talking with friends considering careers moves, I realized that tasks/projects requiring skills that non-profits lack (or have in short supply) offer opportunities for personal contribution and professional benefit.

The idea

Supporters should be able to easily donate their expertise to non-profits. Fortunately, this comes with minimal downside risk to everyone involved. In the worst case, a supporter walks away with a completed website, marketing plan, or data model to add to his/her portfolio, even if it ends up not being used. And in the best case, a supporter gets the satisfaction that his/her work is making a real difference for a cause he/she believe in. As an added bonus, these projects offer great opportunities to test relationships with prospective co-workers or possible co-founders.

Side effects for job seekers

Demonstrate initiative and discipline

Since most projects follow the 80/20 rule, it’s no suprise that projects often lose momentum when they are 80% done. Taking a project to completion demonstrates initiative and discipline. Both are qualities that savvy job seekers use to describe themselves, but are hard to evaluate without concrete examples.

Build a meaningful portfolio

Having a portfolio of projects representing the kinds of work one is capable of should help answer questions of competence and let employers focus on culture-fit. (I don’t think many people are going to miss parsing resume double speak either.)

Work on something concrete

Hopefully this idea can help people overcome the paralysis of staring at a blank canvas, once they have committed to building a portfolio of side projects. After all, it’s much easier to make time in a busy schedule for a well-defined project.

Side effects for non-profits

Establish relationships

In addition to getting more pro-bono work done, non-profits benefit from encouraging habits of giving amongst their supporters who may not have financial resources to give. It’s important to establish relationships with donors before everyone else is asking for their money.

Increased sharing

Additionally, once someone has contributed a project, he/she is highly likely to share it with friends and family who may be in a better position to make financial donations. And proud friends are more likely to share these projects with their friends than they are to pass on another “make a pledge” newsletter. At the end of the day, non-profits should benefit from a nice multiplier effect.

Making opportunities with minimal downside

And, of course, there’s always a chance that a supporter can help make a dream goal come true. The worst thing that can happen is that they ask for help that no one is able to offer, which is exactly where they started.

The main risk to non-profits is that supporters may flake out and that it would be expensive to keep volunteers on track. In general I think it would be best to give volunteers “nice to have” projects. But, for more “mission critical” projects non-profits should use arrangements similar to those for pro-bono legal work. There may need to be some form of formal agreement, so that they can count on the work actually being done.


This seems like a win-win situation for everyone involved. It helps those with limited financial resources further causes they believe in. It helps the underemployed demonstrate their skills, while helping a cause they care about. Hopefully resulting in a better employment situation. And last, but not least, it helps non-profits fulfill their missions.

I think a website would be a good way to match potential donors with unmet needs of non-profits. If you could see yourself donating your expertise, it’d be great if you could fill in this form, to help gauge whether this is something that people would actually use.

Update: Thanks to @KiwiCoder for sharing, which is an implementation of this idea focused primarily on programmers, and

Category Idea