Donating Professional Services in a Crisis

Technology workers are often called on to donate our services, which most of us are happy to do. And we have skills that allow us to respond quickly to natural disasters or other crises.

For example, five years ago, I wanted to help those affected by the floods caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, since I have some connections with New Orleans. In my pre-web career, I worked in radio, and was privileged to manage community radio station WWOZ for a short time over twenty years ago. Although I only lived in New Orleans for a few months, I fell in love with the city’s unique music and culture.

So in the aftermath of the storms, I contacted WWOZ’s webmaster, who had evacuated to another city, and asked what I could do to help. At his request, I put together a temporary website that allowed station staff, musicians, and the community to share messages from wherever they were. This was in the days before Facebook, Twitter and the like.

I also developed a similar website, which is no longer active, to foster community communication during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. And I’ve developed websites for political candidates and causes I believe in.

Of course, professionals need to set limits. My three-person company generally produces one pro bono website per year. Once we agree to take on such a project, we go through the same process we use to specify a scope of work for paid projects. It’s imperative to make sure that clients understand that there’s only so much uncompensated work we can do.

Unfortunately, the tax deductibility of in-kind donations is limited; check with your accountant for details. Nevertheless, my colleagues agree that donating our skills and time is an important part of what we do.

How have you used your professional skills to assist your community?

Photo courtesy NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Collection

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