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I also developed a similar website, which is no longer active, to foster community communication during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.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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Michael Fever

We were in Dominican Republic during the earthquake. It was terrible. A lot of the local professionals immediately left for Haiti to go and help. I applaud anyone who helps out in a crisis, without people like you’s there would be more suffering.

Deborah Shaddon

Yes, I’m an IT Professional and volunteer with CrisisCommons, through the participation in CrisisCamp events. CrisisCommons is a grass-roots community that aims to bridge the VTC (Volunteer Technology Communities) with the CRO (Crisis Response Organizations) to work on technology related task support in time of crisis. This could involve writing a parser to pull data from twitter or facebook, working through crowdsourcing situational reports through crowdflower/ushahidi, or working on mapping efforts such as Open Street Maps. Its also sometimes an opportunity to work on the ‘big ideas’ too. We have done a lot of work with Haiti and Chili earthquakes, and the Gulf Oil spill ( Currently, we have folks engaged in camps around the world helping with the Pakistan Floods. We will be running camps this weekend in London, Sydney, Toronto, and Silicon Valley, as well as coordinating virtual participation (I’m in Chicago). Although the focus has often been on these larger disasters, the technology ideas and the crowdsource process can also be applied at the local level. Anybody can join or find out more, see our website: If we face another situation like Katrina, just knowing that there is a potential mass of technology volunteers that could respond and assist with open information technology approaches that could aid in the disaster is heartwarming. And this community is only just getting started….


I think most developer will donate there time to a charity, especially early on in there career (for the experience and to top up there CV (does work a treat)).

I build a couple of systems a year for charitys creating a varity of tools, and once they know your name you get alot of requests. I still have a primary school dropping of a BBC computer atleast once a year to be repaired.

Note if you choose to do it you will be doing it for life.


Joe Hendricks

We’ve found the same thing – offering free webdesign and webhosting to anti-poverty nonprofits refreshes the daily grind (there is always a crisis somewhere in the world, whether in the press or not). But we have also found, like you, that without setting limits, volunteer work can balloon like the worst of ‘feature-creep’! – Joe Hendricks, SoftwareRunners

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