How to responsibly help NGOs 
with technology: A year later

In September 2015, I published an article about what’s worth considering before bothering an NGO with one’s need to help. Read what I couldn’t have known a year ago.

A few years ago, I wanted to help an NGO, but I approached it very thoughtlessly. I wasted the time of a few people, suffered disgrace, and had a moral hangover until recently.

Mistakes are made to provide opportunities to learn. In March 2015, rich with new experiences from the failed attempt to help an NGO, I approached the TUS Foundation with the intention to help with niepelnosprawnik.pl.

Since then, we managed to do a lot of good for people with disabilities. Our work was recognized with a PLN 40,000 (USD 10,000) award for the statutory objective of the foundation. It looks like this attempt to help an NGO worked.

From the perspective of a year of pro bono work, what’s worth considering before bothering an NGO with one’s need to help? How has my view on this topic changed in the span of those several months?

Time

A year ago, I wrote that 12 months is required to do something good in the field of technology in an NGO. I was not wrong. I was able to accomplish in 12 months most of the tasks I undertook at niepelnosprawnik.pl. However, in all honesty, I must write:

12 months of work in the mornings, evenings, weekends is not a lot of time
It isn’t a very comfortable time horizon. To complete the new version of Niepelnosprawnik on time, I had to pull all–nighters, devote entire weekends to the project, let the dirty dishes pile up in the kitchen, complain to friends and wonder what I had gotten myself into.

12 months leaves little time for documentation
Personally, I was so fatigued by those 12 months of “work after work” that the creation of the documentation of what I had done over the course of that year took me another half a year.

Parkinson was right
Work expands so as to fill all the time available for its completion. I’m grateful to the people at the TUS Foundation for convening a press conference in January 2016. The conference forced me to publish the beta version of the new Niepelnosprawnik website online. Without the conference, that could have taken a good few months longer.


If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
— Reid Hoffman, Founder, LinkedIn

Consequences

Three consequences not mentioned in the article from last year that I couldn’t foresee:

Superhuman tolerance to caffeine
After a whole day of work at the computer, it’s not easy to find the strength and motivation to… spend a few more hours on productive work at the computer. In my case, it required coffee. A lot of coffee. More and more coffee. So much coffee that I was ordering “the usual” in a few coffee shops and was visiting them in turns not to be accused of heavy dependence on caffeine.

Additional weight
I won’t expand on this, but I can’t not mention it.

Involvement
I mean unhealthy involvement in matters dealt with by your selected NGO. The perspective of an outsider has significant value. It’s surprisingly easy to lose. Keeping a professional distance proved to be much harder than I expected. It turned out well, but not without effort.

Communication

This part of the article from the last year proved to be superb. Throughout this year, I myself have repeatedly been returning to it, thinking “Are you being a smartass in your articles on ngo.pl? Come on — act as you suggest.”

Formalities

The agreement signed with the TUS Foundation worked out exactly as I imagined, did not cause me any problems and is a very nice reminder of the vastness of the job well done.

What’s next

Personally, I wanted to leave the TUS Foundation with:
– a better designed (more efficiently working) Niepelnosprawnik application,
– less technological debt,
– professional documentation,
– a person who, if necessary, would perform technical tasks for Niepelnosprawnik,
– a smile,
– and a good impression.

Sometimes I thought it would be nice if, after a year of my work on Niepelnosprawnik, the number of users would begin to grow from month to month without my help.

To my surprise, I managed to carry out the whole plan. There was a six–month lag, but I managed to do it. The range of estimation error is not within 20%, but due to the volunteer nature of this project, I allowed myself to turn a blind eye to it.

And the unexpected icing on the cake: an award from the Polish–American Freedom Foundation in the amount of 40,000 PLN for the TUS Foundation. I’m aware of how much of this is luck, but the feeling associated with setting my hand to this is… phenomenal. I smile at the thought — even though the award was given almost half a year ago.

Motivation

A year ago, as an example of not bad motivation, I gave:

I want to complete a transparent project that I can talk openly about to show off my value and to be able to replace the way I earn my living with a way that’s closer to my values without reducing my income.

This motivation turned out to be, indeed, not bad. The project has been completed. I can talk openly about everything I did behind the scenes. It shows my value, but in an inefficient, unpersuasive way. So far, I’ve failed to change the way I make money for a living. If I manage to do this in the future, the project for the TUS Foundation will play in this a much smaller role than I expected a year ago.

If I had known a year ago what I know today… without a doubt, I would have decided to help the TUS Foundation. I’m proud of what we created. I learned a lot. I’m very satisfied with the work I did on Niepelnosprawnik.

Throughout this year, I came up with 3 new examples of not bad motivation:

– Working on specific aspects of projects within your clearly defined competences and trying to see if you’d be able to create something from start to finish as the leader of the project.

– Wanting to check your readiness to become a freelancer.

– Wanting to see how your job would look without having “aggressive schedules” imposed on you from someone above you and – notice – money. The perspective of a world without “we need it yesterday,” “this cannot be done,” and “it is not in the budget” is surprisingly interesting.


A year ago, I wrote “I believe this text will save you and a few other people from making the same mistakes I did.” These words have lost none of their validity.

Helping NGOs with technology is not easy, but it’s worthwhile.

I finished my work on Niepelnosprawnik, but I plan to publish 3 articles about things I learned during the project. This is the first one.

Thank you for your time. Enjoy the rest of your day!

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This article was originally published on November 7, 2016 on the ngo.pl.