www with screwdriver tool“At the juncture of tech and nonprofits.” That is one of the descriptions I put in my Twitter bio. It is a relatively new place for me. I am not really a highly skilled techie type. However, living in this space has exposed me to a boatload of folks doing all kinds of great tech work for nonprofits. And much of what is available is for free. Yes, you read that right. For free. There are almost an overwhelming number of outstanding tech resources available for nonprofits that are totally free. I have never seen a list of all of these resources. So I decided to create one that includes the best of the best. The folks who run these initiatives are rockstars who you should not only know, but talk to about how they can help your organization. Please share any I missed in the comments. And hurry up and take advantage of all of these great opportunities!

Creative Cares

Connects nonprofits to creatives (photographers, writers, graphic designers, etc.) for pro bono project work.

EPIC

Advertising and design professionals in Chicago work on rallies, (8 week campaigns) to create programs and materials for nonprofits. Limited to organizations that focus on education, children, and families.

FreeGeek Chicago

Provides free recycling of electronic waste (like old computers) and incredibly low priced refurbished computers and other hardware. Their Earn-A-Box training program teaches participants about the workings of computer hardware as well as the environmental impact of e-waste. Graduates of the program can earn a free computer.

Google Apps

Communication, collaboration, and publishing tools, including email, all using your own domain name. If you aren’t a Google Apps shop, why not? It’s easy to use and will elevate your efficiency and productivity as an organization.

HandsonTech Chicago

Founded by Handson Network, Google, and Americorps Vista to help nonprofits deliver their services more effectively through the adoption of new technology. They have chosen 33 nonprofits in the Greater Chicago area for assessment and implementation of technology. They are also doing technology workshops for nonprofits and classes for low income community members.

Mobile Citizen

Cutting edge mobile Internet service for nonprofits and schools, including equipment, service, and access to the Internet. Yearly Internet charge is $120/year. Yes, per year! RUN IMMEDIATELY to sign your nonprofit up for this service.

NetSquared

An initiative of TechSoup Global (see below.) From their site: “Enables social benefit organizations to leverage the tools of the social web.” As an organizer of the local (Chicago) NetSquared meetup, I tell people that we focus on tech, innovation, and social good. If you aren’t attending your local NetSquared meetup, you are missing out on some of the coolest people in your town. They are heavily focused on building community and impacting social good.

NTEN/NTC

Nonprofit Technology Network. Focused on helping people use technology to benefit their nonprofit organizations. They are a membership organization and hold a very large conference each spring, called NTC-Nonprofit Technology Conference.  

Salesforce

This tool is used for customer relationship management (i.e. donors, volunteers, sponsors, etc.) Receive up to 10 free licenses (10 users) for your organization.

Serve.Illinois.Gov

Provides great information on volunteerism, including volunteer opportunities, a volunteer management network, resources on managing volunteers, and more. A highly under-utilized resource. (This is the link for Illinois residents. Check it out for your own state.)

The Analysis Exchange

This unique mentoring program strives to increase the number of people who know how to correctly do web analytics. They provide pro bono analytics for nonprofits. That’s free analytics for your website.

TechSoup Global

A global nonprofit that has created a network of people working to create and share innovative technology solutions. Through TechSoup’s partnerships with large technology companies, nonprofits can receive donated hardware as well as advice about which tools to use.

Volunteer Spot

Online sign up sheets, volunteer scheduling software, and volunteer management software. Loads of folks swear by them and are very satisfied. I love founder Karen Bantuveris. Especially great for schools.

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What did I miss? What are some of the other great free technology resources available to nonprofit organizations? Add them to the comments. And if you have worked with any of the above, let me know how that went.

A few weeks ago, I made my kids pasta with pesto and sauteed green beans.  A fairly typical dinner for us.  But what made it unusual was that we picked the basil for the pesto and the green beans in our family’s organic garden.  A few weeks earlier I had decided I was a total failure as a gardener.  I had spent quite a bit of money to create this garden.

Our raised bed garden newly built

Unfortunately, in early September, I still had nothing to show for my efforts…or expenses!  I convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal and even laughed a bit about it.  But one day, while unlocking the door to my house, I glanced over at the garden and saw a big green bean waiting to be picked!  I ran to investigate and found that we had a whole bunch of green beans that were full fledged real food we had grown.  I was delighted!  I also learned from Peterson Garden Project‘s Facebook pictures that what I thought was spinach, was actually basil.  Thus, a home grown feast (at least partially) was born!

“Bountiful” Harvest of Success!

I created this garden because I thought we as a family would benefit from the experience.  I also felt it was a less expensive way to provide healthy food.   However, my expectations did not align at all with what actually took place.  The real benefits were ones I did not anticipate.  We really didn’t get much in terms of produce from our garden.  I found that, other than some limited time with my kids, I did most of the work alone.  However, when I first began this gardening project, I became a part of a large community of gardeners, both online and in face to face interactions.  Some of these interactions have expanded well beyond the concept of gardening and have blossomed into full blown engagement.  Additionally, when I first saw the beginnings of green things pushing up through the soil, I experienced a sense of joy that I didn’t anticipate.

And when I saw that one lone green bean, again, I felt a deep sense of happiness.  When I first embarked on this project, I assumed success meant lots of home grown vegetables for my family.  Although by that measure, the garden was a catastrophic failure, I am overwhelmed by how meaningful the experience was for me.  And I find that it aligns in significant ways with another recent experience.

About a year ago, I attended SocialDevCamp Chicago (SDCChi.)  Although much of the content at the conference was far beyond my ability to understand, I was moved by the incredible interactions I had with participants.  I suggested to Tim Courtney (one of the SDCChi founders) that we needed to do a similar technology conference for nonprofit organizations.  Tim said it was a great idea.

Over the next year I worked to build this nonprofit technology conference.  My vision was to create an event for 200-300 nonprofit professionals to learn about technology.  That event,  Chicago COUNTs: A NetSquared Camp took place on September 12.

(Created by Paul Saini Photography)

And like my garden, its success looked very different from what I first anticipated it would be.  We had 70 people participate, not 200.  However, those 70 people were a group of rock stars in my world.  And because the group was only 70 people, there was a feeling of intimacy among participants.  People felt as though they were part of a very special community that was filled with wonderful resources, insights and support.  The feedback I received both during and after the event confirmed my own reactions to the day.  People expressed feelings of being profoundly impacted and suggested that this event was the beginning of exciting new changes in the community.  Ultimately, I experienced the supreme joy that I had hoped I would at Chicago COUNTs…but not for the reasons I had thought.

So now, as I embark upon building my own nonprofit consulting business (please send organizations and individuals my way!) I am thinking about these two surprising experiences.  I have a sense of what I want to create.  I want to work with organizations to help them expand their networks and to design innovative and exciting substantive programming.  I am confident these are two areas in which I could have a strong and positive impact.  Once again, I have expectations about what my success will look like.  However, after this past year of surprises, I am a little curious too.  Because clearly, success isn’t always what we expect it to be.