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How and Why the Tech Community is Giving Back to Vermont Nonprofits

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Woodstock Social Media Surgery with Alison EmersonSocial Media Surgeon and volunteer Alison Emerson helps John Atwood of the Bridgewater Historical Society at the Woodstock Social Media Surgery

Vermont’s 2011 floods demonstrated the potential for digital tools to support community resilience and recovery, as well as the vulnerability of nonprofits and communities who were not making full use of digital tools. Thankfully, Vermont is gifted with a growing, community-oriented tech sector. In the hours before and after Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont, the tech community mobilized to assist. This digital support has continued.

As the Nonprofit Advisor to the Vermont Digital Economy Project, I find an almost universal acceptance among Vermont nonprofits that the effective use of new technology is essential to their success. Often, nonprofits would benefit greatly from learning the skills necessary to incorporate the latest digital tools. Thankfully, the tech community has been more than willing to help. Through various projects, including workshops and hackathons, members of the tech community have volunteered their time to work with nonprofits.

Alexandra Tursi, the Social Media Strategist for Fletcher Allen Health Care, is an expert in social media, and recently volunteered to help at a “Social Media Surgery” workshop. “As social media professionals, we have a responsibility to share and help communities across Vermont learn how to leverage these tools for community benefit,” she said. “This workshop was the first in many that will help interested citizens in cities and towns across Vermont educate themselves alongside practitioners. Personally, it was a pleasure to connect with new people — and that is the idea at the core of social media: connecting people."

The benefit that members of the nonprofit world receive from this type of expertise is tangible. Sally Miller, director of Sustainable Woodstock was thrilled to work with Alexandra. “I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Alexandra for 1 1/2 hours,” she said, “While my questions were primarily about my organization, her expansive knowledge could be used by anyone. Plus, she admitted that she really enjoys working with people to help them use social media more effectively. It was great fun.”

Miller also learned another great lesson about social media, “It's not complicated. Just do it.”

Tim Clifford With DogTim Clifford, a Code for BTV volunteer, gets a special thank you from "Bug," one of the Potter's Angels Dogs.

Denise Puisto, an engineering manager at IBM, has been helping nonprofits through Code for BTV, a collective of civically-minded coders. She is an avid community volunteer who dedicates over 500 hours a year to various nonprofit organizations across Chittenden County. Puisto says she volunteers because “it is an opportunity to meet new people and improve my skills while giving back to the community.” Denise has assisted in building a number of new websites for groups working with the Vermont Digital Economy Project, including the Deerfield Valley Rescue and the Bethel Food Shelf.

The latest site completed was for Potter's Angels Rescue, a Randolph-based animal rescue that finds homes for over three hundred dogs and cats per year. Heather Bent, the director of Potter's Angels Rescue was ecstatic about the new site. “I LOVE you Rob!!!!” she wrote in an email, “Is it ok for me to say that? LOL The website looks fantastic!! Absolutely fantastic.”

Volunteers involved in building the Potter's Angel Rescue website included Tim Clifford, of G & T Web Design and Development, Tabaré Gowon, a Java Programmer at Dealer.com, Nate Haskins, of Haskins Information Technology and Brian Waters.

Finding Tech Help in Your Community

As a state-wide organization, the Vermont Council on Rural Development's Vermont Digital Economy Project has been able to leverage tech support from across the state.  A local nonprofit can do the same at the local level. There are countless local web design companies that already offer free hosting, design, and advice to community organizations. Many high schools also have computer classes and community service requirements. All you have to do is ask.  Make those connections and see what’s possible.

For web savvy individuals who would like to get involved in Social Media Surgeries, please contact Amanda Levinson, at Netsquared: http://www.meetup.com/Burlington-NetSquared/

For web coders and designers interested in volunteering to assist nonprofits or becoming involved in other civic minded projects, get involved with Code for BTV: http://codeforbtv.org/

Organizations interested in improving their use of digital tools in one-on-one sessions with Rob can fill out an application here.

Together we can strengthen the bridges that already exist and build new ones both within and between each of these communities.

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