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Why Tech Giving in the Bay Area Isn’t Helping

Nonprofit Tech Week brought three days of technology learning for nonprofits to three Bay Area cities recently.

The conference covered tech tools, working with tech, and more for a nonprofit audience.

The final day ended with the panel discussion, “Tech Giving in the Bay Area – A Conversation with the Bay Area’s Largest Technology Companies About Their Local Giving.”

A nonprofit tech conference with a panel on how the corporate tech sponsors are making the world a better place is not a surprise. In fact, these panels are to be expected. The message is always the same: “[Insert Tech Company Here] is committed to nonprofits and making the world a better place. We give [insert dollar amount] and our employees volunteer [insert number] of hours to the community every year.” The only thing that changes is how many and which companies are represented on stage.

This year’s panel featured Justin Steele, Bay Area Giving Lead at Google.org, and Thea Nilsson, Civic Engagement Manager at Microsoft.

What was surprising about this panel was an acknowledgement of how truly terrible economic disparity is in the Bay Area (a first!) and the revelation of how truly blind the tech sector is to the enormity of the social problems nonprofits confront day in and day out.

For starters, while both recited the requisite dollar figure their companies gave there was no mention that San Francisco and San Jose rank 45th and 48th, respectively, in giving among the 50 largest metro areas in the United States.

I thought I would give Nilsson and Steele the benefit of not knowing this.

But then they continued talking…

When asked why tech companies focused mainly on giving away software and hardware products as opposed to funding capacity both Nilsson and Steele offered an answer best paraphrased as, “Just cuz.” There was absolutely no thought to the idea that all the Microsoft Office licenses and Android phones can’t help if a nonprofit doesn’t have the staffing to run the programming that utilizes those software and hardware tools.

When discussing what types of nonprofit projects are funded, Steele explained that the appearance of being innovative and having “googliness” (WTF does that even mean?!) matter more than a history of impact at Google.

When asked how nonprofits could better connect with tech companies, Steele admitted to having no team to help him with funding reviews. He advised nonprofits to make friends with Googlers who might bend his ear or to (wait for it…) catch him on the cocktail circuit.

To be honest, I’ve never come away from any of these type of panels particularly impressed but this was the first time that I was left disgusted and disappointed.

If this is how short-sighted the tech sector is to what nonprofits are facing, then there’s no their help will do any good.

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