The Power of Relationships: TechSoup’s NetSquared Events Bring Techy Activists Together For a Social Good

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The Power of Relationships: TechSoup’s NetSquared Events Bring Techy Activists Together For a Social Good

Hayley Matthews Hayley Matthews • 2/16/17

The Short Version: Founded in 1987, TechSoup is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving other nonprofits with much-needed technical skills and resources. The global organization backs numerous humanitarian efforts with activist training and resources to grow a strong volunteer base in communities around the world. NetSquared, a project of TechSoup, unites tech pros and nonprofits in grassroots meetups in 27 countries. Since 2005, these community-oriented events have offered free educational content and collaborative opportunities for civic-minded individuals. By supporting one another through donations, tech support, and brainstorming sessions, NetSquared’s volunteer community pursues TechSoup’s mission to achieve a social good through technology. If you’d like to meet new people and serve your community, TechSoup provides the chance to get involved in a meaningful way.

While in his 20s, Eli van der Giessen had two groups of friends: nerds and activist hippies. “There was no crossover between the groups,” he explained. “I kept these two communities and parts of me separate like matter and antimatter.”

Upon moving to Vancouver, Canada, Eli began looking to meet new people and found a way to blend his tech savviness with his save-the-world spirit. Vancouver’s NetSquared events turned out to be the perfect fit for him.

“My mind was blown,” he recalled. “It felt like two parts of me were made whole. I’d found my tribe of people.”

Inspired by his experiences at these local meetups, Eli changed his career path and took on a leadership role with NetSquared. His passion for building relationships with local activists soon made him a linchpin in Vancouver’s volunteer community. Four years later, TechSoup, the nonprofit organization behind NetSquared, tapped him to lead the way for all NetSquared groups — in 77 cities and 27 countries worldwide.

Photo of Eli van der Giessen, NetSquared's Community Manager

Eli van der Giessen, TechSoup’s NetSquared Community Manager, has been organizing activist-centered events for over a decade.

Today, Eli is the NetSquared Community Manager, in charge of keeping their volunteer community active and vibrant. “He’s absolutely made for the work he’s doing,” said Jim Lynch, the Syndication Editor for TechSoup. “He’s extraordinary.”

TechSoup is on a mission to give nonprofits the technical tools to do their work more efficiently and effectively — and they rely on NetSquared events to build those ties between the tech and nonprofit worlds on a grassroots level.

Every year, 786 NetSquared events offer networking opportunities for social innovation technologists and civil society activists around the world. The attendees all share a passion for bettering the world using technological advances. If you’re tired of the online dating game, you can put your energy into a good cause and meet new people in the stimulating, collaborative environment of NetSquared meetups.

In support of global social change, TechSoup provides valuable resources for nonprofits in 236 countries and territories. Their organization cultivates a spirit of giving and supporting social good. Over the past three decades, they have made more than 18 million software and hardware donations to thousands of charities, libraries, churches, and grantmaking foundations in need of an upgrade.

Plus, through the NetSquared community, their reach has extended to over 77 active groups around the world. Whether you live in Houston, Texas, or Bamenda, Cameroon, NetSquared welcomes people of all backgrounds and helps them make valuable connections in their local communities.

“The NetSquared culture is the best thing you could possibly be part of. Everyone is there because they want to give to the community,” Eli told us enthusiastically. “When you get to work with volunteers — who are only there because they’re passionate about what they do — it’s just magic.”

An Active & Growing Volunteer Community of Over 11,000 People

TechSoup knows how to network — in fact, they’re the only organization serving non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 236 countries and territories.

NetSquared, an amazing example of that contribution, allows nonprofits to network in person with people interested in technology and social change. Over the past decade, they’ve attracted a strong following of big-hearted people. NetSquared.org has more than 10,5940 active members in 77 groups and is rapidly growing. If there’s not already a group in your area, you can start your own and become a leader in your community.

Eli told us the groups are usually about 60% women and 40% men, with an interesting gender split by profession. Speaking broadly, NetSquared’s Community Manager explained their target membership is half nonprofit workers (who are majority female) and technical professionals (who are majority male). “Sometimes it’s like a middle school dance, trying to get these two groups to cross the room and interact,” Eli joked. “It’s a good social mixer, which is what I think keeps people coming back.”

Photo of the TechSoup logo

TechSoup members receive discounts and donations from over 60 donor partners, including Intuit, Microsoft, and Adobe.

Beyond their events and programs, TechSoup engages a broad audience of do-gooders, with more than 851,000 NGOs listed in their database and more than 785,000 newsletter subscribers. They have more than 83,000 social media followers, actively engaging people in a proactive discussion. “People can ask anything — absolutely anything — on our forums,” said Jim. “It’s a great place to virtually meet like-minded people.”

The nonprofit encourages people to interact, network, and work together toward a social good. It’s a welcoming place to reach out to people and see if TechSoup’s community is right for you.

Eli has seen firsthand how proactive relationship building can advance any goal in a person’s personal or professional life. “You should aim to become the hub of your community,” he said. “Get in the middle of your community, and good things will come of it. That advice applies for anything you want to do.”

Commingling & Collaborating Face-to-Face at Hundreds of Events

Each month, NetSquared hosts about 60 to 70 events in countries around the world. Over 10,000 attendees a year come to these free social events to learn more about volunteerism and technology. “We’ve got this amazing reach,” Eli said. “And it’s all done by local volunteers.” Their international gatherings provide excellent networking opportunities for activists, tech leaders, fundraisers, and community-minded individuals.

Photo of NetSquared's logo

NetSquared, a volunteer project sponsored by TechSoup, unites people with a common cause.

The events, which are open to the public, welcome anyone who wants to use their skills to solve a problem in the world.

The format typically includes an informational presentation by a guest speaker or volunteer organizer, followed by a more informal hangout at a local pub or cafe. Here, change-makers can discuss their ideas and challenges in a casual social setting. Oftentimes, strangers come away with a host of new friends thanks to the shared enthusiasm of NetSquared events.

“There’s an educational component to it, but with a heavily social bent,” Eli said with a laugh. “And I’m just a cheerleader for them, recruiting people with my virtual pom-poms.”

These popular meetups foster friendships between people with common interests and goals. If you’re a tech geek with valuable skills to share or a nonprofit worker seeking some technical know-how, NetSquared events are ideal places to find your match.

TechSoup’s Culture Is So San Francisco

Since 1987, TechSoup has supported worthy causes through technology donations and technical education. Their overarching drive is to support worthy causes through technology donations and technical education. Over 200 TechSoupians combine their skill sets to inform, assist, and connect nonprofits throughout the world.

Photo of TechSoup staff members

TechSoup promotes a diverse, dog-friendly work environment in their San Francisco offices.

Based out of San Francisco, TechSoup maintains a fast-paced startup with a free-spirited company culture. “The organization has that edgy Silicon Valley character to it,” Jim said.

He described TechSoup as “a very hippy, very fun place to work.” Employees feel free to dye their hair bright colors or bring their dogs to work with them, and the company promotes an informal and lighthearted vibe.

The diverse team of do-gooders feel fired up to come to work every day and make a positive impact in the world.

NetSquared Events Push People to Get Involved & Build Bonds

Meeting the right people can sometimes be a challenge. However, if you’re into technology and/or activism, finding your place in your community can be as easy as attending a local NetSquared event. Like Eli, you might just find the members to be your kind of people.

Volunteerism is very much alive and well in the 21st century, and technological advancements spur that work onward. “We’re one of the few places that represents the entire endeavor to do good things — to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and stand in front of tanks,” Jim said. “It’s heartening to see people doing good work no matter what hurdles are in front of them.”

TechSoup is a vital part of humanitarian work, spanning the globe with resources and programs to improve the work of charities, libraries, churches, and other nonprofit organizations. Their donations, webinars, articles, and efforts underscore how technology can contribute to worthy causes.

“Technology is constantly changing, so it is valuable to have a community where we can share and learn as we go through the wild west of the web together.” — Barrie Conley, Tech4Good SWFL

If you’re new to the activist scene or the technical world, you can attend a local NetSquared event to get yourself up to speed and connect with like-minded professionals. Over the next year, Eli’s goal is to grow volunteerism in over 100 cities, relying on regional organizers to recruit and run their own meetups. It’s exciting work led by passionate individuals looking to put themselves out there and do something positive for the world.

“The core of NetSquared is face-to-face experiences. At the end of the day, it’s about getting in a room with people,” Eli said. “That’s where the relationship-building process starts.”