Working for non-profits organisations

damcosset profile image Damien Cosset ・1 min read


I am curious about the way developers handle working with non-profit organisations. Juste like a lot of organisations and people, they have a need for software and websites. But, they also might not have a budget anywhere near what is required to have what they want.

If a non-profit approached you to build something, what would it take for you to give them a hand? Assuming that the organisation's mission is something that resonates with you, would you be willing to lower your rate, or even do it for free? Are there things you are not willing to give up under any circumstances? Have you ever had any experiences like these?


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jaymeedwards profile image
Jayme Edwards 🍃💻

It really depends on their financial planning and business model. I did quite a bit of work for a non profit with a billion dollar+ purse and they had one of the best rates. Not all non profits struggle. It might be worth looking into their business filings, if available, to see how much they allocate to whatever budget your work comes under before compromising your offer.

As for me, yes I would take a cut of 10-15% to help a company who’s struggling if I believe what they’re doing is for a good cause and the numbers show it. I have a family and live in a fairly expensive city, so I can’t take a much bigger cut at this point in my life. But I’d like to be in that position sometime in the near future.

ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

I spent almost 2 years as the web administrator for a non-profit professional association in the DC area. First off, I hated that job title! It feels like it's a hanger-on from the 90s. Now that I've got that out of my system, the resource constraints are a huge issue. I had the impression that there had never been a competent developer at the organization before me; they went out of their way to put together a benefits package which was actually pretty decent, although in DC it seemed like I could never make enough money to live comfortably.

There's a lot of politics you will have to play. There was NOTHING in terms of best practices or website policy when I came onboard; things were done in a really inefficient manner because "that's how we always have done it!" My boss was really supportive and fought hard to help me make changes, but there were a lot of people dragging their feet at every opportunity. Ultimately, this is why I quit.

Most of the companies specializing in non-profit technology are producing absolutely garbage software, so be prepared for a lot of frustrating integrations with SOAP web services or 'REST' APIs which only have a single method and return 200 when exceptions are raised. I felt like some of these companies were knowingly taking advantage of the fact that most non-profits lack IT knowledge...they would charge us $200/hr to fix their software and I would generally catch them outsourcing the work.

You're going to be dealing with people problems moreso than technology problems, and as an outsider, you probably won't have any power to address those. Unless you have a lot of support from leadership, you are going to struggle to accomplish anything. The core issues that needed to be solved boiled down to open communication and trust between employees and management, and all the software in the world wasn't going to fix that.

If you are really passionate about it, by all means go for it, but be realistic about outcomes. I wouldn't sell myself short...they might already be paying contractors $200 an hour to butcher their systems and if you can't get the resources you need even after non-profit price incentives and tax breaks, the organization has bigger issues than their website.

Don't expect to play with a lot of exciting technology, you are going to be dealing with a lot of legacy systems. You'll be paying for terrible decisions someone made ten years ago. My position had been vacant for a while when I joined so they had contracted out the redesign of our website, which was a disaster. They would pay consultants big money to gather detailed requirements on what they needed from their systems, and then pick something that didn't meet any of the requirements and looked most similar to the current suite of programs that didn't work.

vuild profile image

This pretty much is what goes on. Scott knows charity.

On the smaller ones, no $200 consultants (just someone's cousin).

vuild profile image

I work for free for a bunch of charities & built a few.

Large non profits can pay reasonably.

Smaller ones? I do extra work for clients & then give my free time + pay for devs to the charities for free. It requires a serious commitment, like you would for a paid job, same terms.

That is the only real way for them to be competitive (if no serious sponsors).

A charity should be spending 10-15% on admin so you can imagine how much you need to bring in to pay a high level tech person (SEO/SEM/dev/UI/content etc). A small tech team? Revenue needs to be millions so you have to do it for free/cost.

Building something you know has saved thousands of lives directly is better for your well being than all the money in the world. All the small arguments (like you see on social media) become unimportant.

nikolicstjepan profile image
Nikolić Stjepan

I would build a website for free if their mission means something me! It's not all about the money; there is a lot to be gained from the feeling that you are doing/helping something that is in sync with your personal beliefs. And there is a chance that work you do will bring you paying customers...

florimondmanca profile image
Florimond Manca

That's a great topic!

Back in 2017, I decided to work for a small student non-profit (~100 members) I had been the treasurer of for more than a year — so obviously the mission did resonate with me because I was a member and co-lead of the organisation in the first place.

They didn't actually ask me anything: I volunteered to build them a new website. The motivation for me was to gain some experience, both with code and project management.

At the time being paid was out of the question, because I was doing it as a fellow student, and I did not have the experience to demand anything. Besides, I had much more time to give away than I do now. :)

So if the situation came up again, and I really connect with the mission, I'd say it depends on the size of the project:

  • If it's small (e.g. a few days work), I'd probably accept to do it for free.
  • But if the project is quite large (e.g. months), I'd ask to be paid, though I'd probably accept lowering rates if I know they're running on a budget.

I'm interested in seeing what others think!

vuild profile image

It's cool that you help for free by offering, they generally need it. 👍

This is a good balance (some small work for free, paid on bigger projects) if you are actually trying to help.