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Some recent events in my life have made me want to contribute more to causes I believe in rather than just working for a profit-driven company. I have been thinking that if I could find a non-profit organization that I like and believe in then I might feel more fulfilled working for them. I have a decent amount of web development experience and currently work as a Java / Spring web developer.

I realize the compensation wouldn't have the same "ceiling" potential as for-profit but am wondering if its possible to get at least something close to a market rate for work as I am planning to start a family sometime soon and still need a legitimate income. If anyone has any knowledge or experience about this sort of thing would be happy to hear from you.

EDIT: Without getting in to too much personal detail, I have a relative who recently passed away who suffered from a mental illness so while it doesn't have to be an organization specifically dedicated to this, I am hoping to work for something along these lines at least where there is more of a social cause rather than just working on an open-source project whose only cause is the advancement of technology.

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Charities do have employees. You'll just have to find one that needs your skills. – ChrisF Mar 12 '11 at 17:38
Non-Profit != charity, just they don't charge more money than they need to run the establishment. They can still draw money through services, such as patient care. 62% (wiki) of hospitals are non-profit. Hospitals pay well. – P.Brian.Mackey Jan 5 '12 at 18:15
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I've been pitched a few nonprofit jobs in the past, so I can confirm that these jobs do exist, though I haven't personally taken any of them.

Since I live in Seattle, the Gates Foundation is one of the larger nonprofits, and they hire a substantial number of developers. Thanks mostly to their history, they use mostly a Microsoft stack. But they work on projects related to reducing the incidence of debilitating diseases around the world, and on education-focused projects in the US. So they might be a good fit for your motivation.

I don't remember with absolute certainty if they were a nonprofit or not, but a recruiter once or twice contacted me on behalf of some sort of religious organization.

These two jobs were close to, but not exactly as high as industry salary ranges. Additionally, I've been contacted by recruiters looking for help at smaller nonprofits that were offering roughly half of what I'm accustomed to earning. In another phase of my life, I would be motivated to take on such projects, though that doesn't work very well for my family's current needs.

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I confirm this, I have been contacted by Croix Rouge (Red Cross) in the past. – user2567 Mar 12 '11 at 19:07
thanks, yeah I don't think I could work for a company with a Microsoft stack just because my experience is so far opposite that and I really haven't enjoyed time spent on MS technologies but I am sure there are things out there and the info you gave is giving me more hope. – programmx10 Mar 12 '11 at 19:59

It's worth mentioning that you don't necessarily need to work for a non-profit to make a difference. There are many companies that do make a difference in the world.

For example, Google is Working on Artificially Intelligent Self-Driving Cars. This technology could eliminate thousands of deaths each year from automobile crashes caused by inattentive or moody drivers.

The Leading Cause of Death in 2009 for US Teens Was Car Crashes. Imagine the difference that could be made in this area by a for-profit, cutting-edge market leader such as Google.

There are other examples of this on a smaller scale. The company I work for contributed environmentally by taking over 300 commuter cars off the roads by moving their jobs to work-at-home positions.

I'm sure there are other examples of for-profit companies that make a difference. You don't need "non-profit" in your company name to make a difference in the world.

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thanks I am starting to realize that, I think it will help me expand my search – programmx10 Mar 12 '11 at 19:54
@Rick - Excellent! Remember, you don't need to martyr your paycheck to make a difference in the world. – jmort253 Mar 12 '11 at 21:16

There are non-profit organizations and then there are non-profit organizations. Some have an irreplaceable role, others have to work hard at maintaining one. Some are buzzing with activity, other's don't have any that are visible. NPOs, like most business compositions, lack in knowledge and experience of what it means to have an in-house developer, what are full costs/benefits and generally what kind of a developer would be a matching fit for their business, how would they know someone is suitable?

They usually contract any technical requirements to a befriended agency. But since your experienced and proactive, I'm sure you would know how to properly approach them and prove how beneficial you could be to their business and get a good response.

Most non-profit organizations operate in the open and having a good social platform is essential and your skills should be one of their most important assents. You can do anything from creating individual Web presentations for each of their activities, small Web applications that integrate with a lot platforms and devices for new events or rapidly develop custom business applications.

Now, while you won't be fully compensated for your work, it will still be fair. But don't forget, being an employee in a non-profit organization is the closest thing to being treated as a student while your employed: your eligible for cheaper services. A lot of things will be more accessible to you, developer conferences, software costs and hosting costs are just some of the few things that come to mind.

When we talk about NPOs, I'm sure everyone has a certain NPO in mind that makes it a bit hard to objectively discuss employment in the non-profit sector. Personally, I think it's a fantastic environment to work in, if your the kind of person that doesn't weigh everything solely on income. I mean, who would't like to work for an NGO that organizes some well known cultural festival, that's very influential and generates a huge positive impact for the community? That's like being a rock star without all the accompanying crud.

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thank you, this is a great detailed answer and is giving me some hope – programmx10 Mar 12 '11 at 19:55
Also, I think I could make the trade-off for lower income, I am quite sick of everything revolving around the "customer" because quite honestly I don't give a you know what about what they want (given how often their requirements change and how finnicky they are), sometimes the absolute pursuit of profit just feels empty to me and having the "customer" be people who are actually in need of help would be a lot more fulfilling, I would actually care about the end result more I think and be willing to put in the extra effort – programmx10 Mar 12 '11 at 19:58

Regular charity organizations probably won't have much use for you (as programmer).

But there are non-profit software oriented organizations like Wikipedia or Mozilla Foundation which certainly need programmers.

And then there are quite a few open-source projects which are backed by large corporations - NetBeans, OpenOffice, MySQL etc. which also employ large teams of paid programmers. Not sure if that counts though.

EDIT: I guess Canonical could be classified as halfway in between these two :)

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I suppose I'd be willing to push myself to be more than just a programmer, I'm not looking to really work for an open-source project, more for a non-profit with a social cause. I figure some must have room for a developer / consultant who can help open up and then implement possibilities of how to better leverage the internet to further their cause – programmx10 Mar 12 '11 at 18:03

Yes, as other have pointed out, non-profit doesn't mean "free of operating expenses", including employees. I think ComputerWorld has had a couple articles in the past on CIOs that work for non-profits, and just as you surmised, the compensation isn't quite the same as that in commercial businesses, but they are still paid.

I think internet and job board searches with the criteria you're looking for will indeed get results. You can also check out blackbaud. The company seems dedicated to charitable causes and does hire all kinds of people including developers. You can also find comments from current and former employees at sites like glassdoor. In fact, glassdoor is useful for researching nearly any company, but take things with a grain of salt because they are anonymous reviews.

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