What open source can teach charity

Don't just take these donations of time you're about to get and treat them the way politicians so often do. Don't give these good people scut work. Do what open source did.

Salvation Army kettle from howstuffworks
On my radio this morning I heard yet-another report of charities asking for contributions in time, because they can't and won't get money. (Picture from the Christmas Trivia page at Howstuffworks.)

This is a worthwhile idea. As unemployment (and underemployment) rises, putting time into good causes makes sense. Money is no longer available, your time is plentiful, you'll feel better (assuming you can make the mortgage payment).

One important point we ignore these days is that open source really got going based on that premise.

The period from the aftermath of the Time-AOL deal in 2000 to the rise of open source as a business model in 2005 was a hard one for many in the tech community.

One of its aftereffects remains with us, a shortage of young people interested in computer programming as a career.

But when many people got pink slips back at the dawn of this century, we didn't stop working. We kept at it. Many of our best open source projects were the product of this time. The benefits are still with us.

Now that it's time for open source to give back, let me start by offering the charities some advice.

Don't just take these donations of time you're about to get and treat them the way politicians so often do. Don't give these good people scut work.

Do what open source did.

Listen to what they are good at, and put them to work using those skills. Accept and even implement their ideas. Build new projects around their strengths.

In this way the recession can be for you what the last was for computing, a time of renewal.

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