Philanthropy is most often seen as giving money to a cause and that is something we should all celebrate and do within our means to do so. But giving your time is just as important and it is something that way more of us can do.

This weekend I attended the ScriptEd Hackathon in the Google Cafeteria in the Google NYC offices. ScriptEd runs in-school and after-school coding classes in something like 15 NYC public schools.

These schools sent students to the Hackathon where they formed teams and built software projects around the theme of music.

In this photo I took of the event you will see people wearing blue shirts and orange shirts. The blue shirts are the students and the orange shirts are the volunteers.


There were almost as many volunteers as students at this event. Maybe that’s why the hacks were universally so good.

The winning team made a space invaders style game that dropped beats from Soundcloud tracks and the players needed to grab them as they came raining down.

Here is a photo of the winning team pitching me on their project.

I love Hackathons because they teach multiple things at the same time; building something quickly, working in teams, and pitching. That latter thing, explaining what you built, is such an important life skill and these kids are learning it in high school.

If you have some free time that you can volunteer, I highly recommend it. If you want to help kids learn to code, ScriptEd and Teals are two great programs to work with. They are doing important work.


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    VCs wear black? The NationalWW2Museum.org had a huge robotics competition this weekend. http://www.nationalww2museu… Museum does it every year.

    1. fredwilson

      robotics is a great way to teach kids how to make things and code at the same time

      1. awaldstein

        yup–if you live in TriBeCa, the robotics club at the high school down here is always on the street with cool stuff that the kids have built.someone is doing a terrific job in the hs.

        1. Anne Libby

          I think it’s “someone” who commented elsewhere here today!

  2. Richard

    I’ve participated in hackathons and noticed that there isn’t much cross team interaction (it’s not intentional, just a time issue) With this being the case, i’d like to see a virtual hackathon, not intra-team, but the hackathon itself. It might allow more people to participate.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      I think that interaction is often increased / improved when hackathons intentionally foster a broader group of people, roles, ideas, etc…. e.g. http://www.pbs.org/idealab/… …and agree, actually it would be cool to see hackathons that include both online and offline components.

  3. Twain Twain

    As well as volunteering, we can support ideas like STEMETTES and do this in every country:* http://stemettes.org/ground…Last year, my hackathon team helped the 2-person K2C team (SF Financial Empowerment Office, http://sfofe.org/programs/k… to figure out how to contact and interact with 17,000 parents in SF who are saving money towards their kids’ college education.It’s rewarding stuff and I try to do my bit.

  4. William Mougayar

    I like it that the average age group for these hackathons has been gradually going down. That’s a leading indicator for things to come, and a proof point that starting earlier with technology is working. Younger developers are fearless in applying their creativity.

    1. stevec77

      Do you observe the average age of volunteers is getting younger too?

      1. William Mougayar

        I think so. It seems they go hand in hand, but it’s mixed on the volunteering segment with high and low extremes, i.e. much younger volunteering to learn, and much older too in order to stay involved and aware.

    2. Manjari Kumar

      My 11 year old daughter taught herself Java Script on Khan Academy. With her new found coding skills, this summer she plans to build a basic calculator with a fun googlesque interface. She plans to call it ‘Adda’, after Ada Lovelace and also the arithmetic operator. We live in a different world!

  5. mstearne

    I’ve done a couple hackathons with Qeyno Lans and they do great events. As a mentor I get so much out of it also. For youth hackathons it is less about the competition and more taking a product from idea to project management to delivering and presenting. They’re doing one in NYC (Bronx or Brooklyn) this summer. It would be great to have you as judge fredwilsonhttp://www.qeyno.com/#mediahttps://vimeo.com/114713731

  6. Amine TheDream

    I second Fred on this! Volunteering with high schoolers in hackathons is just the most refreshing thing ever! The excitement and the triumphs are infectious… I got out of it way more than the time I put in. Highly recommended.

  7. Dave W Baldwin

    Looks great!

  8. Ian Stewart

    My only concern with Hackathons as an introduction to building is that the time constraint often focuses teams on iterative / incremental combinations of existing technology, as opposed to larger bets on a very different future. There are definitely exceptions – some Hackathons do a good job of encouraging far-out projects, and sometimes individual teams prototype specific parts of a longer-view MVP.Hopefully this one had examples from all over the spectrum!

    1. Matt Zagaja

      I am in the process of organizing a hackathon and one of the issues that another organizer raised (and rightfully so) is that there are people that do not have interest in pursuing whatever projects are being worked on beyond the hackathon. I think this can be mitigated by having a group that is otherwise meeting regularly and can do follow-up. Another issue that was raised is that some people only go to hackathons to “snipe” for the prizes or are not interested in going to hackathons because they’re cynical and think people are just trolling for free developer work.I am wondering if people have thoughts and resources on people’s motivations for attending hackathons generally, and also how others that have organized hackathons have dealt with the above concerns?

  9. Emily Veach

    Sue and the ScriptEd team are doing great work. Thanks for supporting their efforts

  10. Anne Libby

    For non-programmers in the NYC area who want to work with HS students:https://imentor.org/nominat…They match public HS students with same gender mentors. And they always seem to be looking for more male mentors…

    1. fredwilson

      great suggestion Anne. iMentor is amazing.

      1. Anne Libby

        I’m pretty sure that you’re the one who clued me into them! They do a good job.

    2. awaldstein

      i’m tempted.

  11. Mike Zamansky

    In addition to the day long mentoring don’t underestimate the power of going up to a group of kids, taking interest in what they’ve built and letting them know that you think it’s cool.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Maurya Couvares

      Completely agree, Mike. It gives the kids a huge confidence boost and is so important.

    3. stevec77

      I do this all the time and can attest to its power. It’s a neat benefit about looking (growing) older. Your ‘perceived authority and credibility’ has a huge positive and instantaneous influence on self confidence levels.

  12. DJL

    I am showing my ingorance (again) but where is the “matchmaking” site where skilled volunteers can be matched up with organizations that need skills? To Fred’s point – much of the money donated to non-profits is used up trying to find matching talent to get things done.

    1. Maurya Couvares

      I agree w/ @willykaram:disqus and you should also check out catchafire.org.

      1. fredwilson

        the gothamgal is an investor in catchafire which is a for profit business, the .org notwithstanding

    2. Anne Libby

      I know a lot of people have had good luck with NY Cares, which vets people to work in a range of NYC not-for-profits.My sense of all of this is that it’s more complicated than an “uber for,” for any number of reasons. If you’re going to work with kids, there’s going to be a background check.Some not-for-profits lack the bandwidth (and talent) to manage volunteers. From what I’ve seen volunteering in a few nfp and community endeavors, it’s complicated and in a different way than it is to manage paid employees.

    3. Drew Meyers

      movingworlds.org is doing a version of this with a travel slant to it

  13. Kate Huyett

    Especially at startups, perks are focused on the “fun” – ping pong tables etc. But volunteering is also a great way to build culture and relationships within a company. I worked at Goldman for 5 years and (along with the vast majority of my colleagues) participated Community Team Works, a day of giving back. It was an incredible opportunity not only to give back but to to meet people from other areas of the company. It was both personally and professionally invaluable. In the startup world the main companies I’ve seen doing things like this are those that have an explicit social mission — eg Bombas Socks – donates a pair of socks to those in need for every pair purchased but also volunteers as a company about once every 6-8 weeks.

  14. Nidhi M

    Sometimes I get confuse about Philanthropy. It’s good to be kind toward people but when it comes to huge philanthropy, I think we should apply the same formula of start up (value creation and cost-benefit ratio). In the end, it is also kind of start up which is going to add value in an economy. For example, developing countries which have an abundant amount of human and natural resources but the problem with these people is their attitude, their’s mind is not flexible and less adaptive to change. And it is their culture, which takes 200 of years to change.I think an education is best to change it. The uneducated mind is solid rock because they do the same thing every day, and their problem-solving ability is low that make them less adaptive (Becuase they can’t learn a thing at the fast pace).

    1. Drew Meyers

      “but the problem with these people is their attitude, their’s mind is not flexible and less adaptive to change.”Their attitude isn’t a “problem”. IMHO, too many make the mistake of thinking everyone in the world wants the lifestyle the western world wants. You shouldn’t make that assumption.Note also there are many extremely smart individuals abroad, equally as scrappy/savvy as people in the western world. The fact of the matter is they were born into a world where their best opportunity is to transport loads of fruit from town to their local village with their own truck, rather than manage supply chains for a multi billion dollar global conglomerate (or build that company themselves). Just because they don’t do things at the scale we do, doens’t mean they aren’t capable. Everything in the world is relative.

      1. Nidhi M

        “Just because they don’t do things at the scale we do, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable. Everything in the world is relative” When we were doing user research, we tried very hard to understand user’s mind. The human mind is a most complex thing I ever found and when we went deep in it, roots of thing were different for each, but there was one common thing, their dream and vision. Theirs all decision based on vision, people who have a clear vision, they have great clarity about things, others are always in a dilemma. I thought how great It would be if everyone has the clear vision for life, but I found very few who are clear about it, I really don’t understand why all don’t have?

        1. Drew Meyers

          Figuring out what you want out of life is harder than it seems. Most people don’t figure it out early, and many I would guess never actually do. You can only make decisions based on what you know, and many people in life haven’t actually experienced that many different cultures, people, lifestyles, etc.This is the basis of our whole company. Enabling people to truly understand the world we live in, and the only way to do that is to see it with your own two eyes: http://www.horizonapp.co/bl

          1. Nidhi M

            Thanks Drew 🙂

  15. panterosa,

    Fred, when did you approach philanthropy with your kids? My wasband gives our kid her allowance with requirement to save 10% and donate 10%. I like that he started her young on finding things to support.

    1. fredwilson

      we used their bar and bat mitzvahs to kick off that conversation with them

    2. LE

      Never heard that term before “wasband”. Just looked it up.

      1. panterosa,

        I first heard it in in the late 1980’s from a recently divorced woman. I thought she might have coined it. She was very funny.

        1. JimHirshfield

          What’s the female version?

          1. panterosa,

            Currently, there is none, and it annoys the wasband deeply he has no clever nickname for me. Open season!

          2. JimHirshfield


          3. GS

            Wifex?Yeah, no idea.

    3. Christie Ma

      I like the 10% save / 10% donate requirement.A few years back, I piloted OneHen (https://www.onehen.org/acad… with a group of International kids in China. I was curious about how elementary aged kids would talk about money, building a small business, and donating a portion of their profits to a cause. I had three takeaways from running the OneHen program:1/ It’s really hard to discuss money concepts with young kids (7 to 11). I tried to condense the OneHen program into ten weeks (meeting just once a week for one hour). It was not enough time to go through all the concepts ( ie what is money? what is a business? what is profit? What do you value? Why would we give?) I still think the OneHen program (a book with a pre-made set of lessons) is wonderful and would love to run it again for a longer duration of time.2/ I am a firm believer of hands-on learning, learning-by-doing….especially for young kids. If I were to help kids understand savings and giving, there is no better way than to guide their learning through a hands-on project.I was most surprised by how the entrepreneurship exercise brought out new talents and fears in my students (aspects of my students I could not see in the classroom). One boy (who was always confident and outspoken in the classroom) became shy. When he couldn’t sell his home-made keychains as quickly as his classmates, I was really surprised that he became discouraged and just gave up. Another boy (who normally sleeps in class) was a savvy negotiator. In a two hour period, he tested out price points ranging from $3 to $20, sold most of his goods, and walked away with the most profit.3/ I spent two sessions talking about giving; It was not enough time. I was hoping to give the child the choice to give. When given the choice, the kids chose not to give. Only two kids offered to share their profits with their siblings and parents.I think Financial literacy and Philanthropy are important topics for kids. As a kid, I lived in Sydney Australia and remember spending 30mins per week banking with the Commonwealth Bank’s youth banking program, Dollarmites. I loved receiving stickers and stationary from the bank each week. In exchange, I would deposit my allowance and fill out my own deposit slip in school. I always wished American elementary schools would offer similar programs.

  16. kirklove


  17. karen_e

    “Explaining what you built.” Ah, marketing.

  18. Kevin Donovan

    Investing in your body, mind, and soul is the best investment thesis of all.The body and mind get most of the world’s attention but the soul is where its at.

  19. Sebastien Latapie

    Is anyone aware of similar types of opportunities in the Boston area? It is something I would definitely like to get involved with and would greatly appreciate some info to get my search started!

  20. Michael Carusi

    If you’re in the greater Fairfield County area, (www.volunteersquare.com) does localized volunteer matching for both tech and non-tech. Often the positions are very learning driven and the demand is always sky high (disclaimer: I work with them).Thanks for posting about this, Fred, these organizations ALWAYS need volunteers!

  21. Toby Dattolo

    I think its an amazing shift that “tech” was once a preconceived notion in schools for “nerds.” As we grow in a digital society, technology & innovation are bridging a gap between “nerds” and “cool.” So many youths in our country invest all their time and energy into extra extracurriculars that don’t lead to a realistic future/career – like football or playing the drums. Innovation from these type of programs will facilitate more acceptance and engagement from adolescents to think outside the box and use their creativity. Very exciting stuff

  22. Joe Cardillo

    I think about giving a lot. Probably about half as much time as I spend doing it, but it’s still a chunk. Startups prize execution, but not often enough when it comes to giving. You can’t think your way into understanding a customer just as you can’t really know anything about how it feels to give and what it means to someone else unless you do it regularly.

  23. jseliger

    But giving your time is just as important and it is something that way more of us can do.But that only makes sense if you can do it in a way that actively applies your skills to the organization or thing you’re volunteering to do. I’m a grant writer and work for nonprofit and public agencies, so I get to hear the backroom chatter about volunteers, and as a consequence I wrote “Volunteers: Nonprofits Really Want Their Money, Not Their Bodies” and “Most volunteering is a waste of time for anyone except the volunteer,” both of which are relevant here.Nonprofits really need volunteers who know the system and can show up consistently and play well with others. The number of people who do so is small.

  24. David Cole

    Great topic and a great picture. Cannot say enough about how valuable it is for kids to have adults listen to them. These kinds of projects — hackathons, production-centered learning, making art, submitting articles, coding and trouble-shooting and explaining what one has learned and revised — are the essence of education and creating community. Pitching — self-advocacy — is such an important skill and there’s no better way to practice that than making something and telling someone how and why you did it.

  25. DJL

    Great stuff. IMHO, the way to get traction on this type of app is to encourage people with an active volunteer base to drive their projects through the platform. catchafire.org is also very cool.