The lifeblood of any ambitious technology enterprise is its team. There is no way to make great products that delight people and solve their problems, without a cohesive group bringing their diverse expertise and experiences to bear.

This is doubly true of social enterprises like Tech Matters. We are building products where the limited market opportunity means that for-profit companies are unlikely to show up. Our typical users are on the front lines of enormous social problems.

Because we don’t have the resources of a big company or a venture-backed start-up, we have the additional challenge of finding awesome team members, who are willing to (generally) make less money in exchange for working on products that benefit humanity and the planet – rather than making the rich richer by better targeting ads.

We wanted to share our approach to finding great people. You might be interested in joining us, or a budding social entrepreneur wondering how we do it.

Compressed Wage Scale

Our first philosophy is around compressing our wage scale. What this means is that our executives are generally taking a big pay cut to work for us, mid-level team members somewhat less of a pay cut, and our entry-level team members should be getting market or close to market salaries. Of course, if you live in a very high-cost area like Silicon Valley, your mileage may vary.

We also make sure to talk about compensation in the first interview with a prospective candidate. It isn’t good for us, or the candidate, if they are looking for a salary far in excess of our budget. Far better to figure that out right away, so we can both spend our time finding a better match for our needs.

That being said, our salaries are very good by nonprofit standards! And the opportunity to work on something that means a lot to them personally and to the world is motivation enough for many people to join our team.

Hire Globally, Pay Locally

Part of our strategy is to hire globally, because our users are all over the world. For most of our positions, we are open to hiring the best person for the role, wherever they are based. And, we try to pay wages based on local costs and norms. Note that this is a controversial issue in the tech field, as well as the broader nonprofit field, with passionate proponents on both sides — whether or not to take location into account when setting pay. By being open to hiring globally and adjusting our wages to local standards, we can build a balanced and diverse team, while doing more because we can hire a few more people for the team with the same total budget.

We work hard to treat all of our team members fairly. That’s not always easy, because of differing legal structures and local practices. For example, US-based team members are employees, because that’s a typical legal requirement for people who work for you full-time in the US. Team members outside the US are legally consultants (at least, to US authorities). But, we adjust their compensation to incorporate ten days of holidays and twenty days of paid time off, comparable to our US-based employees.

Full Team Members

All of our team members, wherever they are located, are full members of the Tech Matters team.

Being full team members can be challenging when time zone differences are involved. That means some amount of time zone overlap is typically a requirement when we are recruiting. In practice, it means our US West Coast-based team members are getting up earlier in the morning than they might like and our European and African team members are staying up later into the evening, so that we can get together by Zoom. It’s a commitment we all make to each other.

Our international team members get annual reviews (and raises, if applicable) in the same way that our US-based employees do. And, we are interested in supporting the professional development of all of our team members, whatever their legal status might be.

Now, we also have part-time or short-term consultants who are not full team members, just like any organization. Our criterion is that if a specific new person would be an employee if they lived in the US, they will be a full team member if they happen to live outside the US.

If there wasn’t a pandemic on, we would also be getting our whole team together in person once or twice a year. We know it is important for virtual teams to connect with each other in the real world, not just the digital world. Since we’re saving a lot of money not renting office space for our team, we think this is a good use of our limited funding: the returns outweigh the costs. We have high hopes that 2022 will be a year where we can be connecting in person with our team.

Conclusion

Tech Matters is able to meet the challenge of building high-performing teams to create software products as a nonprofit tech company thanks to our compressed wage scale, paying based on location, and treating all of our core people as full team members. This enables us to source from a more diverse talent pool, and have team members closer to our users and partners around the world.

People from the tech field often ask me how we, as a charity, can find great tech people, given the incredible focus on wealth in the tech community. I joke that I don’t have to change the entire field, just 0.01% of it! Thankfully, there are great people who want to work on building tech to meet social challenges, even if it means they aren’t necessarily working for the highest bidder.

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