Last October, Boston tech companies and investors came together for a week-long marathon of giving back to the community. The volunteering opportunities ranged from working at kitchens, cleaning up banks on the Charles River, and helping foster children’s ideas for entrepreneurship.
And when the week was over, a total of 75 companies participated and 2,000 plus individuals rolled up their sleeves to work at over 60 nonprofits in local communities. Another astounding statistic; over four years of volunteer hours were completed in just three days.
This was TUGG’s (Tech Underwriting Greater Good) Tech Gives Back - one of, if not the premier, event for the non-profit organization. The 2018 event was also the largest and most impactful in history. Through a partnership with Silicon Valley Bank, they were able to reach outside of Boston and even internationally.
TUGG’s mission isn’t just to create events. Since the organization came together by Accomplice’s Jeff Fagnan, General Catalyst’s Hermant Taneja, and longtime investor Dana Samuels, its goal for the greater tech community is to simply “give back.”
What is TUGG?
TUGG started out as a side project for a couple of years before it became an official nonprofit organization in 2009 and has left a lasting impact on the Boston tech community. Some of their biggest contributions include introducing BUILD to the city and hosting the annual Wine & Tequila Party, which brings together anyone and everyone to raise money for early-stage non-profits.
The organization also has a portfolio of early-stage nonprofits and not only gives them a platform to raise money but also helps them scale. Currently, the portfolio has 27 active startups including Resilient Coders, Catie’s Closet, and MEDIAGIRLS.
However, prior to last year’s Tech Gives Back event the organization was left without an executive director for the first six months of the year. As a result, their annual Wine & Tequila Party was canceled and there was a need for a new leader.
TUGG’s New ED
Mike Cole, who is currently serving as TUGG’s Executive Director, is spearheading the organization’s journey forward, by not only expanding upon current events but also implementing his own set of programs.
“Being an early employee of Reddit, the thing that was imprinted on me the most was the importance of community and the power of a community to do good,” said Cole. “When I wanted to come back to New England, specifically Boston,I found TUGG as an interesting intersection between the city of Boston, social good, and the tech community.”
There have been several Executive Directors of TUGG since its inception, with each of them bringing their own vision to the table. When Cole joined, he didn’t want to steer TUGG in a different direction. Rather, Cole wanted to get back to basics and not focus heavily on networking events and parties. He found that many of the nonprofits in TUGG’s portfolio, as well as some of their biggest donors, found that pub crawls and bowling nights weren’t creating significant connections, but rather an excuse for attendees to hang out with their friends.
“There is a younger generation of tech talent that wants to do more,” Cole said. “I thought about how we [TUGG] can be a better conduit for these up-and-coming startups and for the community at large.”
Cole began organizing Lunch n’ Learn events at various companies, where one of TUGG’s portfolio startups will come into a company’s offices and speak to their employees about their goals for the greater good. Since January, TUGG has held over 20 of these kinds of events.
“Every Lunch n’ Learn is different. Sometimes it will be one of our nonprofits coming in telling their story and asking how they can receive help from the hosting company,” said Cole. “Other times, a nonprofit will not have any slides, and will just have a conversation with employees.”
Also, Cole and his current staff were responsible for bringing back the Wine & Tequila Party this year. This year’s event saw the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts go past capacity only a half-hour after doors opened.
What is next for TUGG?
Cole has an ambitious plan for the future of the organization with ideas to get more employees to use their tech-related skills to help build out applications for non-profits. Another project the Executive Director wants to work on is to host a hackathon for TUGG.
“2021 is going to be the tenth anniversary of Tech Gives Back, and it's my goal to have 5,000 tech workers in Boston participate,” said Cole. “And for the next year, my goal is to focus on skilled volunteers. Meaning, how do we better mobilize Boston’s tech workforce and use their skills to help nonprofits with their biggest barriers to scale? That is a challenge TUGG has faced even before I came on board, and I aim to be the Executive Director to finally solve it.”
Compared to how things were running a year ago, it appears that TUGG is on back on track to raise their profile and their impact. Cole is already preparing for this year’s Tech Gives Back and ready for any company to lend their helping hands. Tech Gives Back will be formally announced by the end of July.
Cole describes his plans for the next few years as ‘philanarchy,’ a portmanteau of philanthropy and anarchy.
“There should be no one telling us ‘No,’ and I don’t think there should be any guardrails for giving back,” said Cole describing this new view. “There is this old way of thinking about philanthropy, that you somehow need permission or a greenlight to get involved, but at TUGG we want to be a blunt force that gets it done by any means necessary.”