Why I Volunteer with Google Grants

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | 1:31 PM


When I joined Google six years ago, I was excited to work for a company that genuinely cared about making the world a better place for the people in it. My previous employers, the good ones as well as the bad and the ugly, had focused on the bottom line to a sometimes alarming extent.

In my role on Google’s intranet team, though, I found myself an extra degree removed from that whole business of making the world a better place. My job was to make Google a better place for its employees by providing access to internal information—“Organizing Google’s information and making it universally accessible and useful to Googlers,” as we put it. By the transitive property, then, I was making it easier for other employees to get on with that whole improving-the-world business. But I wasn’t doing an awful lot of world-improving, directly.

Enter Google Grants. I remember the first email that came to employees about Google Grants, as the program was just getting started. That email asked for suggestions of worthy non-profits that might benefit from free advertising, and I was excited—here was a chance to get behind those most involved in helping the world! In fact, I could even nominate the organizations and causes I most believe in!

As the director of my own dance company (in my time outside Google), I know first-hand how hard it can be for arts organizations to get recognition and funding. So right away I nominated a dance company and school in nearby San Francisco that’s known for its services to the dance community and offers a variety of programs to showcase rising choreographers.

It didn’t take long for Google Grants to take off, and now thousands of organizations apply for grants; it’s no longer a matter of word of mouth among employees. Since the program began in 2003, Google has supported non-profits worldwide with more than $600 million in advertising.

I’m glad to have a continuing role in helping these non-profits accomplish their worthy missions. As a Google Grants screener, I review organizations every week to see if they meet the guidelines for grant recipients. And I have learned so much along the way. I had no idea what an amazing variety of services non-profits provide to their communities, and it’s fun and eye-opening to see what turns up each week in my list of applicants.

At Google, I still work on internal projects, but now I know that as well as helping Google in its mission to organize the world’s information, I can help a tiny bit in dozens of other areas—arts! education! public health! environment! youth mentoring!—at the same time.