Getting the Heads to Work with the Hearts

Over the years, Black Box Operations has had the opportunity to help several businesses and organizations, each with their own distinct target audience, domain, and infrastructures. We've also dedicated a significant portion of our time creating applications that allow business owners to better manage their resources and consolidate their daily business activities. There is, however, a significant similarity among these businesses and applications that's worth mentioning: they all help people. Earning my spurs in a business environment run by a person hellbent on helping, I was a quick study on the impact and necessity of philanthropy. It is rather unfortunate that society has convinced us that operating a lucrative business and operating an altruistic business are mutually exclusive models. In response to this notion, we have created a concept called return true; where we intend to provide our services, as well as the services of other volunteers who join our cause, to strengthen organizations that demonstrate a selfless concern for the welfare of others.

Being a technology provider, we have observed that the largest contributing factor and thus the largest need for an organization's success is the ability to utilize technology. We have also observed that non-profits often lack the resources necessary to purchase industry strength software, attend expensive training sessions, or hire in-house IT professionals. That said, return true; will request that developers and professionals donate a single weekend of their time and come together to create the services needed for these businesses to better manage their own resources and infrastructures. In programming, return true; is a statement that returns the boolean, or truth, value 'true' to the subroutine's return address. We use return true; as the name of this concept to imply that when we are called upon, we will return something that is unequivocally true. If our help is needed, then we will be veracity, we will be certainty, we will be sincerity, we will be truth.

The Idea

The concept of return true; is simple - identify struggling businesses or organizations whose objective is to enrich society or provide aid to the community, then help them by creating and providing the services, applications, and business processes necessary for more effective, efficient business practices. The current economic recession has introduced two crippling factors to non-profits around the world: a severe reduction in donations that is hindering continued and sustained assistance, and a sharp increase in the number of donors who have become recipients. There is a large number and wide variety of such organizations; outreach programs, emergency shelters, local humane society organizations, inner-city tutoring and education programs, you name it. While government funding exists for nearly all of these organizations, competition for funding has increased dramatically, and certain areas, such as philanthropy, human services, civil rights, and the arts, have shown sharp decreases in the amount of available funding.

The Who

  • While we intend to kick-start this idea by holding sessions locally, return true; has no owners, no stakeholders, and no profit model. return true; sessions can be hosted by anyone that is:
  • Willing to identify a business in need of help.
  • Rally support by asking local technology professionals to volunteer a weekend of their time.
  • Obtain sponsorship or funding in order to care for the volunteers and provide a safe work environment. Lead the professionals in creating and deploying the applications and services necessary to help said business operate more efficiently.
  • Provide management and support for the business after the session has concluded.

If the organization requires support once the session has concluded, the cost of services rendered by the individual or company will be determined based on the agreement between said individual or company and the organization receiving support. The Intellectual Property of any software or services created during the session, however, will be signed over to the organization. "return true; has no owners, no stakeholders, and no profit model. return true; sessions can be hosted by anyone."

The What

Through funding or sponsorship return true; will provide safe environments for professionals to volunteer their talents and time free of charge. This initial push is vital for virtually any organization attempting to operate successfully in today's information economy, and often equates to several tens of thousands of dollars the organization simply does not have. To provide a concrete example, Black Box Operations currently charges $75/hour for their services. If a return true; session is able to provide the services of 30 technology professionals for a weekend, and assuming they work 10 hours each day and charge a similar amount per hour for their services, the organization in need will essentially be receiving $45,000 worth of development and training for free. Think about that for a second. Think about how many businesses fail because they were unable to generate the revenue necessary to pay their bills during their first year. Think about how many organizations fold because they didn't have enough initial funding. Think about how many non-profits who are genuinely trying to make this world a better place have to close their doors because they couldn't push past that initial hump. With a single return true; session, we can give these people, these heroes of our time, a solid chance to succeed. A single weekend of our time can assure the survival of these organizations; organizations that will undoubtedly continue enriching our world. "If a return true; session is able to offer the services of 30 technology professionals [...] the organization in need will essentially be receiving $45,000 worth of development and training for free."

The When

return true; has no set schedule. Instead, whenever an individual identifies a business in need of assistance, the surrounding professional community is notified through online forums, and those who have a skill and a weekend to donate can submit their details and be placed within the program. This means that on any given weekend there could be hundreds of return true; sessions occurring all around the world. The concept of return true; doesn't require for sessions to be set at specific times throughout the year. They can occur in any city, on any weekend, with any group of volunteers, for any business in need. Our only stipulation is that the sessions be limited to weekends so as not to interfere with the volunteers' work schedules, and that each day be limited to 10 hours of work so as not to interfere with the volunteers' personal lives. "[..] on any given weekend there could be hundreds of return true; sessions occurring all around the world."

The Why

Because we're passionate. Because we believe in people. Because we actively try to improve the world we share. Because we hope, we dream. Because we can. Most importantly, because we must. "Most importantly, because we must."

The Where

return true; sessions can be held anywhere as long as the available funding is able to provide for a safe work environment, food, and shelter to the professionals volunteering their talents and time for the weekend. If funding allows for a return true; session to house 50 volunteers at a hotel in a safe location that contains areas conducive to development, and the surrounding community has identified an organization or business in need of assistance, then the session should be suggested to the return true; community. If the community fact-checks and subsequently agrees by vote to the legitimacy of the session, the session will have the community's approval and the host can begin the necessary preparations. It is important to note that return true; is a concept, not a business or organization. While return true; sessions can occur anywhere, return true; is not the host. The person who ultimately obtains funding or sponsorship will be responsible for managing the session, but should not be held legally responsible for the volunteers' actions. We intend to provide wavers for the hosts of return true; sessions, which volunteers must sign in order to absolve the host of any potential legal repercussions. While this may rub some people the wrong way, it is important for the people willing to put in the work necessary to host a return true; session to focus on the session itself and not be overly concerned about the legal issues involved with situations such as volunteers demanding compensation for their work once the session has concluded. That being said, it is ultimately each volunteer's responsibility to make sure they are not being duped into working for free, and that they are not requested to pay any additional fees for room and board. We will make it a point to keep the process of session approval as transparent and democratic as possible. In doing so, we can assure that if you're willing to volunteer, you will be able to track the legitimacy as well as the progress of a proposed session. "It is important to note that return true; is a concept, not a business or organization. While a return true; session can occur anywhere, return true; is not the host."

The How

There is no formal process for holding a small return true; session, provided that the group of individuals holding the session are helping an organization on their own dime, on their own time. For example, if you and a few other developers decide to help a local organization and shoulder no financial burden in doing so, then more power to you. This is at the very heart of the return true; cause - help those in need. The difference between a small session and a large session is that of financial responsibility. When the session requires outside funding to provide room and board for any of the volunteers, it is then classified as a large session. If no volunteers require any outside funding for room and board, it remains a small session. The process of holding a large return true; session is as follows:

  1. An individual, or group of individuals, identifies a local organization in need of assistance.
  2. The individual, or group of individuals, proposes a return true; session to the return true; community, which will be in the form of an online forum.
  3. The legitimacy of the request, as well as the organization and its needs, will be checked by other members of the return true; community. Attempting to game the return true; community is a patently bad idea - if you need evidence as to how bad of an idea this is, please read about Anonymous. Technology experts are the very last people you want to try and fool.
  4. If the proposal is legitimate, the individual, or group of individuals, will have the community's approval to begin preparations.
  5. Before preparations begin, however, a request for volunteers is posted on the return true; forum. Volunteers will be asked to provide details about their skills so that the individual, or group of individuals, can select those who are capable of handling the work necessary to meet the organization's needs.
  6. Once the volunteers have been selected, an outline for the weekend will be drafted by the group to assure that whatever work is suggested can feasibly be accomplished by the end of the session.
  7. The individual, or group of individuals, is then responsible for obtaining funding or sponsorship to provide room and board in a safe location that has environments conducive to work. The return true; community can also provide funding through donations to the individual, or group of individuals.
  8. The amount of funding, the location, and the costs for room and board, must be posted to the return true; forum so that the community can keep everyone honest. return true; will not be used for personal gain, and any evidence of such an attempt will have you permanently banned from the community. With multiple checks in place and multiple people willing to fact check, it will be nearly impossible to use this system for personal or financial gain. You have been warned.
  9. If the request is legitimate, the volunteers are willing, the source of funding is genuine, the selected location is secure, and the individual, or group of individuals, have shown that they can provide for the volunteers, then the volunteers are requested to sign a waver stating that they will be attending a return true; session, free of charge, to offer their services for the weekend, free of charge, and cannot hold the hosts legally responsible for their own actions or misfortunes.
  10. From this point it is up to the individual, or group of individuals, to lead their team of volunteers for the weekend in creating the applications, systems, and processes required by the organization in need. We believe it is fair to allow the host first right of approaching and negotiating future development work with the organization, but ultimately leave it up to the host to decide.
  11. However, the intellectual property of whatever is created by the volunteers during the session will be handed over to the organization at the end of the session. It would be counterproductive to allow the host to assume ownership of whatever is created and possibly impose additional fees on the organization for software created by a group of volunteers upon commencement. This is to further ensure that the community, as well as the volunteers, are not exploited for their meaningful, altruistic contributions.