For Wilson Hines, technology isn’t just a hobby, a job, or even an obsession. It’s a calling from a higher power.
“I feel like it's one of the things the Lord wants me to do,” the 27-year-old IT consultant explained. “I feel like it’s a mission in life for me to help churches get involved with information technology.”
After we asked members to share their experiences volunteering, Wilson contacted TechRepublic about his service as the volunteer Director of IT Services at Grace Baptist Church in Birmingham, MI.
Wilson isn’t just installing software and occasionally fixing a printer. His plans for the church include:
- Performing an IT audit.
- Creating an IT plan.
- Building a wireless network with Internet connection.
- Reconstructing the church’s Web site.
- Creating streaming audio from the Web for the church’s radio ministry.
- Upgrading the desktops from Windows 95 to Windows 2000.
- Creating a computer curriculum for the schools’ classes.
Even for a full-time employee, that’s a lot of work. So we called Wilson and asked him how he intended to balance earning a living with volunteering. We also discussed what he’d learned from the experience that might be of value to other consultants.
TechRepublic: How did you get into IT?
Hines: My uncle. He was a vice president with IBM. He was one of the original developers of the PC Junior. I reckon the fellow had about 40 patents that were either in his name or in IBM’s name and he had something to do with it. So he is pretty much what piqued my interest.
TechRepublic: It looks like your list of volunteer work for the church is very long—
Hines: And getting longer by the day!
TechRepublic:—and technical. My question is that if you’re doing IT consulting as a job every day, why did you decide to do that work as a volunteer?
Hines: They had a guy that was charging them $75 an hour, and that’s fine. He was a member of the church. He would “fix” something, and in a couple of days, they’d have the same problem. So he’d come in again, but he wouldn’t consider it warranty work and would bill them again. He would do that three or four times before he would really fix it.
I had just moved up here. I was a pastoral theology major in college and I wanted to finish. They’ve got a small Bible college. I figured I’d help out with the computers when help was needed, but I figured they had that under control. Once I got to know the people, they were like, ”Hey, we’ve got this problem and this problem,” and I realized this guy was ripping these people off.
TechRepublic: That raises an interesting question for consultants. A lot of consultants walk into situations where they have to fix something that may have been broken by someone who’s still there. How did you handle that?
Hines: We are being very careful. We don’t want to hurt his feelings—we don’t want to lose, quite frankly, a brother in Christ. However, he was draining so much money out of the budget that we were unable to even upgrade our systems or buy a new computer. He had that much of a stranglehold on the budget—and this is a big church, with 1,000 people every week and offerings of about $10,000 every week.
So, basically, the pastor, a couple of staff members, and I had a private meeting. He looked at my previous work history and said, “I think Mr. Hines needs to be doing our work, especially if he’s willing to do it for free.”
He then had a larger staff meeting and said, “We’re just not going to call Brother So and So back. We’re not going to tell him he’s fired, because he’s not fired; he’s not a staff member. But we’re just not going to call him back to do work, and when the question comes up, direct it to me.”
It’s been a little awkward. But we’ve got a limited budget that’s already spread thin.
TechRepublic: It sounds like you handled it well. So what would you say to your IT consulting peers about volunteering and what you’ve learned or gotten from it?
Hines: I would say treat it just like any other client, except you’re not billing them, basically. A letter of agreement, I think, is essential.
TechRepublic: What sort of things should be in that agreement?
Hines: For example, everybody needs to know what my job is in relationship to his or her job. If they’re a Christian school teacher, and if Wilson Hines says, “You don’t need to be playing a game on this computer, we need to uninstall this program,” are they going to look at me and say, “Well, who are you?” You need to have a position, a title, with some authority. That should be in your letter of agreement.
The church is going to take care of any subscriptions relevant to the job description, any technical books and any Web 'zines. Also, they’re going to take care of continuing education—they’re going to take care of paying for my MCP. And of course, the letter includes reimbursement of costs, like test software.
Another thing to cover is a system and administration policy. I don’t want somebody being able to just walk in the door and work on my stuff, and I’m not going to do that to another consultant. If I take a week’s vacation, I’m still in charge—don't call anybody in on my work without me knowing it.
TechRepublic: I guess the other guy didn’t have that, huh?
Hines: No. I guess not (laughs).
How do you handle situations where you have to fix a project or system damaged by someone who still works for the agency? Post your tips and thoughts below or e-mail us.