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February 27, 2017; Kansas City Business Journal and Vodori

Could you plan, design, and build a website for a nonprofit in less than a weekend? That was the goal of a marathon programming session, otherwise known as a hackathon, held last weekend in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Overnight Website Challenge matched programmers willing to donate their skills and their time for a cause with select nonprofits that applied for the chance to have their websites created, merged, or updated. Volunteers from the tech community formed teams of web pros; when they show up, they don’t know which nonprofit they’ll serve, pro bono, for the next 24 hours.

This particular hackathon featured the following nonprofits: Girls Leading Our World, Centerview Food Valley Allergy Management, and Principals Connect, which did not have a website prior to the event. The teams worked from 9 a.m. Saturday, February 25th, to 9 a.m. the next day.

Nonprofits seeking to be part of this event had to compete by answering questions about the technology upgrades they sought:

  • What new functionality are we looking for?
  • How will the new functionality help?
  • How will the organization use the technology?
  • Who will use the technology?

Examples of requested new functionality included an easier means of adding content, the ability to accept donations, a secure method for volunteers to complete applications, and the development of a website for online training. PrincipalsConnect saw the debut of a new website as critical to the launch of the new organization.

Each team of volunteers covered a range of skills needed for web development, like as project management, user experience design, graphic design, digital and content strategy, and front-end development. The teams agreed to provide up to three months of ongoing support, which includes up to 10 hours of development per month, if the new websites are launched within a month of the event.

One month following the Challenge, the nonprofits and the teams will come together to demo their work and to give out awards. One is the People’s Choice Award, which is crowdsourced via public voting. Teams also receive commendations for Functionality, User Experience, and Impact. However, the top prize is undoubtedly the bragging rights related to the work completed in the name of community service.

Representatives from the online marketing group Vodori, which fielded a team for the Challenge in prior years, recapped some reflections from former volunteers about their fondest takeaways from the event:

  • “Witnessing firsthand the profound impact that something as simple as a new website can have in the lives of not only the nonprofits but also those whose lives they impact.”
  • “My biggest takeaway was the look on [the client’s] face after we launched. It was a great feeling.”
  • “What better way to use your talents that to help someone else?”

The organizers of the event were The Nerdery, LLC and the Nerdery Foundation, itself a nonprofit, whose mission is to “activate technologists to better our world,” bridging the technology gap for nonprofits by matching them with highly skilled techies. They sponsor similar events in Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago.

Mark Malmberg, co-president of the Nerdery, hopes the event “changes the game” for nonprofits in moving their brand awareness forward and in automating some processes to free up time for service delivery.—Jeanne Allen