Last weekend, sixty website professionals from all around the area spent their weekend helping eight charities with a variety of website needs. Some of the charities didn’t have a website at all yet, while others had sites in a bad state of disrepair. Even others simply needed some vital fixes to broken functionality.
Ann Arbor Give Camp is a weekend-long event hosted by Washtenaw Community College, wherein local website professionals and technical experts get together with non-profit representatives to help ease their burden using technology. Non-profits rarely have the budget to afford a fancy website or even to get work done on small technical tasks, so they often have to beg anyone technical they know for pro-bono assistance. Because of this, these non-profits often wind up doing many things manually that could be optimized. Give Camp helps to bring non-profits in need together with technology professionals who have chosen to donate their time and expertise.
I was able to give my weekend to Give Camp this year as a part of my first Give Camp experience. I had no idea what to expect walking in – before I arrived, I’d heard rumors of people camping out all night, sleeping on the sofas, or in designated “quiet” rooms. Many of my fears of 45 hours of straight coding were allayed up front in the kickoff meeting, as Jay Harris, the organizer, reminded us that sleep is important in order to maintain productivity throughout the weekend.
After the introduction and welcome meeting, we met the eight charities that were participating this year, and heard their stories about both what they do, and what they need. Many of their stories were directly related to personal need – from a breast cancer survivor that helps those that have lost their jobs or are unable to work due to breast cancer, to a product of an urban youth development group that now helps to run the development group, himself. Give Camp also featured charities that operate internationally, in countries like Uganda and Nicaragua. The eight charities we helped this year were:
- Detroit Area Diaper Bank
- Eco-Fuel Africa
- Hope Clinic International
- The Pink Fund
- Raise It Up
- Saline Leadership Institute
- Washtenaw Contractors Association
The biggest need this year was centered on the ability for non-profits to be able to edit and update their own website with ease. Because of this, many of the websites that were redesigned/rebuilt used WordPress as their base. This helped to get many of the sites up and running very quickly, which allowed some of the secondary concerns to be addressed, and “nice to haves” to be added. The designers that were at Give Camp helped customize themes to fit the goals of each non-profit and match their current marketing materials. We also developed training materials, and even had time to do training with the non-profits’ representatives that were present to make sure they would be able to maintain their site after the weekend was over. Integration with Google Apps (Email and Calendar) was implemented, and database tools were rewritten. Charities that had been maintaining inventory by hand would previously spend hours reviewing applications to see if they qualified. However, Give Camp offered technical solutions that should eliminate many man-hours and free up those people to assist in other ways in the non-profit.
Although this was my first Give Camp, I hear that it was one of the smoothest programs to date. Regular standups kept us on task, and words never before uttered at Give Camp were heard: “we’re making the site responsive,” “we’re setting up automatic backup to DropBox,” and “we’re making sure the site is accessible.” This is a testament to the ability of the teams of three to eight people to gel together quickly, get the important needs taken care of right away, and finally be able to focus on extra things. In all, the non-profits benefited from over $141,000 of donated time and expertise over the course of the weekend.
Personally, I found the weekend to be an extremely rewarding experience. As an unknown developer put it, Give Camp was “…the most exhausting, rewarding, experience I’ve ever had.” Our team worked with the Saline Leadership Institute, which helps to build strong leadership qualities and a broader understanding of how teams work successfully in the community. We worked to update their website to WordPress, overhaul the look and feel, and integrate Google Calendar with their website. Our team included Jamie Altizer, Marcia Ziemer, Shyju K, Lloyd Smith Jr., Karen Dickenson, myself, and Swetha Bakka. Additionally, we had graphic design assistance from fellow Enlighten teammate Kim Maida. I enjoyed meeting local developers, and it was fun to watch teams of individuals who were mostly strangers at the start of Friday night come together to build and launch a website by Sunday at noon. You can see some of our team working below, as well as a comparison shot of the old and new home pages.
I strongly urge anyone who is able to seriously consider donating a weekend to Give Camp. While the date is still tentative, the third weekend of September is the target weekend for 2013, so mark your calendars now! You can also follow @aagivecamp on Twitter to keep up with local Give Camp news.