Tag Archives: hacks4good

Virtual volunteering gets shout out in One America Appeal

Saturday night, during the One America Appeal concert, after the speeches by the USA Presidents in attendance, a representative from the Points of Light Foundation took the stage to honor volunteers who have made significant contributions to helping in post-hurricane efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I was floored and thrilled to hear virtual volunteering referenced!

Among the volunteers honored was Leah Halbina of Florida, who joined the efforts of Sketch City, a nonprofit community based in Houston. Together with other online volunteers, they helped victims locate their nearest shelter and satisfy other pressing needs in Texas. Leah helped Sketch City’s initiative harveyneeds.org by calling shelters and asking about their capacity. Shortly after, Leah had to use the technology and information-gathering in her home state of Florida as Hurricane Irma approached and made landfall. Leah and other online volunteers created irmaresponse.org, a website providing victims with information on shelter locations and capacity, and providing donors with information on the needs of each shelter. Chatbots (via text and Facebook messenger) were used to help evacuees locate shelters, and were equipped to speak both English and Spanish, while the website was offered in English, Spanish and Creole to accommodate as many residents as possible. “For Irma Response, I took on a lot of the same responsibilities as Harvey Needs: Setting up our Facebook page, Twitter handle, website, and helping route new volunteers to help them find their place and a project they wanted to contribute to. With a lot of help from others in the group, I also managed our social media to spread the word about the available tools and resources.” Other groups that contributed volunteers were based all over Texas and Florida, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia, Oklahoma, San Jose, Greensboro, Washington, D.C. and Louisville, Kentucky.

More than 20 years ago, back in the late 1990s, I presented at a Points of Light Foundation / Corporation for National Service national conference, introducing the idea of virtual volunteering to attendees. The next year, I contacted POL and asked if I would be presenting again. They said no – a presentation had been done by me last year, there’s no need for another! Sigh… I would submit information they could include on their web site about virtual volunteering, they would politely decline…. I am so thankful that times have changed.

Also honored by the foundation as a “point of light” was Ronnie Devries. With experience as the volunteer coordinator for TXRX Labs, a Houston nonprofit hackerspace, Ronnie helped create a makeshift command center at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, which became a shelter for thousands of residents displaced by the storm. Working overnight, he helped set up a system for volunteer coordination to ensure volunteers were matched with all aspects of shelter operations. After the volunteer coordination was handed off to Volunteer Houston, he created harveyseminars.org and conducted free seminars/workshops around information for people affected by the storm, or for people who wanted to help others. I love that someone who engaged in volunteer coordination and management was honored. The importance of quality volunteer coordination is too often overlooked! 

And another thing I loved about these honors: they aren’t about how many hours the volunteers have given, or about the dollar value of those volunteers. The honors are about how volunteering worth honoring is transformative, not about the number of hours.

Also see:

Re-creating offline excitement & a human touch online

Back in 1998, an effort that became the nonprofit Knowbility started a hackathon competition before such events were called hackathons. It was called the Accessibility Internet Rally, or AIR, and in one day, professional web designers and web design students volunteered their time to build web sites for nonprofits in Austin, Texas – web sites that are fully accessible to people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies. Designers were divided into teams, and each team had a nonprofit to build for. The teams were all on one floor of a training center that donated its space and computers for the event.

It was crazy, fun, exciting and, at times, silly. I was at that first competition, and at the events in 1999 and 2000, representing a partner organization, via the Virtual Volunteering Project. I helped greet and register every participant as they came in. I also ran through the hallways, into the training rooms, shouting deadlines, like “Two more hours! Just two more hours!”  We got donated food from a local Subway shop and various grocery stores, and teams wouldn’t take a lunch break, despite our pleas for them to do so – they’d run into the room, scarf, then run back to their computers, ready for more designing. Austin-area corporations donated their branded swag that they had leftover from conferences in the past, or that had old logos on them, and we were able to put together goodie bags of memo pads, pens, frisbees and more to hand out to all participants. The second year, several corporate teams returned – this time with custom t-shirts they had made for their team especially for the competition! The event was so energizing and fun that teams came back year after year.

I still use the crockpot that we used to provide nacho cheese for teams…

The AIR competition has continued, and is still awesome, but a few years ago, it became an entirely online competition. It’s now called OpenAIR. The event is not limited to Austin, Texas – it’s global! Instead of one day, teams now have five weeks to develop new accessible web sites for participating nonprofits – and the web sites are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1990s. A team’s members are all onsite together, at the same company or in the same web design class, for the most part, but they aren’t in the same room with the other teams, nor the nonprofits they are supporting – all interaction among teams and clients is via phone, online conferencing, email and shared online spaces. Another big difference from those early years is that, now, most of the participating nonprofits already have web sites, so their material is already digitized – we don’t need to scan logos or photos anymore, because it’s already done.

It’s almost 20 years after that first AIR competition, and I’m back with Knowbility, this time as a consultant, in charge of recruiting nonprofits to participate and supporting them through the entire process. And I have a goal: to find ways to recreate that craziness and fun and excitement and personal touch from the offsite, in-person events of the past online.

I’m supposed to be the virtual volunteering expert. So this should be a piece of cake for me, right? Afterall, I have ideas for creating a personal experience for working with online volunteers in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’m using those recommendations, as well as looking through research I’ve curated about organizations working with online volunteers, information about virtual teams, remote teams, ework, telecommuting, etc., to come up with ideas… but I need more!

Here are my ideas so far:

  • Talk one-on-one with the nonprofits as much as possible live via phone or web conference. There could be as many as 45 nonprofits participating, and while there are plenty of tools to communicate en masse with the nonprofits, and I will use many such tools, I’m also committed to talking, in real time, with EACH nonprofit, one-on-one, both right after they sign up and as they need it through the process. If I’ve been clear in those mass communications – on the web site, on the intranet, in email, etc. – then we’re talking about a few minutes at time in real-time communications, not hours and hours. But those one-on-one meetings are, IMO, essential to restore that personal touch and personality to participation.
  • I’ll be asking each nonprofit to take a group photo of their staff holding a small 8 1/2 X 11” sign I will send them electronically, and that they will print out, that says something like “We’re in for #OpenAIR2018,” and then share via their various social media channels tagged with #OpenAir2018. And then Knowbility will share those photos as well via their social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook. That allows us to again see happy faces as a part of this event, and energize participants.
  • I’m going to do some short, private videos for nonprofit participants – maybe 5 minutes – very informal, just giving them updates about what’s going on or something they need to keep in mind, and with each one, having a joke of the week, or some theme (Star Wars, Halloween, nature, pets, basketball, whatever) – hoping that both the key message and the silliness will guarantee viewers and energize participants.
  • I’m going to have at least one live webinar, an “ask me anything” session, allowing nonprofits that have signed up to ask anything, “live”, and everyone in the webinars hearing my answers in real time. This is something PeaceCorps does periodically, and I really love how approachable it feels for participants.
  • I’m hoping the design teams and nonprofits, after they are matched together, will do some screen captures of their meetings together and share them with me, so we can share them with other teams to show each other what they look like when they are working together. Silly hats could be encouraged.
  • I’m going to ask the nonprofits to send something via postal mail to their design team. It can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the web design team members can hold in a hand, something that represents the nonprofit in a personal way, something tangible, and something that didn’t have to be purchased or, if it did, was less than $2 and has something personal written on it by the nonprofit’s executive director or key contact (postcard!). If the NGO is, say, in Afghanistan, and has no way to send postal mail to the design team, I might ask them to send, via email, a recipe for a traditional Afghan dish, and ask the design team to share a photo of them enjoying the dish together.
  • I’m going to ask the design teams to send something via postal mail to their nonprofits. Same rules: it can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the nonprofit staff can hold in their hands, something that represents the design team in a personal way, something tangible.

Those are my ideas for getting more fun and a human touch back into this competition. The challenge is to come up with things that are free, simple, worthwhile to spend the time on, that teams won’t see as a burden, and that nonprofits won’t see as a waste of time. If something can’t be all of those things, it’s not going to work!

So, there’s my challenge. What are YOUR ideas? Remember those restrictions:

  • free
  • simple
  • worthwhile
  • not burdensome
  • not a waste of time

Please put your fabulous ideas in the comments section!

And if you represent a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), charity, public school, or any other not-for-profit, mission-based organization anywhere in the world, I hope you will consider participating in OpenAIR. Your organization gets a new web site that is accessible for people with disabilities, people who want to donate to your organization, volunteer for it, support it or otherwise participate it in some way. Imagine how being a more welcoming organization online will look to your current supporters and to potential donors! The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start preparing for the competition, and the more support you will get. Although the deadline for signing up isn’t until the end of this year, if you wait that long, you miss out on more than three months of support and preparation for the event!

Also see:

Related blogs:

volunteers scramble to preserve online data before government deletes it

Online volunteers aren’t always remote; hackathons and Wikipedia edit-a-thons bring together people in the same physical space, at the same time, to volunteer online, to code for good, to create content for the arts or under-represented groups or science topics on Wikipedia, and now, to preserve critical scientific data that is under threat by the new Presidential administration in the USA.

ProPublica found that the new administration edited an educational website for kids to significantly downplay the negative impacts of coal. The White House also removed all of the data from its portal of searchable federal data. The site previously included data on everything from budgets to climate change to LGBT issues. It now displays a message telling people to: “Check back soon for new data.” Staff under the new Secretary of Education have deactivated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) web site. You can still see it at http://www.archive.org. That archived version is packed with information for parents of children with disabilities. If you go to the new web site, however, you’ll see a greatly-scaled back web site, with a lot of information no longer available.

Groups are organizing through traditional social tools like Twitter and Facebook to help preserve information before it disappears and to retrieve information removed from official government web sites.

This 25 February 2017 story on the CNN web site, Why Trump’s election scares data scientists, talks about Data Refuge, which was founded after the election with a goal of tracking and safeguarding government data. The volunteer group of hackers, writers, scientists and students collects federal data about climate change in order to preserve the information and keep it publicly accessible. In the past three months, Data Refuge has hosted 17 events where hundreds of volunteers learn how to copy and publish research-quality data. The group, which grew out of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, also monitors scientific research that depends on government funding because there’s concern this could dry up.

One platform, data.world, is a social network exclusively for people who want to find and collaborate on building data sets, much like how programming site GitHub lets coders collaborate on building apps. It already has tens of thousands of open government data sets available.

This 13 February 2017 Wired.com story, Diehard Coders Just Rescued NASA’s Earth Science Data, talks about volunteers coming together across the USA to preserve online scientific information and other info they fear will be permanently removed from government web sites under the Trump administration, and building systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. By the end of one day, one group had collectively loaded 8,404 NASA and DOE webpages onto the Internet Archive, effectively covering the entirety of NASA’s earth science efforts. They’d also built backdoors in to download 25 gigabytes from 101 public datasets, and were expecting even more to come in as scripts on some of the larger dataset finished running.

But there is still much work to do. “Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eric Kansa, an anthropologist who manages archaeological data archiving for the non-profit group Open Context. “There are a huge number of other datasets being threatened with cultural, historical, sociological information.” A panicked friend at the National Parks Service had tipped him off to a huge data portal that contains everything from park visitation stats to GIS boundaries to inventories of species.

Some of these efforts on Twitter:


@SeattleDataResQ (the photo above is from Seattle’s hackathon – used with permission)

Also see:

Advice for and examples of One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

Hackathons for good? That’s volunteering!

Where are the evaluations of hacksforgood/appsforgood?

Open Air Hackathon – Nonprofits Get Web Sites, Designers Get Accessibility Training

Wikipedia needs improvement re: volunteerism-related topics

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Thanks to everyone who has purchased it so far! Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

Fewer Pilots, More Scale: Making Digital Development Work

Back in September 2014, I starting whining about the lack of anything sustainable coming from most of the hackathons / hacks4good / apps4good I was seeing popping up all over in support of nonprofit organizations, government initiatives and various communities, in the USA and abroad. My whining culminated in this blog, where are the evaluations of hacksforgood / appsforgood?

I’m so pleased to see this outstanding blog (IMO) by Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director at U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, which says, in part:

“despite the potential impact, distorted incentives encourage one-off, flashy pilots (many sourced through hackathons, contests, and PR opportunities), undermining the potential for sustainable and scalable digital solutions. In fact, the proliferation of duplicative and uncoordinated mobile health applications caused an overwhelmed Uganda Ministry of Health to call a moratorium on further efforts in 2012, to ensure a focus on interoperable and sustainable systems… (in developing countries, there is) a lack of relevant platforms and infrastructure (that) means that developers end up spending the vast majority of their time rebuilding similar components from scratch, ending up with less time and money to truly innovate. Too much time and effort is wasted on duplicative work like beneficiary registration and tracking, negotiating and integrating with mobile operators, and promotion and distribution. The result is one-off systems that are fragile, unintegrated, not designed to scale, and unsustainable.

“This cannot continue. The development community needs to invest in reusable systems and the collaboration necessary to build and use these systems. This will mean smarter solutions designed for scale and sustainability.”

Right on, Ann Mei Chang & USAID!

In addition, Ben Ramalingam’s recent Institute of Development Studies blog points out that responsible digital development must also consider the risks of unintended consequences, exaggerating existing inequities, security, and repression.

USAID helped draft the Principles for Digital Development, a set of best practices for building technology-enabled programs, starting with the user. The Principles have been endorsed by over 50 development organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sida, UNICEF, WFP, and USAID. In February, USAID launched a report based on conversations with donors, implementing partners, and development practitioners to better understand how the Principles work in real-world contexts and how we can best integrate them into our organizations.

Also see:


Oct 15 deadline for apps to facilitate dialogue, prevent conflict

PEACEapp is a global competition to promote digital games and gamified apps as venues for cultural dialogue and conflict management.

Have you already developed a game or app like this? You could win $5000 in recognition for your work. Do you have an idea or a prototype for a PEACEapp? You could win expert mentorship to support its development.

The PEACEapp global competition organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the United Nations Development Program in collaboration with Build Up to promote digital games and gamified apps as venues for cultural dialogue and conflict management. Additional partners of PEACEapp include GamesForChange and the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The competition is open to three kinds of entries: (i) digital games and gamified apps developed purposefully for this competition; (ii) already existing digital games, and (iii) creative re-purposing of existing digital games to meet the aim of PEACEapp.

The competition will consider entries at all stages of development – from prototypes to fully developed. PEACEapp’s international jury will select five winning entries: three that are fully functioning and two that are in development. The three fully functioning games or apps will receive an award of USD$5,000 each. The two in development will receive mentorship from expert partners. In addition, one member of each award-winning team (completed or in development) will be invited (all travel costs covered) to the Build Peace conference (Cyprus, April 2015) to share their product with conference participants.

The deadline for applications is October 15, 2014. Winners will be announced by November 30, 2014.

And on a related note: I am looking for examples of using social media to promote respect, tolerance, reconciliation.

UN innovation events show how far they’ve come re: ICT4D

The change is stunning. And welcomed.

Back in 2001, my first year working as an employee of the United Nations, I was a part of a little department of six people (and various interns over the years) within UNDP/UN Volunteers, managing two projects: the Online Volunteering service (then part of NetAid) and the Secretary General’s United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS). Our team could not have been more excited to talk about virtual volunteering, technology for development (ICT4D), ICT4D projects by volunteers in the fieldhandheld computer technologies in community service/volunteering/advocacy, citizen-designed tech solutions, using tech to work with remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing for development (though we didn’t call it that then), south-to-south knowledge exchange ONLINE, hacks 4 social change (though we didn’t call it then), and other tech4good activities to anyone who would listen! It was an incredible four years of my life.

Unfortunately, many of our UN colleagues never understood our projects – or our boundless enthusiasm for such. Despite our events, workshops, one-on-one meetings, online resources, singing and dancingdrums, support from the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, whatever else we could think of, our activities were met with eye rolls by many of our colleagues. By the time I left that assignment, the new head of UNV (now long-gone) was proudly proclaiming that most of our initiative’s activities, save the online volunteering service, were finished – not because they had met their goals, but because they weren’t needed, and never had been. Even the UNITeS web site was taken off-line for a few months (hence why I keep a version here). Our team went its separate ways.

UNDP innovation logoNow, 13 years after we came together in Bonn, Germany and tried to get the rest of the UN excited about our crazy ideas, and nine years after most of our activities were ended, it’s fascinating to see UNDP in particular fully embracing those ideas: The UNDP SHIFT campaign, focused on innovation (and many of the ideas we tried to promote back at the start of the century – see graphic at left), is the week of 22 September 2014, headquartered in New York City (the “Social Good” summit) but happening all over the world, including here in Kyiv, Ukraine (details soon!).

We can’t take any credit for this change happening, of course. But my colleagues can feel good to know that we weren’t quite as crazy as people thought we were – we we really were on to something worth pursuing by the UN. We were just a decade or so early!

(although… we were pretty crazy…)

Somewhere, Sharon Capeling-Alakija is smiling.

Advice for hackathons / one-day tech events looking for projects to hack

In a conversation with a friend participating in Myanmar’s first-ever hackathon to benefit causes or nonprofits, as well as reviewing recent, similar hackathons all over the world, and other one-day tech events for good like edit-a-thons, it seems to me that the easy elements of putting together these events is securing a space for the event and getting skilled volunteers for such, but the much harder part is identifying projects for these volunteers to work on.

I’m also wondering if any of these projects get evaluated six months or a year down the road, to see if the organization or cause that had an app or web site or database or whatever developed has benefited from the development. For instance – are these apps that are developed actually used six months later?

My favorite hackathon is Knowbility’s Accessibility Internet Rally, which brings together web developers, as volunteers to both learn accessible design techniques and then apply those techniques to building web sites for nonprofit organizations. It’s my favorite because the event is always so much fun, the volunteer web designers take the skills and knowledge they learn from the hackathon back to their workplaces, and the nonprofits still love their web sites many months later.

But it’s pretty easy to sell the idea to nonprofits of volunteer web designers re-creating their web sites. My review of hackathons and edit-a-thons shows that identifying other projects, like apps development, is MUCH more difficult. If you walk into a nonprofit and say, “Do you want an app to help you in your work?” most nonprofits won’t have an answer. Same if you say to most nonprofits, “What wikipedia pages do you wish had better info related to your organization’s mission?”

So I’ve been thinking: how can hackathon or edit-a-thon organizers identify projects or causes for the event? Here are some of my initial ideas. Please add more!

  1. Research nonprofits in your community, and get a sense of how many they are. If you are in a small town, you may want to make a list of every nonprofit in your town (which you can find on Guidestar) and then do some research to see which are active (do they have a web site? does the org’s name come up in a Google or Bing search? Can you find an email address for the org?). If you are in a large city, don’t be under the illusion that you can reach every one of them – even big cities with nonprofit associations cannot say that every nonprofit is a member.
  2. Ask organizers what nonprofits they work with in any way – as a volunteer, as the spouse of a volunteer, as an event participant, etc. In short, look for nonprofits where someone involved in your event already has a personnel connection.
  3. Review what apps previous hackathons elsewhere have created for nonprofits, or what edit-a-thon efforts have benefited nonprofits. Also see this very long list of apps that have been developed for specific nonprofits. Would such app development be appropriate for any nonprofits in your community, at least in theory?
  4. Meet with nonprofits more than once, and with as many different staff members as possible. Just sending an email announcing the event won’t be enough to get nonprofits interested in participating. Sit down with nonprofit representatives face-to-face and speak in non-tech language as much as possible. And remember that different staff members will have different ideas for needs – for instance, here is a list of apps I envisioned that managers of volunteers might want/need.
  5. Don’t meet with any nonprofit that you haven’t gotten to know via its web site – you want to already have an idea of what the nonprofit does, whom it serves, its mission, etc. You may want to do a mapping exercise with the nonprofit regarding how it reaches and serves clients, to identify ways an app or database might help. When asking them what their biggest challenges are, you might want to add “except for fundraising” because fundraising will almost always be the #1 challenge for every nonprofit, and most participants in hackathons want to work on projects related to nonprofit missions/programs, rather than fundraising (at least that’s my experience).
  6. Have a list, in writing, of what a nonprofit would be committing to if they decide to participate. What are the dates and times nonprofit staff would need to meet with organizers and to be onsite at the event? How many hours do you estimate their participation will require? What are your expectations of the nonprofit after the event in terms of evaluating whatever is developed as a result of your event?
  7. If you want to create a smart phone app, have data to show nonprofits that demonstrates that a significant number of potential volunteers, potential clients, and current volunteers and clients, have smart phones. If you cannot prove this, most nonprofits are not going to be interested in investing in smart phone app development.

Those are some of my ideas. What are yours? Share them in the comments here on my blog, or on this thread on TechSoup.

Hackathons for good? That’s volunteering!

I recently tweeted out this message to my Twitter followers, and a few other people retweeted it to their own followers as well.

(you can follow me on Twitter here)

My goal was to write a detailed blog about all these different hackathons for good, and maybe even develop a web page on how to organize these kinds of episodic volunteering events (group volunteering events that don’t require a long-term commitment, that require just one day, or just a few days, of participation) related to technology.

Unfortunately, I have not had any response yet… but I’ll go ahead and blog about the examples I know about, and hope it leads to more examples:

The first event I ever attended that brought lots of web designers into one room, or one site, at multiple computers, to do something to help others for a few hours, was a web-building event by the Metropolitan Austin  Interactive Network (MAIN) in Texas in the 1990s. These web-raisings don’t happen anymore, at least not by MAIN, but what’s replaced it in Austin is something even better: the Accessibility Internet Rally, or AIR Austin, by Knowbility. This competitive event not only helps nonprofits get web sites – it also helps educate web developers and nonprofits about web accessibility for people with disabilities. It’s my favorite volunteering event – the perfect combination of fun, food, volunteering and making a difference. It’s so successful that not only does it happen year after year (it started in the late 1990s), not only do many of the web designers come back year after year to volunteer for the event, but the event happens in other cities as well.

I think Knowbility’s AIR events are the perfect hackathons, because they not only get work done – they also educate the participants about a critical issue. That isn’t just awareness – it’s transformative. The experience affects the web designers in how they approach their work when they get back to their day jobs. They design differently, and they think of nonprofits differently.

Hackathons have been around since the 1990s, but just the practice, not the name; now with its new branding, this form of episodic volunteering seems to be becoming all the rage.

One of the most high-profile hackathon groups is the nonprofit Crisis Commons, which produces “hybrid barcamp/hackathon events which bring together people and communities who innovate crisis response and global development through technology tools, expertise and problem solving.” Crisis Commons co-hosted the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event with Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, NASA and the World Bank in 2010, with events taking place in cities around the world including Nairobi, Jakarta, Sydney, Washington DC and San Paolo. Software developers, usability experts, emergency planners, technologists, “social media knowledge workers,” project managers, NGOs and university professors met in each of the cities to volunteer or, as Crisis Commons put it, to “crowdsource open source solutions to very real humanitarian problems. There are seven main projects ranging building SMS applications to report amputee needs, near real-time UAV imagery processing to creating a people finder application.” Geeks Without Bounds (GWOBorg) has been a part of several Crisis Commons activities.

Also new on the scene of hackathons for good is Code for America, which, among many activities, hosts or co-hosts hackathons where developers and designers come together in, say, 24 hours, to “build applications for social change” and, sometimes, compete for prizes. Code for America offers its own suggestions for ingredients for a successful hackathon, based on its own experiences.

Jumping on the hackathon bandwagon as of 2007 is GiveCamp, which “a weekend-long event where technology professionals from designers, developers and database administrators to marketers and web strategists donate their time to provide solutions for non-profit organizations.”

Also new on the scene is Data Without Borders, which hosts various kinds of hackathons, also called Data Dives, that provide nonprofits with data analysis (data collection, analysis, visualization, and decision support) by volunteer “data scientists.”

Also listen to this presentation from SXSW about a hackathon in San Francisco related to DonorsChoose.org.

One thing that is both amusing and sad to me about all these hackathon events is that these organizations rarely use the terms volunteers or volunteering. The people contributing their time and talent are teams or pro bono researchers or Data Heroes – anything but volunteers! Very strange… and sad.


If you know of other hackathons for good, hacks4good, hacks for good, onsite crowdsourcing – whatever you want to call these volunteering events – please note the names of such in the comments section of this blog. Web addresses would be particularly helpful!

Also see: Short-term assignments for tech volunteers

Short-term tasks for tech volunteers

There are a variety of ways for nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools, government agencies and other mission-based organizations to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought after most by potential “tech” volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying short-term tech-related projects.

Back in 2005, myself and by members of TechSoup Global’s Volunteers and Technology online discussion group brainstormed a list of short-term projects for tech volunteers. I’ve added a lot to it over the years – and just updated the list yet again this week.

These one-time, short-term volunteering assignments might takes a few days, a couple of weeks or maybe a month to complete. But each has a definite start date and end date, shouldn’t go on longer than a month (maybe two) and does not require a volunteer to make an ongoing commitment to the organization – once an assignment is done, the volunteer can move on to another assignment, or stop volunteering with the organization altogether.

There are also many long-term, ongoing assignments for tech volunteers, of course, such as web design, web site management, being on-call for tech problems, backing up systems, producing live online events, etc. But before an organization involves volunteers in such high-commitment endeavors, the organization should consider creating a few short-term assignments, to get used to working with tech volunteers and to help staff identify the best candidates for longer-term assignments.

Tags: volunteering, volunteers, episodic, microvolunteer, microvolunteering, engagement, engage, community, outreach, staff, employees, civil society, technology, help, IT, ICT, ICTs