GiveCamp NWA: Pitching in to help a local nonprofit

This past weekend, I was a volunteer developer at GiveCamp NWA to help provide technology solutions for local non-profit organizations. Starting Friday night, all day Saturday, and the morning of Sunday, my team worked with the Arkansas Crisis Center to solve one of their biggest problems: paperwork.

The Problem

The Arkansas Crisis Center is “a nonprofit organization that was founded on hope.” Their helpline offers intervention and counseling to help people in a variety of situations, including mental health crises, violence and abuse. Their small permanent staff relies on donations to keep the lights on and volunteers to staff the helpline and engage in outreach.

The volunteer process in particular involves a lot of paperwork: each interested volunteer is sent an application that’s several pages long, and our partner keeps notebooks of hand written notes on each volunteer, including if they’ve passed a background check and in what capacity they volunteer.

Our partner needed alleviation from all this paperwork and wanted one central hub where she could easily see and filter donors and volunteers.

The Process

Our team was composed of a designer and 3 developers. For what our client was asking for, our immediate thought was to build a database. However, none of us are backend developers, and creating an easy to use database to hand off to a non-technical client is a huge undertaking.

Instead, we started looking at various customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to integrate with their existing website. Our partner uses popular email newsletter and payment processing services for accepting donations, so we looked for free solutions that included integrations with these services. Unfortunately, we ran into issues with needed features of CRMs and plugins that were advertised as free actually stuck behind paywalls.

My GiveCamp team celebrating a job well done.

My GiveCamp team. That’s me in the dinosaur sweater.

The Solution

At the core of our solution was making sure this would be something our non-profit partner could easily use in her day-to-day work, and something that she felt comfortable teaching others should she want to hand it off in the future.

To that end, we implemented a sprawling Google Form that easily plugged into their existing website. This form contains the entire volunteer application and questions for individuals and corporations wanting to partner or host an event. It only takes users through paths they’ve selected so people who just want to receive the newsletter won’t also have to apply to be volunteers. The data from the form is then collated into a spreadsheet where we curated a collection of filters and custom fields our partner could apply at any time.

Some of the process is still going to be manual, for example the payment processing service doesn’t want to share the information it collects from donors. But our partner sends a tax receipt to donors who choose not to remain anonymous, and can easily add or update a donors’ information on file with the tools we created for her. She’ll now easily be able to reach out to these donors with a targeted email campaign whenever the Arkansas Crisis Center hosts a fundraising drive.

GiveCamp: A different kind of hackathon

GiveCamp was very different from the hackathon I attended last year, featured in this blog post. GiveCamp is a hackathon in time-span only. Really it’s like a very abbreviated client project. Where normally a project could last weeks or months in the normal course of business, GiveCamp only lasted about 30 hours and work was completely turned over to the client at the end of the event. Each group was comprised of designers, developers, and a project manager to help prioritize the the desired work. A really unique part of this process was having the client in the room with us the entire time. We were able to bounce ideas off each other, and the client, and get real-time feedback on how we were crafting the solution to best meet their needs.

Volunteer developers and designers gather in a conference room to create technology solutions for local non-profits.

Photo Credit: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

GiveCamp was also featured in this article by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Cade Collister
Cade Collister