I Survived My First GiveCamp!

I did it!  I made it through my first GiveCamp!  For the benefit of those not familiar with GiveCamp it’s a weekend-long event where technologists donate their time to provide software solutions to non-profit organizations that otherwise could not afford them.

When we say “weekend-long” we mean it.  This was a caffeine-fueled 48 hour marathon of requirements gathering, design, code, CSS, collaboration, and stand-ups.  The only thing missing was sleep!  The lack of sleep was a small price to pay though to see how our work was going to breathe new life into these organizations.

You have the ability to touch the lives of many people.
— Fortune Cookie from dinner following the event

This year Indy GiveCamp served seven charities.  The charities were:

Just days before the event I was notified that I’d been selected as the team lead for the Heart in Education Teacher Outreach (HETO) project.  Prior to that I’d never heard of HETO but after reading about them a bit I was really excited about the project.

HETO’s mission is to promote high-quality learning environments in Honduras through material and intellectual support.  They accomplish this by recruiting Indiana teachers to participate in week-long trips to Honduras.  While in Honduras the teachers model new lessons and instructional techniques, conduct professional development workshops, and deliver much-needed supplies and resources to the Honduran teachers and students.  The trips really focus on helping the Honduran teachers get the tools they need to effectively educate their students but, as group founder Peggy Esselman explained to us, the experiences the Indiana teachers return with is really important too.  It’s all about information sharing.

HETO's Old Home Page

HETO wasn’t happy with the design of their existing site and were finding it difficult to maintain.  Their donor tracking system was also in need of some TLC.  It was a single Excel spreadsheet copied three times for alternate views of the data.  With that in mind, our task was to create a new Web site and help them clean up the spreadsheet.  We really wanted to give them a site that could grow with them and they could maintain with little effort so we based the new site on WordPress.

We worked closely with Peggy to discuss what she liked and disliked about the old site and prioritized what would be part of the new site.  After our discussion we spent the next few hours looking for and discussing the right theme that we could use as a starting point and customize to fit HETO’s needs.  From there we divided the work between building out structure, content, theme customization, and working on the spreadsheet.

HETO's New Home Page

The new site has much more streamlined navigation using WordPress pages to establish a menu system and present the content.  We made it a point to highlight that they are not only trying to recruit both teacher and non-educator volunteers but raise money as well.

In our discussion Peggy stressed that she really wanted to engage visitors to the site through multiple channels.  We decided one of the easiest ways to accomplish this was to bring their Facebook feed to the front page from the Contact Us page.  There are now also sections for reading and subscribing to newsletters, contacting the organization directly, and even staying up to date with a blog.

As much as we wanted to give HETO a “proper” donor tracking system we didn’t think that we could do it justice given the time and resource constraints.  We looked for a few predefined solutions but didn’t really come across anything appealing.  In the end the best we felt we could offer was to rework the existing spreadsheet to reduce duplication and improve its reporting capabilities.

In all I think “my” team did a great job pulling this project together and am really pleased with what we accomplished.  In retrospect we probably could have pushed in a few more features but considering that we had a few hiccups along the way, particularly with theme customization, I think we scoped this pretty accurately.

If you’d like to see some photos from the weekend Auri Rahimzadeh has posted some over on the Auri Group Tech Blog.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

Before I wrap this up I need to thank a bunch of people.

First, thanks go to the Indy GiveCamp organizers for reviewing the proposals, constructing the teams, keeping us on track, keeping the network up, and keeping us well fed and caffeinated!

Next, my immediate team:

It was a pleasure working with each of you.

Finally I want to thank Peggy and Lindsay from HETO for not only submitting the proposal but also for trusting an unknown, ad-hoc team to work on something so critical to the future success of their organization.

This year’s event was great.  I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year.  Who’s with me?

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