The Rapidian

GR GiveCamp enlists over 100 tech volunteers to help 23 nonprofits

Tech volunteers and nonprofit representatives go over project steps.<p></p><br />

Tech volunteers and nonprofit representatives go over project steps.

/Eric Stoike

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GR GiveCamp volunteers camp out at the YMCA.

GR GiveCamp volunteers camp out at the YMCA. /Eric Stoike

Nonprofits are notoriously low on funds, but in the Web 2.0 age, a strong, online presence is crucial for nonprofits to connect with their donors, volunteers and community.

Two years ago, developers in Dallas, TX with a penchant for social good put together their own remedy: GiveCamp. This weekend-long, volunteer-run event addresses nonprofit tech needs by pairing nonprofits with volunteer Web developers, programmers and designers. The concept spread and since then, there has been over ten cities involved and three GiveCamps in Michigan.

The idea caught with Chris Woodruff, local software developer and consultant for RCM Technologies. Four months ago, he assembled a team of six active volunteers to bring together Grand Rapids GiveCamp. With the support of local sponsors, Woodruff can proudly declare that 125 volunteers from all over the Midwest registered to assist 23 local nonprofits this weekend at the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. Many volunteers camped overnight at the YMCA.

"My personal philosophy is even though I am a computer consultant and I get billed to do work, I don't think nonprofits should have to pay for IT projects," Woodruff said to applause. "They shouldn't have to pay to get a Web site or to get a system that will track donors or track clients. Their money should be spent for what their cause is for and not on technology."

This philosophy attracted 48 nonprofits, not all who could be served in the short weekend.

"We focused on projects that could be completed in the scope of one weekend," said Emily Stoddard Furrow, an active volunteer and partner of DVQ Studio. "We're really committed to actually delivering a final project. All the Web site projects could technically be launched this weekend."

Most projects focus on developing new sites for nonprofits or adding to sites that already exist, what Woodruff described as "softballs" for techies. The planning team avoided projects that focused on social media because they would require social media education and strategy consultation that could not be deployed in a single weekend.

C-Snip is a nonprofit that spays and neuters pets at reduced fees so everyone can afford the surgery regardless of income level. It was one of the nonprofits selected to receive tech assistance. Dustin Tinney, a software developer for Atomic Object, was one volunteer assigned to help C-Snip create an online form.

"Someone will call in who has a pet that needs help that needs to get neutered … Someone from C-Snip will have to call them back and spend about 10-15 minutes on the phone with them recording their pet information," Tinney explained. "So we're taking that whole process and putting it online to help alleviate some of the work that C-Snip employees have to do and make it easier for people to get access to the service."

Friends of GR Parks also enjoyed tech assistance. As a relatively new nonprofit, Friends of GR Parks already has a Web site but needed to expand it.

"We already have our basic Web site. This is just a development of [park] profiles," said Heather Kaweck, a graduate assistant intern for the nonprofit. "They're developing a template in a form that we can then update and customize as the parks grow and change."

The site will be equipped with a dynamic search tool and also be able to accommodate social media applications such as Flickr and Vimeo.

"I want to say something also about how amazing these guys are. They're the most amazing team, I think. They are awesome," Kaweck added about her volunteer team.

The closing ceremony for GR GiveCamp will take place at 3 p.m. tomorrow. The public is invited to celebrate the unveiling of 23 nonprofits' new Web sites and site add-ons.

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