Last year I was at a meetup in Downtown Vegas and we were brainstorming ideas to help out the Vegas community. I took the opportunity to talk about an event that my partner Justin had taken part in a couple times in Minneapolis. The idea of running a similar event here in Vegas was an immediate hit and a short time later Vegas GiveCamp was born.
If you aren't familiar with GiveCamp, here's a short bit taken from their site:
GiveCamp is 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. Since its inception in 2007, the GiveCamp program has provided benefits to hundreds of charities, worth millions of dollars of developer and designer time in services!
There have been GiveCamp events all over the country and I was thrilled that we'd be bringing it here to Las Vegas. I have skipped out on several of the other hackathon style events like Startup Weekend, mainly because I wasn't really interested in getting involved with a startup. I already have one of those and it takes up all my time. But, GiveCamp was exactly what I was looking for. A hackathon to help out some needy non-profits with no strings attached. At the end of the weekend, I'd be able to hand off what was built and go on my merry way. I was stoked for this event!
The Lead Up
A few weeks before the event the team leads, of which I was one, were given a list of the non-profits. We were instructed to select the three that we most wanted to work with based on the needs of the non-profit and our skillset. I selected the three that I felt would most benefit from a having a WordPress website. I was immediately informed that I would be the team lead for my first choice, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Nevada Chapter (new site launching soon). A short time later I was asked if I could also take on the team lead duties for my second pick, the Nevada South Youth Soccer League. I said yes and knew I was going to be in for a busy weekend!
Right after I got assigned to my two teams, I reached out to both in order to get a better understanding of what they were looking for. After our initial talks, I made a few suggestions and with that, we were all set for the weekend. Well, except for one minor detail… I needed to build a team.
Forming a Team
It's at this point where I made a big mistake. What I should have done is started forming a team immediately. The organizers sent out a list of the volunteers and their skill sets. I should have immediately reached out to all the graphic designers and locked one of them up for my team. I didn't do that and it had potential to be a really bad thing. But I'll get back to that later. I was lucky to have somebody else who also signed up to be a team lead and had been assigned to one of the teams I was working with. Her focus was more on the social media side. We spoke early and agreed that we would both work together on both of the teams. So our teams weren't just going to get new sites, they were also going to learn how to promote them. I reached out to a couple of the volunteers on the list to try and fill my team. I knew I was going to need some people to work on content while I worked on building the sites and the functionality. I then received a couple emails from volunteers who were looking to work with the non-profits I was leading, so we were basically set. Except for a designer.
The day before the event the organizers sent out a new google doc with 15 new volunteers. I immediately opened the doc and noticed that there were two graphic designers on the list. I sent an email to the first one on the list and he responded moments later. I finally had my team. Now I was ready for the weekend.
In short, the weekend was an absolute blur. We met on Friday afternoon and I immediately set up a development site for each of the sites. I got people working on moving content from the current sites to the new development sites. I also got our designer started on knocking out the first design. While that was going on our social media expert started working with one of our clients to show them the ropes. We ended up switching back and forth throughout the weekend. While she was teaching one group about social media, I would be talking working out details for their site or our content folks would be working with them to get the new content moved over and set up as it needed to be. Everybody on our team rolled with the flow so easily, it really couldn't have been much better.
When the first design was done, I worked long in to the evening to get the bulk of the first site taken squared away. I knew there would be plenty of detail work to get to on Saturday, but I wanted the rest of the team to be able to work on the site having it look mostly like it would look when completed.
During the evening on Friday I was approached by one of the other non-profits at the event. There was a concern about one major portion of what they were trying to get done and they thought I might be able to come up with a solution. I pulled in another WordPress dev and we brainstormed the solution for a few minutes. Even though we knew both our teams were already fully loaded with work to be done, we agreed to help build a part of this new project on Saturday afternoon. It was likely going to take 4-6 hours. I wasn't sure exactly where I was going to find those 4-6 hours to give, but this weekend was all about going the extra mile. We were determined to make it happen. I'm not going to lie, when the team approached me on Saturday Morning to say they had decided to go a different direction and we didn't need to build this new item for them, I was more than a bit relieved.
Saturday morning we started on design number two while the team kept working together for both clients to get their new sites ready to go. As the day went along we kept our same flow of switching back and forth to keep both client sites moving forward. By the time I left for home Saturday night (Sunday morning around 1am), I was feeling pretty confident that we were going to finish up early and have plenty of time to do training and maybe even through in some bells and whistles. Oh, what a fool.
Sunday morning. Time to start launching sites. One of the sites was going to require moving to a new server while the other would be staying on the same server, but we would need to remove their previous CMS to install WordPress and move over the content. A short string of technical setbacks made it obvious that the launch wasn't likely going to take place for one of the teams on Sunday. We huddled up and made the decision to hold off the launch until the following day. That would give me time to properly back up their current site, move it out of the way and then do the install. Excellent, so let's focus on site number two. Everything should be in order for us to move them off of Yahoo Stores and on to their new hosting account. That is, everything but the fact that their domain name was not directly under their control. -sigh- Here we are so close to the finish line and yet we can't step across. This time we were forced to delay the launch until later.
I spent some time on Sunday shooting some walk-through videos for both teams while the rest of the team helped polish up anything that was still left to do. When the event wrapped up that afternoon, even though we hadn't launched either site, both clients were very happy with their results and I was extremely proud of our team for knocking out two full site conversions in such a short amount of time.
This weekend wasn't just about giving their sites a facelift, it was also about empowering both groups to be able to manage their sites on their own. Giving them the ability to add and modify content without requiring a developer for each little update. That is the key ingredient in making this a successful weekend. Throw in the amount of social media training they received and I'd say we've set up both of our non-profit clients for success!
The weekend was inspiring, exhausting, fun, amazing, long and far too short all at once. From the feedback I've heard, everybody who attended had a great time. I expect that the next time we do this event (and there will definitely be a next time), we'll see an even larger turnout of volunteers looking to take part in the fun.