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dsmHack draws 80 participants, builds projects for 9 local nonprofits

The inaugural dsmHack wrapped up Saturday with more than 80 participants helping nine local nonprofits. 

The Des Moines Charity Hackathon started out as a simple idea: Wouldn’t it be cool if developers could “donate” their skills to nonprofits in a fun, useful way?

“We wanted to capitalize on the wealth of talent in our community by bringing together all the developers and designers and creative minds who live here, and then asking them to support charities who could use their help,” Max Farrell, co-organizer of the event, told SPN. “It’s not your normal hackathon. We wanted to collaborate to build good.”

More than 80 participants signed up for the 48-hour event, held June 12-14 at StartupCity Des Moines, and a number of local nonprofits submitted project ideas to the dsmHack team.

“We were thrilled to receive so many charity submissions. We originally thought we could only support six projects, but because so many people signed up, we were able to increase that number,” said Jennifer Oswold, another co-organizer. “That meant we could line up enough projects to keep everyone busy and really make a difference in the community.”

Ultimately nine charities were chosen to present their projects—based on a variety of causes, projects and technologies—including:

At Thursday’s kickoff event, each charity gave a five-minute pitch, speaking about their organizations, explaining how support could benefit their work and communities, and describing their specific technology needs. Requested projects included online calendars, digital solutions for multi-channel communications, mobile app development, website redesign, email distribution assistance, database transfers and web fundraising tools.

dsmHack participants got started immediately after the presentation, walking around to discuss project needs with each charity and and building teams with different skill sets. There was no shortage of support—every nonprofit had a gaggle of people surrounding them, ready to dive in.

“Remember: make your skills go as far as possible,” Farrell (right) told the energetic crowd Thursday. Teams could be any size, and participants were welcome to work on multiple projects in order to meet nonprofit needs by the end of the event.

Charities were asked to be present at the Thursday kickoff and Saturday final presentations, but many of them remained available either in person or by phone and email throughout the entire event.

“We couldn’t believe the number of developers who showed up to give their time and talents to the nonprofits of Des Moines,” said Bailey Puhrmann, marketing and events coordinator at the Young Women’s Resource Center. “The team that worked with us helped to create online registration forms, and we are so excited for how that will help our organization.”

Despite it being the inaugural event, dsmHack received an outpouring of support from the Des Moines community. Attendees either missed a day of work to participate, or took paid vacation time, also indicating a level of support from local employers. The momentum continued even after the hackathon technically ended. A majority of the teams decided to keep working on their projects, and supporting their particular organization, in order to make a technology solution even better.

“I’ve been to similar events before, but this one had a completely different vibe,” said Aaron Horn, president of Beat Cancer Today. “Instead of teams pitching demos to try to win a grand prize, they were showing off what they were able to accomplish for the nine nonprofits benefiting from their hard work. It felt like there were nine winners rather than just one.

“We are so thankful to be a part of dsmHack. The online fundraising tool our team created raised $162 within an hour of being live, and even though the event is over, everyone is still working on enhancements and bug fixes to make it a useful platform for our organization. It’s amazing that they want to see the project all the way through.”

The dsmHack team also is figuring out a way to connect developers with the projects that were submitted for the event but not selected.

“We had considered making our event more of a competition with a winning project, similar to traditional hackathons, but then realized that wasn’t our goal,” Oswold said. “We wanted dsmHack to focus on the spirit of giving and for all the nonprofits to win.”

The organizers of dsmHack intend to make this kind of charity event happen again, citing the positive momentum and a model that could be replicated in other cities.

“The energy at the end was surreal,” Farrell said. “This wasn’t a competition; people weren’t launching new companies, they were just using their skills for good, and when our community works as a unit, the impact is amplified tenfold.

“We calculated that more than $100,000 of in-kind services were provided over the 48-hour event, a feat we never expected. The nonprofits were blown away by what was created for them and, the funny thing is, we were too. Seeing the smiles on their faces was extremely rewarding.”


Credits: Event photos courtesy of dsmHack. Max Farrell photo from Dwolla blog

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