dsmHack brings together tech professionals and area nonprofits

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Participant spots in the fifth Des Moines Charity Hack on March 22 may have sold out in record time, but nonprofits still have until March 6 to submit their applications to be one of 10 organizations to receive technology solutions from the event.

“We’ve seen our events sell our faster and faster each year with a growing wait list from a tech participant perspective,” said Kim Wall, President and Co-founder of dsmHack. “We have a steady growth of nonprofits submitting applications as well. It’s a nice problem to have but it makes it tough because we know we can only take so many per year.”

Last year, dsmHack brought together over 80 developers, designers, and innovators from all over Iowa to encourage a collaborative spirit and build technological solutions for 10 local nonprofit organizations. Forty nonprofit organizations have been helped, and over $651,000 worth of in-kind services have been provided since the founding of the event.

“dsmHack is my favorite community event of the year,” said Chuck Rolek, a dsmHack organizer. “It’s so amazing to see people in the community group together each year and all focus on one goal; helping the nonprofits the best they can. Late nights and early mornings are an easy sacrifice to help provide so much help back to the community.”

dsmHack’s tech participants pay a small fee to register and volunteer their time to develop a product for a Des Moines area nonprofit. Names of the participating nonprofits remain a secret until the opening night of the event.

“We want people to come whether or not they know a nonprofit they respond to is going to be part of the event,” said Wall. “When we do our selection process, we try to account for a variety of causes because we want everybody to find something that speaks to them. We try to find a variety of projects for the same reason.”

In years past, dsmHack has helped a wide range of businesses including everything from animal rescue, to public radio, to organizations that provide support for people who have traumatic brain injuries.

Last year volunteers helped create a “digital brain” for On With Life. The virtual 3D brain highlights 19 sections of the brain, a description of what happens when that section becomes damaged and videos from On With Life staff on rehabilitation in action.

“Providing education on brain injuries is an important part of the work we do at On With Life, and without the amazing work of the dsmHack team, we wouldn’t have been able to build this tool that allows us to showcase our unique approach to rehabilitation,” said Abby Bogaards, PR/Marketing Specialist at On With Life.

The organization is able to use this as an educational tool for persons served, families, staff and community members to better understand brain injury and rehabilitation with On With Life.

“To see so many people come together to support nonprofits and provide us with the tools we need to do our jobs better is incredible. We’re grateful to have been a part of something that showcases the talent and generosity of so many people in Central Iowa,” said Bogaards.

dsmHack participants form teams to complete the projects, but often switch teams to better share talents as a broader team effort. Everyone works together to make sure they can complete as much as possible in 48 hours.

“We’re not a competition,” said Wall. “These are real-world problems we’re solving, real systems we’re touching, and by the end of it, the goal is to have those 10 nonprofits walk away with completed projects.”

Participants don’t compete for prizes like in traditional hackathons. The takeaway for them is bringing a sense of giving back to their workplaces and the opportunity to work on new tech projects.

“It’s an interesting thing to try to put words around, but having worked in tech myself for my entire career, I’ve seen a lack of skills-based volunteering opportunities out there,” said Wall. “What we wanted to do was give tech pros who have really expensive and in-demand talents, a chance to give by using their skills.”

Although dsmHack can only accept 10 nonprofits, the opportunity to receive services extends beyond the 48-hour event.

“We always get more nonprofits that we can help,” said Wall. “We feel bad about it but we like it at the same time because it gives us the opportunity to try to make connections for these organizations outside of the hackathon. Throughout the year, dsmHack tries to provide workshops and additional resources to nonprofits to help them in an ongoing way.”


Nonprofits interested in participating are encouraged to submit an application at dsmhack.org through March 6. Participating organizations will be selected by the dsmHack review committee and announced to the public at the event kick-off on March 22 at the FFA Enrichment Center. There is no cost for nonprofit participation in the event.


Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.


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