A Team of Socially Conscious Techies Spends a Weekend Building Websites for Non-Profits (Including Us)

Trisha Craig
Spare Change News

Thanks to a crack team of socially conscious computer programmers and web designers, Spare Change News has a new website that was unveiled this week. SCN was one of 31 non-profits to benefit from 2012 New England GiveCamp, a weekend-long extravaganza of coding that allows organizations in need of new or redesigned websites to get the kind of help that would normally be out of their reach.

Held two weeks ago at Microsoft’s NERD (New England Research and Development) Center in Kendall Square, GiveCamp brings together some “rock stars” of the technology community who put their skills to use for the social good with members of the non-profit world who seek a better online presence to further their mission and increase their outreach. The atmosphere is like college finals week without the angst — colorful tents and sleeping bags line the hallways and people cheerfully pull all-nighters to get the websites done as pajama-clad, self-described geeks strive to capture the essence and mission of their “clients.” Spare Change board member Bob Woodbury marveled, “you leave at dinner and come back at breakfast, and something amazing has happened overnight.”

The GiveCamp concept was born in Dallas in 2008, according to Microsoft’s Jim O’Neill, Developer Evangelist (yes, that really is his title) who oversaw the event in Cambridge. It was meant as a community outreach effort and the idea quickly spread. In 2010, Microsoft seeded camps in different areas across the country that occur throughout the year and some developers enjoyed it so much they now travel several weekends annually to work with groups all over the US. Local businesses and corporate sponsors help sustain the gatherings.

For the computer nerds, it’s not just a chance to support non-profits and do some good. It is also a lot of fun, a great networking opportunity and a chance to hone their skills or develop new ones. While each organization is assigned a team, there are also floating programmers who drop by the worktables to help unblock a problem or make suggestions to their peers. GiveCamp has clearly caught on in the tech community; O’Neill notes with satisfaction that they filled the one hundred twenty volunteer slots this year in just two weeks through word of mouth.

The benefits to the organizations are obvious. For SCN, besides having a cleaner look and easier navigation, the new website allows more interactivity with our readers, better profiling of our vendors and expanded content. The new site is visible at www.sparechangenews.net.

TRISHA CRAIG is an academic who volunteers for Spare Change News.

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