Memphis technology and marketing professionals donate their skills to area nonprofits

Building a website, creating a branding strategy or a new logo are projects that can take months and cost thousands of dollars.


Not in Memphis.


In the span of just a weekend, 60 local technology and marketing professionals completed those projects, and more, for 15 regional nonprofit organizations, and did all the work for free.


GiveCamp Memphis/Design for Good is an annual event where professional designers, developers, database administrators, marketers, content writers and web strategists donate their skills, talents and time so nonprofits can focus on their mission and community impact.


Representatives from nonprofit organizations, including Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry, Memphis Family Connection Center, Collegiate Life Investment Center, OUT Memphis and Juice Orange Mound, gathered at the FedEx Institute of Technology at 5:15 p.m. February 22. They left two days later with wish lists complete and knowledge of how to use the technology going forward.


GiveCamp was a coding-for-charity event conceived by Microsoft developer Chris Koenig in 2007. The first event was in Dallas in 2008. Today, there are 26 GiveCamp chapters throughout the U.S.


Brian Swanson, an IT director, and Adam Robertson, a former IT recruiter, co-founded GiveCamp Memphis in 2011. “I had a strong desire to use my skills to help people in my community,” Swanson said.


Eight nonprofits and 40 technology and marketing professional took part the first year, and the event continues to grow. In all, local volunteers have donated more than 3,000 hours of expertise, roughly valued at $225,000, Swanson said.


“We are helping them improve their brands, improve their message, and improve the work they do in the community.” Swanson said.


Each year, the event kicks off on Friday with each nonprofit introducing itself to the group of volunteers. “They stand in a room full of people they do not know and talk about their organization, about what gets them out of bed each morning, what they love about what they do, and what their goals are for GiveCamp,” said Lance Hilliard, a software developer and a GiveCamp Memphis organizer.


“Then, we get to work, and we build something very real in 48 hours.” Hilliard said. “The nonprofits that participate would otherwise be unable to afford these services.”


This was the third year GiveCamp has helped the Cooper Young Garden Walk and Cooper Young Garden Club, each year building on and improving the website.


“This year, they are recreating our blog page, and creating a new, stronger logo and brand for us. Our goal to is to expand the garden walk throughout Memphis,” said Kim Halyak, chairperson of the annual garden walk and past president of the club.


Before applying for GiveCamp the first time, Halyak said she investigated hiring a company, but the $75 an hour rate was too high.


“All of the garden club members are volunteers who are trying to raise money to beautify neighborhoods and increase tourism. Really, without GiveCamp, we would not have made it for four years. This has allowed us to get our message out and we’ve grown in size, in terms of gardens and visitors,” she said.


“GiveCamp volunteers have all kinds of skill sets and they not only want to help the community, they love a challenge,” Halyak said. “It is a lot of fun to watch the ideas bounce back and forth. There is a lot of give and take and I enjoy watching all that creativity. It is almost like a pinball machine,” she added.


Aaron Chakraborty was one of four volunteers working on the garden club’s website and branding. “Normally, these types of projects would take 30 to 60 days to complete,” he said. “I volunteer because I like the challenge of figuring things out, and I get to learn new and different skills from the other professionals who are here all weekend,” he said.


Moira Flanagan launched Memphis-based Hoof and Hound Rescue 18 months ago. She asked GiveCamp to recreate and expand the existing website with a professional design that would connect with donors and volunteers, supply intake and other forms, and offer general information about animal care.


“I need the website to do everything,” she said, adding the volunteers were going beyond her wish list. One created a new logo for the rescue.


“This is going to put us out there in a way I couldn’t have done,” Flanagan said, adding Hoof and Hound could not afford to hire a company to do the same work. “I could never justify spending the money when I knew it could pay for spays and neuters,” she said.


“It is amazing how much can get done in a weekend by a squad of nerds,” said Jason Myers, a seven-year GiveCamp Memphis volunteer. “It is a fun hackathon weekend,” he said.


For the volunteers, using their skills at GiveCamp is different than what they do during the workweek, Myers said. “Here, you can approach things the way you want. In our professional roles, there are strict rules about how to get things done.”


Any nonprofit can apply to GiveCamp. Hilliard said they are careful to pick projects that they can realistically complete in a weekend and be managed by the nonprofit going forward. Applications for the 2020 event will be posted on the website this fall.


Hilliard believes GiveCamp will continue to grow, adding there is only one hurdle: convincing nonprofit representatives there are no strings attached.


“I’ve been told nonprofit organizations are hesitant to apply to GiveCamp because they believe it must be a trap. Why would anyone do the work, for free, that another company would charge thousands of dollars to do?” he said.


“When I meet someone doing good work in the community and I have the opportunity to apply technology toward making their work more effective for them and their stakeholders, and I can do that in the safety of a timebox where I can show up, deliver and leave, why wouldn’t I?


“I get to do what I am good at and provide improvement to an organization whose sole purpose is to improve my community,” Hilliard said.


Swanson said the volunteers are passionate, creative and curious professionals who would be at home playing with technology anyway. “Why not put your skills to use in a way that helps nonprofits focus on their mission and impact the community?” he said. “For them it is magic. For us, it is fun.”

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Read more articles by Dawn Neuses.

Dawn Neuses is a transplant Memphian and part-time freelance journalist from the Midwest who spent the past year exploring her new home in the Mid-South. Dawn was a reporter for 20 years, covering everything from education to community activism, and enjoys learning something new from every person she meets.