Give Camp heaps tech support on nonprofits


Nonprofits and tech support joined forces over a weekend at Give Camp, which lends technical expertise to nonprofits in need of help. Photo by Adam Bird

Imagine the factory space at 38 W. Fulton St. in Grand Rapids turned into a ceaseless flurry of nonprofits and technicians collaborating on technology enhancement projects.

That is the chaotic beauty of what Give Camp is and was during the Oct. 26-28 weekend.

Grand Rapids’ third annual Give Camp event, a nationwide group that brings in volunteer technicians to serve the needs of West Michigan nonprofits, left sleepy volunteers in its wake. Around-the-clock work was done for three straight days by more than 100 technicians, software developers, database administrators and designers to assist nonprofits with their tech needs, all in an effort to increase the nonprofits’ community impact.

“Every company that sent people is probably feeling it,” said Give Camp organizer Jay Tower. “Some people pulled all-nighters. I probably only got three to five hours of sleep on Sunday.”

Tower, a computer consultant at Falafel Software, said the “organized chaos” mostly focused on helping nonprofits with their websites, customer relationship management and social media use. Give Camp received 40 nonprofit applications but selected only 18 nonprofits, based on the ability of the technicians to finish the projects over a single weekend.

“We look at whether or not it works for a weekend-long event. If it’s a month’s worth of work, we don’t want to just do 10 percent,” Tower said. “We usually estimate an average value of $100 an hour for the work. If you calculate how many volunteers and the time, it counts to half-a-million dollars’ worth of work.”

The 18 nonprofits included:

  • American Red Cross of West Michigan
  • Camp Roger
  • Catherine's Health Center
  • Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan
  • First Day Shoe Fund
  • Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
  • Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center
  • Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders
  • Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition
  • Greater Hopes Inc.
  • Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
  • Keller Foundation
  • Land Conservancy of West Michigan
  • Midwest Haiti Partners
  • SPCA of Southwest Michigan
  • Thrive: A Refugee Support Program
  • West Michigan Environmental Action Council
  • Zonta Club of Grand Rapids

Perhaps the most timely project, in light of Hurricane Sandy’s wake of destruction, was Mutually Human Software’s work with the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Mutually Human created a new inventory system for the organization’s nationwide disaster response system.

Chip Kragt, Red Cross of West Michigan’s director of emergency services, said the current system uses spreadsheets or paper and pen to figure out what materials are located where, making the process complicated and time consuming.

Mutually Human’s new system tracks the physical inventory digitally, which helps Red Cross volunteers know instantly where materials are and where they need to go. The system also is flexible, Kragt said, allowing first responders to check not only on the number of resources but also other information such as size and weight, which could make a huge difference to volunteers on the ground.

“Inventory gets moved on the field, meaning this data needs to be available on a smartphone, so when you’re standing in the warehouse you can move products from point A to point B,” Kragt said. “When we see something like Hurricane Sandy approaching, we say, ‘How much do we have and how much do we need?’ What we made is a system that says what we do have and where is it.”

The system is up and ready to go but still needs expansion, said Kragt, who is hoping the local software will be adopted on the national level.

The inventory system probably won’t be used during Hurricane Sandy, however, as it would be unwise to switch all the emergency response software in the middle of a disaster, he said. But for future disasters, it could save time, thousands of dollars and possibly lives, he said.

“The thing that most amazes me is (that) Mutually Human is not a disaster-response entity, but they completely understood it,” Kragt said. “Just having a system in real time, we could be able to take a high-level view of disasters. I think it will save us time and money in terms of resource movement.”

Tower said projects like Mutually Human’s work with Red Cross of West Michigan are part of the reason the exhausting work of the Give Camp weekend is worthwhile.

“There’s a limited value when you’re just giving your money to things. It’s not the same as actually getting your hands dirty,” Tower said.

“When you take a weekend like this and directly get involved, and when I can take my work skills and use it to help … that’s a really fun synergy.”

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