By Sara Lundenberger – Director of fundraising consulting

In 2015, I wrote a very short blog about my first experience at Cleveland GiveCamp, a three-day event where volunteers come together with nonprofits to create websites, apps, databases and other tech-related projects. After all, during my first year at GiveCamp, I was new to Dot Org and had never written a blog. I remember quickly jotting down the five things I learned during that weekend and publishing it.

Three years have passed since I wrote that blog post about my first weekend at GiveCamp. (Our marketing and PR account coordinator wrote one for this year, too – check it out here!) Now that my fourth GiveCamp weekend has wrapped up, I realized that many of the things I learned that first year are still really true.

1) Preparation is key: As with most projects, a little background work can make a huge difference. The nonprofits that came to camp with content, photos and logos ready to go were leaps and bounds ahead of those that showed up with a lot of excitement, but nothing prepared.  Looking at the project I worked on this year, I saw that this was still true. The nonprofit I worked with (Summit ArtSpace) came with a site map, content, photos and a clear idea of what they wanted. We were so far ahead that we were able to add extras like a photo slider and EventBrite calendar plug-in. Because of this preparation, their new website will be launched soon.

2) If at first you don’t succeed… Pivot: My first year, I had the chance to sit in with three different teams throughout the weekend. The common theme on every team was changing directions. If the first idea you have doesn’t work, change it and keep changing it until it does. This year, I stuck with one team from start to finish. We didn’t need to do a lot of pivoting on this project, but we still had to decide which path to take and when to abandon an idea if it got to be too cumbersome or out of scope. When you only have a weekend, you can’t have anyone on your team focusing too much in one area. You have got to keep moving to get to MVP! (For the record, In lean software development MVP means Minimum Viable Product.)

3) The tech world isn’t run by 20-somethings: Yes- there were many very young coders and developers working all weekend. But they weren’t the only ones. Don’t assume that because someone is older than 30, they can’t possible understand CSS or PHP. Knowledge and experience are a pretty unbeatable combination. On my team, there was a mix of recent Tech Elevator grads and seasoned web developers. That balance was awesome to have and led to some really cool discussions about how to go about fixing a problem.

4) Think outside the box: Just because you haven’t seen it done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I saw a lot of projects that started with,“It would be great if our site could…” and ended with a site that can do that and more. The people volunteering their time are smart, energetic and willing to help. There is almost always a way to do something if you’re willing to try and fail and try again.

5) Teamwork always wins: Whether you were on a project team, the security team, a floater and/ or Team Z (the non-technical, very important group of volunteers that feed more than 200 of us during the weekend) nothing would have been accomplished without teamwork. One team had 19 people working at all hours of the night to finish its project. As we get older, teamwork can be a tough thing. We all get a little stuck in our ways and an experience like GiveCamp can remind us of what it’s like to compromise, learn new things and work with new people.

5b) Know your strengths: This sort of goes along with teamwork, but is a little different. Everyone has strengths, whether it’s developing for websites, designing, creating social media posts or just being a worker. Use what you know and don’t be offended or upset if you aren’t needed.

That first year at GiveCamp, I was a little bit of a fish out of water. I’m not a copywriter, coder, WordPress genius or graphic designer. Where would I fit in? By this year, I was comfortable taking charge of the things I can do well: project management, UX, site mapping and content management. I could still be an integral part of the team using my skills and even picked up a little coding along the way.

 

And here are a few more points that I wanted to add following this year’s Cleveland GiveCamp experience:

6) Speak up: This may be an “as I get older” kind of thing, but I’m not afraid to say something if I disagree. Whether it’s something big or small, give your opinion. There is probably someone on the team that wants to say the same thing – or, you might open someone’s eyes to something that they never even noticed. If you get shot down or overruled, move on and keep working.

7) Have fun!: GiveCamp is exhausting. For three days you are staring at a computer screen, making lists of things that still need finished. Post-its are all over the windows and your desk. It can be tough to remember that you signed up for this – and for a good reason!

Get to know your teammates and let them get to know you. My team had one guy that works here in downtown Akron and another that grew up in the town where I live now. I’ve already connected with most of them on LinkedIn and almost everyone said they’d be back next year. We had a blast getting to know each other. As a non-coder, the running joke on my team each time I figured something out on my own (like resizing and inserting the favicon) was met with high fives and proclaiming myself a hacker.

 

GiveCamp gives us a chance to give back to nonprofits doing something we like and are good at, while meeting new people from the web and tech community. You not only learn a lot about coding, kerning and style sheets – you also learn project management skills, people skills and how to compromise!

And the ice cream on Saturday night wasn’t too bad either.