When you hear the term "hackathon," you might imagine a group of coders getting together to break into a protected website or engaging in some other shady activity. In actuality, hackathons are events where ideas are hatched and technology needs are met — making them excellent opportunities for nonprofits, charities, and libraries!

A hackathon is an event where programmers, developers, designers, and leaders come together to collaborate on an app, website, or software projects. There are many different types of hackathons: from company hackathons (such as Facebook's All-Night Hackathon) to government improvement hackathons (like #HackWeTrust or Code for Oakland).  

The hackathon model is ideal for nonprofits and libraries because it brings together motivated volunteers to expedite a project on a limited budget. But more than anything, hackathons are fun events to network and meet allies interested in supporting your cause.

Hackathons for Social Good

Last year, TechSoup held a Saturday Hackathon 4 Good where nonprofits and techies could join forces to create solutions for social good. One of the projects, GoodGym, is a group fitness app where participants get fit by doing physical tasks that benefit their communities. Another project at the Saturday Hackathon 4 Good was Qeyno, which is described as Khan Academy meets LinkedIn for students.

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a global-wide community of hackers and social leaders with the common goal of building open technology for a better world. One cool project that came out of a RHoK event is InfoPlace Kenya, an Android application for information and directions of essential places in Kenya like hospitals, tourists attractions, restaurants, educational facilities, and more.  

While many hackathons for good are run by nonprofits, there are some corporate-sponsored events as well. Microsoft's International Women's Hackathon challenged female developers to combat issues like human trafficking through new mobile apps and web programs. 

AT&T is very active in the hackthon space, holding weekend events for mobile app creation. The hackathons are themed around a certain issue, such as education or mHealth (mobile health). A number of exciting projects have come out of these events including apps made by aspiring young app developers. For example, Victoria Walker, an 11-year-old from California, designed Rode Dog, a clever app designed to stop texting and driving

Library Hackathons

Libraries have also been getting in on the hacking fun. The Digital Public Library of America held a hackathon to test the prototype DPLA platform and build apps for it. The District of Columbia Public Library has held as series of Accessibility Hackathons. The events bring together young adults with disabilities and companies that develop accessibility solutions.

The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) has also held a few hackathons with the New York Public Library.  The events challenged participants to brainstorm and code mash-ups of WorldCat, the world's largest bibliographic database, with other web services.  For example, one of the projects presented was called "Netflix at My Library."

More Hackathon Resources

Here are even more hackathon resources from TechSoup and beyond:

  • Want to host your own hackathon? TechSoup's Hacker Helper can get you started. This wiki can be a first step in providing those developers with information about the problems that can benefit from their support.
  • This article from Edelman's Good Purpose blog provides more guidance on throwing your own nonprofit hackathon.
  • Got an idea for an app or software solution, but don't know where to start? NetSquared can help! Link up with designers, developers and other likeminded social activists to get your project off the ground. 
  • Community Boost_r is a project that inspires, enables, and promotes tech for civil participation in transparency and accountability initiatives in the Western Balkans. The project is run by Fundacja TechSoup and Dokukino (Serbia) in partnership with TechSoup Global and Zasto ne (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
  • The ReStart Challenges are a TechSoup initiative in the Central and Eastern European region that supports citizens to harness technology and create a more open society. The challenges invite social activists and techies to create web-based tools to tackle local issues.  

Image credit: Hackathon, hackNY 

Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.