The Detroit Area Diaper Bank's Blog

What I learned at Give Camp… | September 21, 2010

I never went to camp as a kid. The only camping I’ve done has been with my husband and boys (and I try to get out of that whenever I can). So when I heard about “Give Camp” and saw the logo with the tent-theme, I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned it would involve having to sleep in the woods and make my own fire.

Happily, that wasn’t the case. Rather, Give Camp turned out to be one of the most inspiring, creative and productive (thankfully, indoor) weekends I’ve experienced in a long time. Give Camps are organized by hi-tech development professionals who give up an entire weekend of their lives to address technical needs of selected 501c3 nonprofits. These professionals are people with lives, with families, with things to do. But they sign up and show up at Give Camp, some from across the state or other states, laptops in hand, ready to take on the near-impossible task of creating a full product in less than 48 hours.

The selected nonprofits for the Ann Arbor Give Camp were primarily small, underfunded, labors of love (like DADB). Needs ranged from needing a first website to needing a better website to custom database solutions (like ours). Opportunities like this are priceless for small NPOs — most of us are already stretched to our limits time-wise and have close to zero budget so the chances of getting our hands on custom-built applications are slim-to-none. One of the organizers at the end said they estimated that over 1,400 hours of development were put into the projects over the weekend, which would have equated to well over $100,000 in consulting fees. The database project for our Diaper Bank was completely built from scratch and our development team had, at times, over 7 members busily coding away (and 2 designers dropped in). This entire project is a huge gift and those of us on the receiving end are deeply grateful.

Speaking of gift/giving — I asked the members of our team if they wanted tax receipts so they could write off their time. They each just looked at me, shrugged, and said “nah, that’s okay.” They don’t even claim the time they donate as an exemption! I mean, I’m always happy to donate toys, clothes, etc., but come on, if I can write it off, I do! It just didn’t even seem to be on their radar screens as something they’d thought about. They were just happy to help because they can. Now THAT is the true spirit of GIVING.

My deepest thanks goes to the organizers of the Ann Arbor Give Camp (and for the review committee that accepted our proposal!) And my even deeper thanks goes to the OUTSTANDING group of talented, generous, fun, funny, and TIRELESS developers who gave up so much of their time (and sleep!) to build an incredible, custom, much-needed, web-based, high-speed, awesome, scalable database for a little Diaper Bank in Southeast Michigan: Jamie Wright, our team lead, along with Amber Conville, Sean McMillan, Hilary Robinson, Len Smith and Tim O’Connell. There were other developers and designers who popped in to help at different times throughout the weekend and I’m grateful to them, too.

Computer people, if you want to have one of the best, most rewarding weekends of your lives, keep an eye out for Ann Arbor Give Camp 2011. You will have a great time, do a lot of good, probably sleep less than you have in a long time, but you’ll be so glad you did it in the end. Nonprofits, if you need any kind of technical help, make sure to get a proposal in for consideration next year. You’ll feel like you won the lottery if you get chosen to participate, just like we all did this year.

To wrap up, I thought I’d share some things I learned from our development team and being in the development world over the weekend:

1. Developers don’t like IE. No, let me clarify, they HATE IE. After being thoroughly briefed on the subject by my team, it did not escape my attention that every developer who opened a browser to show their project at the end opened Firefox.

2. Developers are quiet, focused and INTENSE when they’re working. It’s an amazing energy when you walk into a development room, especially when there’s a team of people hip-deep in code and making things work.

3. Developers are fun to be around – they’re smart and seem to have dry-tending-toward-sarcastic humor, which I find enjoyable.

4. Developers have cool stuff and know how to make stuff work.

5. Developers laugh if they see a “visitor counter” on a website.

6. Despite what you’ll hear from PR-type professionals that it should be banned and never used, developers couldn’t care less if you have Comic Sans on your site or not. In fact, one developer told me he wouldn’t care — or notice — if you had 3 different fonts on your site.

7.  Developers like ink. I’m pretty sure I detected at least one tattoo on each member of our team. They are also the only people who can wear those clever “techie” t-shirts and get away with it.

8.  Developers speak to each other in a foreign language. If you’re in a room with developers hashing out a project, even if you know a modicum of l33t-speak, it’s likely all you’ll hear in your head is Charlie Brown’s teacher. So just nod, smile, agree when they seem to agree and try to look busy on your own computer – they’ll let you know when they have a question or need your input on something. But until they do, just sit there playing solitaire or surfing Facebook and realize that you are completely out of your depth and technical league. And be glad there are people in the world that know it, love it and are generous enough to share the product of it with the rest of us.

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18 Comments »

  1. Best.Post.Ever! You were so awesome to work with, especially how you “got” us 😀

    Comment by Hilary — September 21, 2010 @ 10:58 AM

    • Thanks, Hilary! I had a great time out there with you guys — I’m kind of jealous I can’t just re-sign up every year too, I can see how it could get addictive! 🙂

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 21, 2010 @ 3:31 PM

  2. Wonderful writeup on the givecamp. I wasn’t able to make it this year but I know all the developers that are there are very generous with their time.

    Glad you had a good experience!

    Comment by AlanBarber — September 21, 2010 @ 11:07 AM

    • Thank you, Alan! Yes, it was a fantastic experience! It’s an amazing thing the developer community does for nonprofits!

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 21, 2010 @ 3:34 PM

  3. Great post Marybeth! It was so great to work with you. Thanks for dedicating your time this weekend (and every weekend) for all the families that are in need. We are just a small fraction of what you do.

    Comment by Jamie Wright — September 21, 2010 @ 12:00 PM

    • Thanks so much, Jamie! You were a great team lead and I feel very fortunate I had all of you working on my project. I have all of my files out, organized, and I’m ready to populate that database! 😉

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 21, 2010 @ 3:35 PM

  4. Most awesome post ever. Your tone conveyed imagery that just bluew me away.

    I was at Columbus Give Camp this year, and couldn’t stay the whole time, but your post conveyed excactly the message that all of our charities presented.

    It is a plesure to serve under these circumstaces. Just goes to show what can happen if the layers of sales and marketing and management are stripped away, and the actual client gets to talk to the actual developers.

    Thanks for the post. It was an inspiration.

    Comment by Bill Sempf — September 21, 2010 @ 3:42 PM

    • Wow, Bill, thanks for the fantastic comment, I really appreciate the feedback!!

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 21, 2010 @ 4:01 PM

  5. Fantastic post! I appreciate the viewpoint of someone on the other side of the table (I was one of the organizers!)

    When I was on the planning committee for Ann Arbor Give Camp 2008, we actually did look into the “deductibility” of donated time and found out the the IRS doesn’t allow it. See the 2nd bullet point at this link http://www.hrblock.com/taxes/tax_tips/deductions_credits/charitable_giving.html

    Comment by John — September 21, 2010 @ 8:40 PM

    • Hi John! Thanks for the feedback and for planning and making available such an amazing event! That’s interesting regarding donated time not being deductible, seems unfair considering how much you all give, but I can also see where it might be a slippery-slope IRS-regs-wise. I bet, though, there’s an argument (if anyone really cared to make one ;)) that what you all produce and give to the NPOs would fall under “intellectual property” and so the product’s “fair market value” should be deductible (and I guess could be “split” among team members? It could get sticky to work all that out, so it’s probably best to leave it that it’s just not deductible… ;))

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 21, 2010 @ 9:14 PM

  6. I love your blog about this camp. My husband was one of the developers working on your project. I am pleased that he does take time out of his busy schedule to work at this camp each year . My girls and I miss him when he is gone but we know he is working very hard. I think the camp is a wonderful idea!

    Comment by Desiree Wright — September 21, 2010 @ 9:38 PM

    • Hi Desiree! Yes, THANK YOU and your girls for loaning us Jamie for the weekend! He was really the architect of the project they built for me and did a great job leading the development team into making a fantastic tool that will help us SO much. So thanks to the whole Wright family for supporting nonprofits!

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 22, 2010 @ 12:41 AM

  7. I love your post! My husband, Mike Eaton, was one of the organizers of Give Camp. I know he enjoys working with and getting to know each one of the non-profits. It is an emotional roller coaster for him because he does become emotionally connected to the projects and the people. It takes a lot to put an event like this on and to see the overwhelming satisfaction of the non-profits just makes him smile,and then maybe, just maybe do it again next year! 🙂

    Comment by Courtney Eaton — September 22, 2010 @ 2:23 PM

    • Hi Courtney! I can only imagine how much time and effort goes into putting an event on like that and it’s beyond impressive that Mike and the rest of the organizers give all that they do to benefit local nonprofits. I hope he does continue to do it! I’m sure he needs time to recoup ;), but I also know there are a lot of other great nonprofit orgs out there that could really use access to those development professionals. And thank YOU and your family for supporting his giving up all that time for a great cause!

      Comment by dadiaperbank — September 22, 2010 @ 4:09 PM

  8. I was at Cleveland’s GiveCamp this year, and it was an exhausting time but very much fun.

    So glad it went well for you.

    Comment by Mark W Schumann — October 2, 2010 @ 1:35 PM

    • Thanks for the comment, Mark! And I’m sure the charities at Cleveland’s Give Camp were just as thrilled as we were here in Ann Arbor. 🙂 Thanks for donating your time and expertise to nonprofits!!!

      Comment by dadiaperbank — October 4, 2010 @ 1:39 PM

  9. Marybeth this is a fantastic post on the Give Camp. You captured the do’s and don’t do’s perfectly. I missed it when you originally posted it so thanks for reposting the link on facebook. I’m going to share this with Chris and although he didn’t work on your project he always likes to hear how things went from the eyes of the Non-profits. It’s good to know that the energy that the Technology professionals can be felt by the non-profits they help and that the benefits are long lasting.

    Comment by Jessica Roland — April 27, 2011 @ 9:38 PM

    • Thanks, Jessica! I’m glad you got to see it too, I really appreciate your making me aware of the opportunity to begin with and Chris’ support through the proposal process. It really was a fun experience, I wish I could do it every year! 🙂

      Comment by dadiaperbank — April 27, 2011 @ 10:53 PM


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The Detroit Area Diaper Bank was a 501c3 charity that provided diapers to nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan from 2009-2014. No federal assistance programs pay for or provide diapers, not WIC, Food Stamps or Medicare. Diapers are a huge hole in the "safety net" for our youngest and oldest neighbors in need. Please continue to donate and make a difference with diapers in Metro Detroit!

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