We love when we get to save businesses time and money by using our software.

We also love empowering our team members who build that software to do the same for their communities.

In February, three members of Dwolla’s Engineering team participated in dsmHack 2019, a 48-hour hackathon helping nonprofit organizations use technology to solve inefficiencies within their specific organizations. As part of dsmHack, Eric Cheatham, Arun Sondhi and Nick Leeper of Dwolla were part of a team that helped Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa streamline the onboarding for new volunteers.

“Currently [BBBS of Central Iowa’s onboarding] takes several days or even up to a month to sign up and involves a lot of back and forth,” Cheatham explained 16 hours into the hackathon. “So what they are asking for is to take as much of that process and make it an online signup as much as possible. We can take that sign up and crunch it down to maybe a few hours.”

dsmHack 2019 is the Des Moines, Iowa-based nonprofit’s sixth hackathon. This year, nearly 90 developers, designers and project managers participated. Along with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, the other ten nonprofit organizations represented were:

Kevin Shannon, President of dsmHack, said in the last five years, more than 440 volunteers have completed projects that saved a combined $850,000 for local nonprofit organizations.

“A few of us had been to hackathons in the past—one even at Dwolla—so we knew that a hackathon was a fast way to deliver skills-based volunteering to the community,” Shannon says. “Sometimes there are people who want to volunteer and don’t know how to get started. This is a great way to introduce them to the tech needs within the community.”

dsmHack 2019 dwolla image

What’s The Hack?

Historically, hackathon projects typically include website overhauls and database organization, according to Kerri Sorrell, Chair of the dsmHack Board of Directors.

This year the hackathon took place at the Des Moines Social Club at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21 and finished around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.

Cheatham said each team met with their nonprofit to understand what they were looking for—and to get an understanding of what projects could be done in 48 hours. He said that a representative from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa was always onsite to answer questions and help with the problem solving.

In the end, Cheatham’s team delivered a WordPress site that allows volunteers to apply through a digital form submission. This portal puts all forms in an electronic format for consistent, easy population.

The form is now live and can be found here.

“I’ve always been interested in nonprofits and how from a tech perspective we could help,” Sondhi said. “Sometimes—at least in tech, without a physical product—it can be hard to find opportunities where we can help with software.”

Leeper agreed.

“It’s such a unique opportunity to use the skills that we have,” Leeper said. “Volunteering is great, like packing meals, but being able to use our skill set that costs nonprofits just an outrageous amount of money is really satisfying. Then they have to take dollars away from what they are doing to pay for tech. So this was a great chance to help some of those groups and see the impact we could have.”

Being Paid To Volunteer

This was the first time Sondhi had participated in the 48 hour hackathon; Leeper was participating for the third time and Cheatham was on his fourth hackathon.

In the past both Leeper and Cheatham said they have taken PTO to volunteer. This year, all three pulled from their Volunteer Time Off to participate.

“It’s nice to have that bucket to specifically use for volunteer opportunities,” Leeper said. “You see it almost like a reminder; you have this time, use it. You don’t have to just use 8 hours, but it’s another avenue to bring more awareness to volunteer opportunities around the area.”

Sondhi said he heard about dsmHack while at work.

“Giving back to the community is ingrained in everything we do here,” he said.

According to Cheatham, it’s rewarding to take what is being done inside Dwolla and use it to help other organizations.

“Helping other people outside of the tech world with some of our project management skills is tremendous,” Cheatham said. “Being able to sit down with people who carry the world on their shoulders but don’t necessarily know how to articulate what problem they want to solve and the steps necessary to solve it, helping them get closer to having that skillset is so important to me.

What Else Was Built?

Besides the online sign up form for BBBS of Central Iowa, Alex Karei, Vice President and Communications Chair of dsmHack, said that other teams at dsmHack 2019 completed the following projects:

  • Adaptive Sports Iowa: A complete overhaul of its website
  • Community Support Advocates: Updates to its website including improved navigation, mobile responsiveness and ADA compliance. Additions were also made to streamline the events calendar, an artist gallery and a swag store.
  • Free Clinics of Iowa: A redesigned website that is easy to update for administrators and is mobile friendly.
  • Habitat For Humanity: An online store where volunteers can trade points earned while volunteering for Habitat For Humanity gear.
  • Iowa Homeless Youth Shelter: An improved system to better track inventory coming in from donations and going out to youths in need.
  • Iowa Radio Reading Information Service: A redesigned, ADA compliant website as well as an updated database to track volunteers, listeners and donors.
  • Les Dames d’Escoffier of Des Moines: A new website with information for the general public as well as a login for members to access exclusive content.
  • Make-A-Wish Iowa: A website for the Jolly Holiday Lights fundraiser that enables visitors to receive up-to-date information about the event including how they can sponsor future wishes.
  • The United Upper Nile South Sudanese Community of Iowa: Four solutions are helping the organization engage members of their community, accept donations and educate other members of the community on South Sudanese Culture, including a new website, food pantry hours, online account to accept online donations and a Facebook page to spread awareness.
  • Walnut Creek Watershed Association: This team built backend tools to collect data from various public sources for people to enter their address and view water quality in their area. The team plans to continue working on this project.

Each team at dsmHack 2019 was committed to making a difference within their community by using software to solve a problem.

At Dwolla, we’re never done. Whether that means helping a customer solve a complex problem or helping a nonprofit organization become more efficient with their daily processes; we make a difference.

And we’re looking for more difference makers to join our team. If you are passionate about making an impact for a growing company, in a growing city, we’re hiring.


Stay Updated