GiveBack DC Brings Startups and Nonprofits Together

October 14, 2015

4:00 pm

In Washington DC we have a growing mix of startups and nonprofits, but there are only a few opportunities for each to join forces. However, one particular agency has been on a mission to change this for the past four years, and is now building a portal to make it even easier to connect experienced techies with causes.

GiveBack DC, an offshoot program from The Web Development Group, is focused on giving small, growing nonprofits a much needed digital presence. Between pro bono work and hosting events to drive awareness and fundraising, GiveBack DC is connecting agency and DC startup professionals with important causes.

Who They’re Helping

Starting with an initiative in 2011 to build three custom websites for nonprofits, GiveBack DC has expanded through hackathons. They recently added more interactive and pitch style events to get volunteers interested in joining a cause. At last week’s event nearly 700 professionals from the DMV area met with and learned about the causes being supported for the year: SemperK9, Bethany House of Northern Virginia, and Critical Exposure.

Although The Web Development Group initially worked with the nonprofits on their own, the need to include the surrounding community become rapidly evident. According to The Web Development Group Founder Ab Emam, “The way this really started, we grew really fast, grew to where we couldn’t work with nonprofits on a smaller scale. There are a lot of crazy issues, this is an outlet for us to give back with the skills we are really good. It really catapulted this. It’s very inspiring hearing the stories from startups.”

In DC we have hundreds of nonprofits, but not all fit the requirements for the GiveBack DC program. “What we are looking for is small nonprofits, not necessarily startups. We go through their online infrastructure to see if they have a need. We create an audit of their site, and will see if what we are going to give back will actually help,” said Emam. “The final one is the cause. It has to be spread out, not just one cause. One cause was animals, another was domestic violence, the other was youth and education. We want to touch different verticales, not just one.”

Among the initial nonprofits they helped is the DC Diaper Bank, and organization they continue to support and work with. Recently they raised and delivered an additional 5,000 diapers for them. “It’s all about the stories and working with the community. Large non-profits don’t qualify, it’s those struggling to make things work. A way to give them a boost and push them in the right direction,” said Emam.

How the Community Helps

During last week’s event more than 40 new volunteers expressed interest in working with the nonprofit’s, and numerous people donated to the causes directly. GiveBack DC is regularly looking to bring in new developers, designers, and people who understand the digital space. They plan to continue to create more niche, targeted events to raise awareness of the causes they support and bring in more volunteers.

To date, the volunteers will join a three month campaign to provide a complete makeover of the nonprofits site, integrate it with donation tools, and improve their social media presence. “We teach them to use social better, getting more online in a strategic way including RFPs,” said Emam. In the past a nonprofit in the program ended up getting burnt on a bad vendor, eventually lost money and had to start over again. For GiveBack DC, helping them select the best vendors and creating a detailed RFP is incredibly important for future success outside of the program.

Growth and the Future of GiveBack DC

Looking towards the future, GiveBack DC is looking at the potential of organizing the local community to also support causes outside of our area. Emam discussed the potential for gathering volunteers and helping out in situations around the world, but most of all having enough quality community members to help hone in on what they are planning to do. As they grow, they will also be developing a portal that makes it even easier for professionals to connect with local nonprofits. If the resource is of use and there is interest, they also plan to open source it.

Outside of the local geography, The Web Development Group doesn’t want to own growth into other cities. Last year someone rolled out an initial campaign into New York using their model, and now there is interest to bring the concept to Portland. “The opportunities are great, if we can get the word out past DC, it just takes a great agency,” said Emam. “Our mission and focus is on the local community. We encourage any state to follow in our lead.”

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.