Revised with new information as of December 18, 2014

One(-ish) Day "Tech" Activities for Volunteers
You know the term barn-raising? Where a group of neighbors gather and, in one-day, build a barn - or at least most of it?

It still happens, not only with barns. Such events also happen with computers. While the result isn't a barn, it's often something just as helpful.

Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. It's a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers don't have to make an ongoing commitment - they can come to the event, contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn't involved. I've even seen these events called microvolunteering, though others might say that's an inappropriate term, since volunteers have to contribute several hours of time, not just a few minutes.

It can also be argued that editing Wikipedia pages isn't really tech volunteering, since the volunteers are writing, editing and researching more than they are doing something tech-related. But I'm including it here, since using a computer is essential to participating.

Is a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, something your nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization - or association of such - should consider undertaking?

Some advantages of these events:

Some disadvantages or challenges:

Here are five examples of what one-ish day volunteering for tech volunteers can look like, and then, what's needed to make these tech volunteering days successful:

Example #1: Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon

The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted the Smithsonian's gathering of volunteers onsite at the Smithsonian Institutionís Archives of American Art, in Washington, D.C. for an "edit-a-thon" to improve art history info on Wikipedia. In February 2014, 600 volunteers in 31 venues -  in the USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, in nonprofits and art schools, in museums and universities - added 101 female artists to Wikipedia

When you search for something on Google, Bing or Yahoo, very often the first link to come up will be one on Wikipedia. That's just one of the reasons your mission-based organization needs a profile there.

What organizations should have a Wikipedia strategy as well?

You not only need a profile on Wikipedia; you need your profile to be linked to by other Wikipedia entries and you need to cite all of your information sources (newspaper articles, journal articles, web sites, etc.) to ensure the Wikipedia super users don't post banners on your site.

If paid employees don't have time to map what needs to be done on Wikipedia, this is a terrific job for an online volunteer, recruited from among your current, long-term and very knowledgeable volunteers/members, from among art history students at the nearest university, etc. That person, as project leader, will not only identify all that needs to be done regarding a Wikipedia entry; he or she will also break all that needs to be done into well-defined tasks, so that different people can each undertake a different task.

One person will also need to write and gather all text to be uploaded; you aren't recruiting writers but, rather, people to adapt text and links in the Wikipedia style. One volunteer may be in charge of your organization's Wikipedia page, ensuring words link to other Wikipedia pages, as appropriate. Another volunteer may be in charge of ensuring other Wikipedia pages that should link back to you do just that (pages that name your organization, pages that detail the cause your organization addresses, or pages for famous or notable people that are somehow connected to your organization and are named on your Wikipedia page - all identified earlier by the project leader), and will probably need at least one or two other volunteers to help with this. 

You could organize such an event for all of the arts organizations in your area, or all the history-related organizations in your area, or all the religiously-focused organizations in your area, etc.

Also see How to run an edit-a-thon on the Wikipedia web site.

Example #2: Knowbility Accessibility Internet Rallies

Disclaimer: AIR is my favorite group volunteering event. I don't understand why they are not happening in every city in the USA. Or every city in the world! I have a blast at these events: I staff the sign-in table, I serve food, I run down the hallways and into rooms during the event waving a racing flag - I am high on the energy that happens at AIR!

That said... AIR events bring together teams of volunteers to design fully accessible web sites for nonprofit organizations - web sites that can be easily navigated by people with disabilities or using assistive technologies. The traditional AIR event involves teams receiving a half-day or full-day day of training regarding accessible design, another half-day of training for participating nonprofits regarding what information they will need to have ready for teams, in what format, and a kick off event where the teams and nonprofits are matched up. Then the day of design happens, with strict start and finish times, and all participants in the same location. After the event, web sites are judged by a panel and, later, awards are given to participants.

The results are that nonprofits get fully-accessible web sites, and team members, most of whom are professional web designers, become well-versed in they whys and how of accessible design and usability, as well as better-understanding the nonprofit sector.

More information at

Example #3: Scan and Tag Day

You could use your organization's scanner - and ask volunteers to bring their own scanners - and spend the day scanning photos from your archives. Some volunteers scan, some volunteers tag them on your internal system (onsite or in the cloud) so they are appropriately archived and easy to find, some volunteers upload photos to a public photo-sharing like Flickr, other volunteers tag those photos on that photo-sharing site, as appropriate, other volunteers staff the sign-in table, and other volunteers serve food.

Example #4: Crisis Camp / Crisis Commons

This is a gathering of IT professionals, software developers, and computer programmers to aid in the relief efforts after earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes. Projects by these volunteers include setting up social networks for people to locate missing friends and relatives and creating maps of affected areas. "CrisisCampers are not only technical folks like coders, programmers, geospatial and visualization ninjas but we are also filled to the brim with super creative and smart folks who can lead teams, manage projects, share information, search the internet, translate languages, know usability, can write a research paper and can help us edit wikis."

Example #5: Book and Translation Sprints

FLOSS Manuals (FM) is a collection of different language communities that produce original documentation about Free Software. The FLOSS Manuals effort was launched in 2007 to create quality free documentation about Free and Open Source Software. "Our strategy since the beginning has been to develop communities to produce high quality free manuals about Free Software in their own language. Today we have more than 120 books in more than 30 languages and more than 3,000 contributors over 5 independent language communities (French, English, Farsi, Dutch, Finnish)." FM organizations events called Book Sprints, based on code sprints, but with the focus on producing documentation instead of code. A sprint brings together a group of writers, editors, and perhaps an artist and production specialist, to go from outline to published book in five days. FM also has translation sprints.

If your nonprofit serves a multilingual public, a translation sprint for your web site and publications can be a terrific event.

One-Ish Day Events for Tech-Volunteers: What it takes

The key to success with these days is a lot of preparation before the day happens. Your goal is not only to get the work done; you also want volunteers to have the experience of walking through the door, staying busy the entire time, never ever standing around waiting for a task or wondering when something is going to happen, having a great time, and leaving with a smile on their face. For you, that is going to take a HUGE amount of preparation - let's not mince words about that. But that preparation will be worth it: you will connect with new volunteers, connect with volunteers in new ways, create new supporters, re-energize current supporters, create excitement about your organization, and, if you go about this the right way, press coverage!

What these one day events for tech volunteers take in order to be successful:

Never think of the only goal of these events is to get work done. Your goals should always include cultivating new and ongoing supporters. You want to turn people who attend these events into longer-term advocates and supporters of your cause, people who tell family and friends about your organization, who have their perception changed about a particular issue your organization is involved with, and maybe even are so moved by your work that they make a financial donation. To that end:

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