“How can people help those in need by doing what they love?”

…asked software developer Dale Zak in the summer of 2009. The answer he found has now grown into a high-energy, multi-city, tech-savvy team of web designers, developers, and marketers collectively known as Apps4Good.

In partnership with The Hub Halifax, Dale launched Apps4Good to harness the talent and passion of software developers to give back to their community by building mobile apps for good.

Apps4Good’s apps are built at events called hackathons, a weekend-long design, coding, and internet-marketing spree. Our original strategy was to build mobile apps we can sell, and then donate the proceeds from the sales to local charities.

The recent economic crisis put local charities in a difficult spot; increased demand for their services yet with a decrease in overall donations. Our hope, was to generate much needed resources that could help provide valuable funds for these nonprofits that strive everyday to help the less fortunate in our community.

In July 2009 we hosted the first hackathon in Halifax called iHackHFX, which resulted in the development of two mobile apps, Meet Me Here and Wish You Were Here. Following the success of the first event, in May 2010 we held our second hackathon dubbed iHackathon but this time simultaneously in Saskatoon and Halifax. Over the weekend seven teams began the development of seven apps for seven different charities. Once again, the weekend hackathon proved to be a huge success with over 50 participants between the two cities.

We have learnt a lot since those first two hackathons, and had our share of both success and failures. One, hackathons are a great way to gain experience, many of the participants went on develop their own apps or received consulting work as a result. Two, hackathons are a great way to network, alliances and friendships formed between many of the attendees. Three, the media exposure of the event helped bring awareness to the local charities and their causes. Four, hackathons can also be a lot of fun; t-shirts, food, yoga, DJs and even massages made the weekends fun for everyone.

Although we are proud of these secondary goals, it was our primary goal of generating revenue for donations that proved to be the most difficult. One, the ongoing promotion of apps was a major challenge, especially considering all work was done on volunteer time. Two, it was both difficult and unfair to ask for developers to volunteer their time on an ongoing basis. Three, events were dependent on the core team to organize, which meant events didn’t happen when individuals got busy.

So with these lessons in mind, we are now shifting our strategy moving towards a more scalable model. One, rather than building paid apps which we donate the proceeds to charities, we instead will focus on developing free apps that solve real problems and help local organizations. Two, the hackathon templates and development resources will be shared online allowing other groups to follow the format to host their own events.

We hope that with these changes, Apps4Good can scale beyond the original group to other cities across the country and outside of Canada. Hackathons are a great way to meet new people, share ideas and gain skills, all while giving back to your communities – in other words, help those in need by doing what you love.

We are continually impressed and inspired by the diverse individuals who choose to share their time with Apps4Good, with expertise ranging from web design and development, to marketing and content creation, to legal and corporate advice. The Apps4Good team is comprised entirely of volunteers, and we are tremendously grateful to the generous sponsors of the Hackathon events.

As we continue to learn and grow, we are always interested in hearing about new ideas to make the most of Apps4Good. Have a suggestion you want to share with us? We would love to hear from you!