How we ensure success at our 12-hour make-a-thon

Our 12-hour design and development marathons were created to give Makers an outlet to contribute their skills to meaningful nonprofits within the controlled environment of 12 hours.

Because we aim to complete all work within 12 hours, we are focused on planning and collaboration to reach success. We attribute four key components to this success.

  1. Planning Meetings

These Planning Meetings were created organically in our first year and play a massive role in a project’s success. These are engrained in the core of Make a Mark and will continue to be part of our make-a-thons.

A few weeks before the event, we will schedule a planning meeting for each team. The nonprofit representative, all Makers, and Make a Mark representatives all attend the meeting to lay the groundwork for the project to be completed at the event. Because of the content of these meetings, they are required for everyone to attend in order to participate in the event.

The Planning Meetings play both a functional and relational role.

Functional Role

  • Opportunity to discuss the project and its details
  • Chance to discuss any prep work that needs to happen before the event
  • Allows Makers to skip research and dig into the execution of the project at the event

Relational Role

  • Opportunity to meet one another
  • Time to start building a collaborative team
  • Builds a foundation for understanding and investment

During the Planning Meetings, we talk about the goals of the project as well as the mission and impact of the organization. They come in as “clients” and “consultants” but leave as partners on a project. This feeds into the idea of designing with people, not for people.

2. Tooling

During the Planning Meetings, we discuss everything from content to colors, but selecting the right tools is crucial. Both Makers and nonprofits are part of the conversation when it comes to selecting the tools and software that will be used.

Obviously we want designers and developers to use tools that they are comfortable with, but we also want the nonprofits to feel like they have access to update and utilize what they are given.

If a nonprofit is receiving a new website, we make sure that they feel comfortable using the CMS that the Makers propose. If a brochure is being developed, we make sure that the nonprofit will be able to open and edit the file through a free trial, discounted software or even just finding room in their budget.

3. Check-In

During the make-a-thon, Makers will be working all day, but to be respectful of their process and time, we ask that one nonprofit representative visit during a designated hour in the afternoon to provide higher level feedback.

We require that there is one nonprofit representative to visit during check-in and be available by phone all day in case the team needs to contact them.

This check-in gives the Makers a chance to show drafts of their projects to the nonprofits and get their thoughts and feedback. This is also an opportunity to ask any additional questions of the nonprofits before the final reveal.

We’ve found that this check-in clarifies any lingering questions and issues, and get the nonprofits and Makers pumped for demos at the end of the day.

4. Training

For the past three years, we’ve provided the Nonprofit Speaker Series in the afternoon for all of the nonprofit representatives. This is a chance to provide additional insight from industry leaders on technology, communication, design and creativity for nonprofits. We’ve covered topics including crowdfunding, branding, social media, volunteer engagement and more.

After meeting with a group of nonprofits in Chattanooga in April, we are hoping to revise our training in Chattanooga to meet a different need. We are planning to host a Learning Lounge where we will have instructors available to work with nonprofits in the afternoon on the various tools that the Makers are using and how they can also utilize these tools to carry their work forward.

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