48in48 Hackathon Gives New Life to Bloomington-Normal Nonprofits With Digital Updates

Technology Community Engagement
 Michele Evans, communications and grants coordinator for the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, meets Saturday with the volunteer team building the foundation a new website during the 48in48 Hackathon at Rivian Automotive in Normal. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

Michele Evans, communications and grants coordinator for the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, meets Saturday with the volunteer team building the foundation a new website during the 48in48 Hackathon at Rivian Automotive in Normal. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

Rivian's newly accquired manufacturing plant is all abuzz Saturday morning as teams of volunteers race to beat the clock: their goal is to build brand new websites for 48 area nonprofits by Sunday evening.

They’ve been at it since Friday night when State Farm and United Way of McLean County officially kicked off the 48in48 Hackathon, an event to help Central Illinois nonprofits improve their digital presence.

48in48 held its first hackathon in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, partnering with State Farm for another Atlanta event last fall. Volunteer Event Project Manager Emily Schneider said after the success in Atlanta, she and other State Farm employees wanted to bring 48in48 to the company’s corporate home in Bloomington-Normal.

State Farm and United Way of McLean County each covered half the $50,000 cost to put on the event. Rivian Automotive hosted the event at their massive 2.8M SQFT factory, formerly occupied by Mitsubishi.

Schneider said the money helped promote the event as well as provide food and recreation for its 225-250 volunteers. The investment helps the events’ 180 volunteer developers provide an estimated $1.5M worth of services to area nonprofits, including a professionally-built website and digital marketing training.

Michele Evans, grants and communications director for the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation in Bloomington, meets with her team at noon to check on their progress.

The ten volunteers, all IBM employees from Bloomington and Champaign, make up the event’s largest team; they will build not one but four live websites by Sunday evening.

IBM Consultant Nilanjan Ghosh said the hackathon is nothing like the other corporate service programs he’s participated in.

Working closely with Evans and others have helped Ghosh learn more about the work of local nonprofits. He says the event is just a starting point for him and others on the team to get more involved in the community.

Evans said without the team’s help, it would have taken years of work and some budget adjustments for the foundation to complete a total website redesign.

The foundation’s current website, at least 5 years old, is in need of an update.

“The information is there, and we felt the information is good on our site, we just needed a little bit better organization and a much more modern look to it,” Evans said.

She hopes community members will use the website to better understand the foundation’s work. She also thinks the site’s simple navigation will make it easier to connect local donors and causes.

“It’s really exciting to see the new fresh look, and I hope people like it as much as I do.”

David Taylor, President and CEO of United Way of McLean County, said many nonprofits like the IPCF currently operate on either an outdated website or just on social media.

“Resources are tight for a lot of nonprofits. The state budget has changed and continues to decrease for a lot of health and human services, and many [nonprofits] quite frankly can’t afford an IT department, a systems specialist or even a social media guru.”

Still, an updated digital presence is essential for nonprofits to continue their work in a world of changing technologies and preferences.

“Especially with having the younger generations growing up, they love to donate and they love to volunteer for nonprofits, but they want to be able to find it easily,” Schneider said. “We want to make things as simple as possible.”