Code It Forward is Lighthouse Labs’ charity hackathon, where developers, designers, and ideators gather together for a weekend to solve tech problems for charities and non-profits. To celebrate Giving Tuesday, we caught up with The Canucks Autism Network and The Rare Disease Foundation to learn how they’ve benefitted from their awesome solutions!

Tell us about your non-profit.

CAN: Founded in 2008 by Canucks Co-Owners, Paolo and Clara Aquilini, the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) provides year-round, high-quality sports, recreational, arts, and social programs for individuals and families living with autism, while spreading awareness and providing training in communities across British Columbia.

RDF: The Rare Disease Foundation (RDF) is a group of parents, clinicians, and scientists who have come together to help find solutions for children, individuals and families affected by rare or undiagnosed diseases. Our non-profit works intimately with families and medical community to help re-organize the life science research infrastructure with hopes of delivering more rapid and efficient solutions to patient problems. We also provide resources and support to families affected by rare or undiagnosed conditions.

How did you get involved with Code It Forward?

CAN: In the spring of 2015, Don Burks of Lighthouse Labs strolled into our office sporting a Vancouver Canucks jersey and a friendly smile, with a one-of-a-kind offer to present to us. He invited us to be a part of the Code it Forward Hackathon- a weekend hackathon where ten lucky charities would benefit from the brainpower and expertise of 50 developers, designers, and ideators. We were immediately sold.

RDF: In hopes of providing more cost-effective solutions for our organization, I gradually began to learn some basic computer programming. I began to attend the weekly Ruby on Rails meetups to learn more and it was there that another coder told me about the Code It Forward hackathon. Interestingly, I had also seen Don Burks at some of the Ruby meetups, so I was excited to reach out to him and ask if we could be part of the event.

What challenges did you face?

CAN: As a fairly new organization facing unprecedented growth, we found ourselves struggling to adequately manage the many operational procedures that were being implemented across our hundreds of programs. Some of the processes that were in place required our staff to undertake monotonous tasks that soaked up both time and money. We knew that technology was the solution yet, we were limited in time, budget and expertise.

RDF: One of the main challenges that we faced when entering the hackathon was providing a tool for processing and providing analytics on our research grants. This tool would not only be used internally by our executives to help make the most out of our research funds, but can also provide up to date information to our donors and rare disease community about how and where we are distributing their donations. It was also a tool that would help us make better decisions by following up with our grant recipients to view the outcomes of their research.

Tell us about your experience at the event. What did you take away?

CAN: Our team arrived at the Code it Forward Hackathon full of excitement and curiosity. Within minutes of presenting our problem to the captive room, we had a team of six dedicated individuals who were enthused and determined to find a solution to our attendance tracking issue. Our team was immediately invested in the cause, asking about our organization and actively involving us in the process. While we knew our team was strong, skilled and dedicated, we could have never prepared for what they presented to us.

The team created an application that would save over 200,000 key clicks and hundreds of hours every year! In addition, their incredible work won them the competition, garnering even more support for our organization. A bigger gift than we could have ever imagined.

RDF: We were lucky enough to have an awesome team of dedicated coders, designers, and ideators that really believed in what we wanted to make. It was also amazing to witness and experience the thought process and intuition of our team members. It was great to get suggested solutions and perspective from fresh and young minds about the obstacles charities experience everyday

How has your nonprofit been impacted?

CAN: The Code it Forward Hackathon ignited the imagination of our organization and opened up a world technology that we did not think was possible or affordable for us to attain. Watching the Code it Forward team design, code, test, and deliver a solution in just two days showed us that there is so much we could be utilizing to improve and streamline our operations.

RDF: We have always prided ourselves in devising solutions to help us be more effective and more lean in terms of our organization's expenses. This project was great, as it really helped reinforce that aspect of our belief. Additionally, it has opened the mind of many in the medical and administration community about alternative ways to address certain challenges.

Why is it important for events like this to exist for non-profits?

CAN: As a charity for individuals and families living with autism, our main focus is on enriching the quality of life of those we support. We are proud to say that 80 cents from every dollar donated goes toward the delivery of our high-quality, adaptive programs. Events such as this one allow us to focus our time and funds on the families we serve, as opposed to our internal operational challenges, as for that we are eternally grateful.

RDF: Events like this need to exist to so that novel and more cost-effective solutions are continually being used by non-profits. Chances are, most of the problems that we are trying to address have already been experienced or addressed in another field or discipline. Events like this, provide the opportunity to implement those solutions for nonprofits. Additionally, I think these events are important to make our developer community aware and engaged of the issues in the world. There are plenty of creative and brilliant minds around, and it is through events like this that we are able to connect with them and see what solutions we can come up with.

How have the technologies created with Code It Forward improved your organization?

CAN: In addition to reducing the amount of key clicks it takes to track attendance for over 400 programs annually, the technology has allowed us to centralize important information. It has also given us the ability to provide our staff with faster and more direct access to key pieces of information essential to making smarter business decisions and has propelled us toward our strategic goals.

RDF: We are just getting ready to roll-out the project the was started at the hackathon in the New Year! This will not only impact our organization by providing up to date data, but also help us save a lot of money by streamlining some processes that manually had to be done before, such as our grant approval letters. Similar systems can be licensed, but cost about $7,000 annually. We have been able to make something scalable with greater features utilizing open-source tools.

Final thoughts?

CAN: Thanks to the Code it Forward Hackathon, Don Burks and our awesome team, we can focus our energies back to what is most important: putting smiles on faces, as opposed to counting how many faces are present in the room.

RDF: It was not only great to be a part of the event, but it was also rewarding to work with others to create an out of the box solutions. Charities have basically continued with the goals and missions over the last few years, but I feel what has really been missing is to keep innovating and devising unique ways to address these issues. Events like Code It Forward really help in promoting innovation for charities.