Everyone loves hackathons for social good! Make the most of yours by following these tips gathered from the many hackathons we’ve powered:
Bake the cause into the plan.
Take the time to plan for your social good cause. It is best to keep in mind the global developer community may not be familiar with your topic of choice; assume that you will need slightly more time to prepare your hackathon than non-social good themed-hackathons. Here are a few key components to keep in mind:
- Social good themes can be sensitive topics, get the buy-in at your organization before committing the rest of the plan to it.
- You may need more PR input than you would for a non-social good theme.
- Spend time on each of the points below and you’ll be off to a great start.
Simplify the cause.
Two common pitfalls in social good hackathons are on opposite sides of the token:
- Too specific. Avoid very niche and specific topics. One of the keys to success for hackathons is being broad enough for a wide audience to find it interesting. Narrow and niche social good topics can still be beneficial to the causes they support, but it’s important to know you’ll likely see much smaller submission numbers. TEST IT: Before commiting to a theme, try to come up with as many project ideas as you can. If you can’t think of many, it’s too narrow.
- Too broad. Social good problems are hard to solve - that’s why you’re engaging developers! If solutions to something like climate change were easy, we wouldn’t need hackathons to help. However, being broad puts a lot of work onto the developer to figure out what to build and where to start. Help them out by limiting the scope with guidelines. Example: Rather than ‘build apps that solve climate change,’ ask them to ‘build apps that help regular people understand or contribute to climate change solutions.’
Gather subject matter expertise.
Submitting a project is hard work - developers have to learn your technology and come up with an idea. Adding in social good means they may also have to study up on the topic to create a valuable solution. The harder it is, the more dropoff you’ll see, so try these recommendations:
- Gather background information for your hackathon Resources tab. Pull links from reputable sources with easy to digest info.
- Connect with Subject Matter Experts to host Office Hours and share their experiences with participants.
- Provide problem statements to help participants get inspired. Ask your Subject Matter Experts for these or brainstorm them with your team.
Support your participants.
We will always push for active engagement with your participants no matter what the theme of the hackathon. Responding to questions in a timely manner and sharing helpful information is never a wasted effort. These actions help the participants feel included and make them more likely to submit. When there is a bigger learning curve to the theme, it’s even more important. Remember, hackathons are optional to the developers who participate - we want to keep them invested.
Consider your prize structure.
We’re big fans of offering lots of opportunities to win. If you are adding multiple category prizes to your prize structure, a common problem we see is splitting up the prizes into too many categories (especially with difficult themes). There is no guarantee that you’ll receive an equal split of projects among categories.
The best way to avoid issues is to consider flexible categories like educational solutions, commercial solutions, and personal solutions or go with a ranked prize structure instead. Read more about best practices: Developing Prize Structures