How Blackbaud Uses Hackathons and Cross-Platform Technology To Empower Employees

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be on-site when Blackbaud, one of our customers using the Appcelerator Platform, hosted its fifth “Off-The-Grid” Hackathon. Twice a year, Blackbaud invites their in-house developers to spend 24 hours exploring and bringing to life new ideas for the product and company. It’s a successful program, which often leads to innovations that wind up directly in the company’s product roadmap.

Blackbaud creates software and services for nonprofits, and the event to date has been focused on improving their core offerings. That theme remains, but for this event Blackbaud introduced one big, new rule: You can build anything you want, but only those with a mobile solution are qualified to win the contest.

It’s an ambitious initiative to shift an event that is traditionally focused on web and desktop initiatives to be fully centered around mobile. Blackbaud recognizes mobile is the future for all nonprofits, and that mobile apps will help their customers work more efficiently, but how would employees react to the event? The vast majority didn’t have any mobile experience. Would they participate?

Despite those concerns, Blackbaud had more than 130 employees participate – the highest turnout for any of the company’s Off The Grid events. Almost all of the participants built out their mobile ideas on the Appcelerator development and testing solutions, and teams were able to go from little to no experience with mobile development to publishing functional mobile apps in just a single day.

The event was a huge success, driving immediate strategic results. As I sat on the judging panel, at one point CEO Mike Gianoni leaned over to VP of Products Mary Beth Westmoreland and said, “Let’s get these in the product roadmap.” Talk about quick impact.

Some of the apps that were built during the hackathon included:

  • Donor Spoon: This app lets users dive into details of a nonprofit and uses the internal Blackbaud Merchant Services payment system so users can donate to them. It features the same random spinner user interface that Urban Spoon has, but this app randomly selects an NPO based on different criteria. The app is tied in to Blackbaud’s database of nonprofits to get all of this data, taking advantage of 3rd party integrations. The team even used a native module to expose some things they needed that Titanium didn’t expose.
  • Mobile bitcoin payments for nonprofits: A mobile system to enable bitcoin transactions within a nonprofit’s mobile pay app. NPO’s using the app can take bitcoin payments at an event, for example.
  • Mobile Major Giving: This app enables major giving officers, who spend most of their time on the road cultivating relationships with potential donors, to view information about the donor, check upcoming plan steps and create contact reports for those steps. They can do it from anywhere – on a plane, train, anywhere – regardless of whether they have Internet access or not. The team used the SQLite database built into the mobile device to save data locally. When Internet connectivity is restored, web requests, stored while off-line, are “played back” to synchronize data with Blackbaud’s CRM.

At Appcelerator, we’re all about getting more out of your code and helping your developers work smarter. That’s what led us to build our platform, enabling developers to more effectively build fully native cross-platform experiences from a single JavaScript codebase. It allows developers to focus on rapid innovation, reduce time spent on repetitive low-level activities, and spend more time creating better experiences for their users.

Blackbaud’s hackathon is another example of how organizations can maximize their resources, not just by using cross-platform tools but also by empowering employees to innovate and create freely. Participants were able to take a step back from their everyday work for just 24 hours and learn new skills. Through this hackathon, Blackbaud created an environment geared toward innovation for minimal cost. Other companies would do well to learn from Blackbaud’s example and arm their employees with the skills and tools they need to build amazing mobile experiences.

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  1. Thanks so much for participating as a judge in our recent Off-the-Grid Day, Rick. You inspired a lot of creative thinking and motivated our teams to deliver so much in just 24 hours! We’re already moving forward to integrate many projects into our roadmaps. Appcelerator has enabled us to accelerate our mobile development in amazing ways! Thanks again for working with our teams, and pulling an (almost) all nighter! -MB

    • MB,
      Thanks so much for having me! It was great to meet you and the team. I was very impressed with everything Blackbaud does and loved every minute of it (even the late ones).

  2. Thank you, Rick, for coming out to be a part of our Off The Grid day! Really appreciated your assistance throughout the night to all of our teams using Titanium Studio.
    The Appcelerator tool set enabled us to accomplish so much in just 24 hours. Even we were surprised at what we accomplished! Social integration was a snap with the Ti Facebook module and the API allowed us to mimic our screen designs to a T with ease. Animations and sound effects could be added quickly and incorporating our data from a rest service was simple with the Alloy Framework. The familiarity of the Alloy MVC framework, as compared to traditional web development, also allowed our designer to get in the action and perfect the look and feel by working through our .tss files! The community forums were also a great help and when we needed to we could extend the API with a custom module to make our UI just the way we wanted it.
    We had fun and learned a lot in just 24 hours! Thanks again 🙂 ~Amanda *Team Donor Spoon*

    • Thanks Amanda. It was great to meet you. I loved your team’s app so much I sent pics of it around to a bunch of people at AppC. Such a beautiful app. Glad I could be a part.


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