In 2013, shortly after a successful WordCamp Cape Town, my wife came up with the ambitious idea for our local WordPress community to host an event where we built websites for non-profit organisations. Suffice to say that I immediately loved the idea, even though it took a little while to work out how we would do it.
Fast forward to February 2014 and I, along with a few colleagues at WooThemes, had started the ball rolling by connecting with GivenGain – a far-reaching network of non-profit organisations. We worked with them to find some local organisations that were in need of a new website and booked 10 of them to be a part of our first event of this kind.
I dubbed the event ‘do_action’ as a reference to the WordPress core function, as well as the fact that the whole point of the event was to use our skills as a community to take action in helping organisations who weren’t able to do it for themselves. The name stuck and people in our community really got behind the idea.
After working out the logistics of how an event like this would work, we settled on making it a single day event taking place on a Saturday where our community volunteers would come together to build fresh websites for the non-profits. We partnered with Hetzner who sponsored the hosting for each new site (which they still continue to do every year) as well as a few local companies who came on board as financial sponsors. Our first event was to be held at the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock – a co-working space with a special focus on startups and non-profit work.
Very soon after the planning process started I realised that working with 10 non-profits was exceptionally ambitious and attempting to cater to that many organisations may just be the downfall of this event. I didn’t factor in all of the administrative work that goes along with it. 10 non-profits meant 10 new hosting packages, 10 new domains, 10 different organisations to communicate with, 60 community volunteers to work on the websites, 80+ people to feed for the day, and countless hours spent communicating with everyone involved to make sure they were all on board. Due to my apparently pathological need to do everything on my own, I took on almost all of that work myself – something that I am much better at preventing these days.
After all that work, the inaugural event went well and was generally considered to be a huge success. We even had a someone there to film it for us and put together a recap video about it all:
I learnt a lot that year about this type of event so that when the community started asking when the next one was going to be I was excited to implement a lot of much-needed improvements to the format. Over the next few years we have steadily improved the event and learnt more and more lessons along the way.
Among the lessons we’ve learned over this time are:
- Use a large open-plan room – separate rooms for each team don’t work well.
- Put the build teams in touch with the non-profits before the event so they can make some plans prior to arriving on the day.
- Don’t order so much pizza for the end of day dinner – there’s always leftovers.
- Having a winner at the end of the day just undermines the work of the other teams, so rather leave that out.
- Help the non-profits set up any necessary accounts (like payment gateways) before the event.
- Force all the non-profit reps to attend the training portion of the day, so that they leave the build team to work without the “client” alongside them for a while.
- Provide some sort of high-energy snack for the afternoon – it’s a long day and participants need a boost.
- Find a way to offer long term support to all of the non-profits, otherwise they’ll end up contacting the organiser a year later for small tweaks.
We have now hosted five annual do_action events in Cape Town and we’re busy planning our sixth one to take place later this year. On top of that, do_action has grown into a global event supported by the WordPress Foundation both financially and logistically. I am on the team that supports these global events and I couldn’t be more proud to see our ambitious local event become a worldwide movement.
In 2018 there were 12 do_action events around the world, up from 4 the year before. In 2019, we should see at least 20 before the year is up with that number expected to grow every year.
The great thing about do_action is that it is so much more than what it looks like on the surface. What we’re doing with these events is more than building websites. A website is just code on a server, and we’re giving the non-profits so much more than that.
It may not seem like it for the participants when they’re in the thick of things with building the sites themselves, but what they’re really doing is giving these organisations a platform to grow their work and their own community.
They’re giving them a place where they can spread information about their cause, recruit volunteers, receive donations, inform the public – all without having to worry about any of the technical details. This sets the organisation free to do the good work that they do best, so by helping them we’re helping the people who benefit from their efforts.
That is why do_action is easily my favourite event in our local community’s annual calendar and why I’m so excited to see it growing so rapidly all over the world.
All the photos in this post are from do_action Cape Town 2014 and 2018 (our first and latest local events).