48 Sites in 48 Hours for 48 Nonprofits: Collaboration for a Cause

48in48

In our day jobs and home lives, nothing motivates like a deadline. Last fall in Atlanta, a team of marketers, writers, designers and developers proved that volunteerism under pressure maximizes results and teaches lessons about community and technology.

48in48 is an effort to build customized websites for 48 Atlanta-area nonprofit organizations in 48 hours. In its first year, the event attracted the support of nearly 40 sponsors and 150 volunteers and delivered an estimated $1.2 million in value in a single, caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived weekend.

48in48 is the creation of entrepreneurs Jeff Hilimire, CEO of the mobile app studio Dragon Army, and Adam Walker, co-founder of the creative agency Sideways8 Interactive. Third to sign on was Joe Koufman, whose company, AgencySparks, connects brand marketers with vetted specialist agencies. All three have a track record of assisting nonprofits.

Koufman said, “Jeff had the idea that instead of serving food at a soup kitchen or reading to a struggling student that we should leverage our day-job talent as content experts, project managers, creatives and developers to help out the nonprofits in our community.”

…instead of serving food at a soup kitchen…we should leverage our day-job talent as content experts, project managers, creatives and developers to help out the nonprofits in our community.

But in a sense, 48in48 was a marketing soup kitchen, assisting the deserving by doling out hurried help of the digital kind. When it was held Oct. 3-4 at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, the 16 volunteer writers Koufman recruited together produced 48 blog posts, one for each new website.

Participation and experimentation

Koufman said AgencySparks likely will never see a dollar of revenue from its involvement in the event, but there were benefits. “Every CMO is trying to figure out how to better connect with millennials, who have made it clear they want to do work that makes a difference and has an impact. They want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves.”

“Volunteering to help nonprofits makes a statement that your company is about more than shareholder value, that your company cares about and believes in something bigger than whatever it is you do day-to-day. That’s a great retention and development tool for younger talent.”

Another benefit, he said, was the opportunity to get employees immersed in new technologies and the freedom to experiment with them. “There are tools available today that enable us to do amazing things.”

There are tools available today that enable us to do amazing things.

Technology, Koufman said, was vital to 48in48 accomplishing its goals. First, social media was an essential tool for recruiting volunteers. Second was what Koufman called the “democratization” of web design and development.

“The advent of WordPress, Squarespace, Yola, Wix, GoDaddy and others – coupled with the availability of much-better-quality stock images – has made it so much easier and faster to build an appropriate web presence,” Koufman said. “These kinds of tools simply weren’t available five or 10 years ago.”

Computers in our pockets and expectations of personalization

While 48in48 is successfully embracing current technology to give back to the community, future technological shifts will continue to change events like this, and marketing as a whole. The big question is, ‘where will technology take marketing in the next five or 10 years?’

“I feel like the little computers in our pockets will be the primary device,” Koufman said. “Everything out there in the real world will just be a dumb screen, something you plug in to. Except that we won’t plug in. We’ll just bring our phones and they will automatically sync with the screens when we get where we’re going: a meeting, a hotel, wherever. No longer will we have to lug a laptop across the country for a business meeting. That’s going to change pretty significantly the way we consume digital content.”

Next, Koufman said, “Input devices are going to become less and less important, and interaction between computer and human will become much more seamless. We’re already seeing that with Siri, Google Now and Amazon Echo. You tell the system what news you need or what song to play.”

Finally, he said, “I think personalization will become not the exception but the expectation. When we go to Amazon, we have a different experience than our friends based on our histories on Amazon. I think every company is going to have to figure out how to create content that resonates with different audiences.”

…personalization will become not the exception, but the expectation…every company is going to have to figure out how to create content that resonates with different audiences.

He noted, “Very few companies have a single, monolithic audience that they’re trying to market to. No longer is it good enough to publish content that we think is going to resonate with a broad swath of different kinds of customers. Sure it makes things more challenging, but we may have to create multiple versions of content. The value is that the consumer will feel that the content was created for them instead of for somebody else.”

Like Koufman, 48in48 is thinking big. “It’s already an amazing undertaking; and the plan is for it to go national,” he said. “Just imagine: digital marketing people in 10 or 20 cities all working simultaneously doing 48in48s to help their local communities.”

Such is the power of people and technology, all delivered on deadline.

By Clay Zeigler