Capstone Exchange connects nonprofits and government agencies who need help with projects with civic technologists and students who want to donate their skills. It has the potential to increase in-kind donations in the US by $10M per year.
Capstone Exchange is a marketplace for pro-bono software and data projects, linking nonprofits and government agencies with students, programmers, data analysts and project management volunteers who want to donate their services to civic and social causes. Organizations can use the Capstone Exchange website to describe their project needs and invite volunteers to review their needs and develop full proposals. After proposals are posted to the site, volunteers can review projects and express their interest in contributing to them.
Over the last 15 years, the “Code for Good” and “Data for Good” movements have flourished into a nationwide network of volunteers who donate their time and skills to good causes. There is a large supply of talent; every major US city has multiple groups of skilled programmers, data scientists and web developers lending their services to nonprofits; San Diego, for instance, has at least four. There are also many programming classes and coding bootcamps that require students to complete a capstone project. The limitation of the technology-for-good network is in demand for services, not supply of talent. To get projects, successful pro-bono technologists must pitch their services to the nonprofits; only rarely do organizations seek out the pro-bono technologists. Because sales and marketing are not skills that pro-bono technologists generally have, nor are they interested in gaining, the code and data for good movements are operating below capacity.
Civic Technologist groups nationwide could significantly increase their effectiveness and throughput with a higher flow of higher-quality projects. Increased utilization of existing civic tech resources would increase nonprofit and government technical capacity, give them more access to technical talent, and greatly expand the value of in-kind donations of services. For instance, UCSD’s Triton Software Engineering currently has 50 programmers contributing 7,500 hours per year, but they turn away 60% of their applicants, primarily for a lack of projects. Fully utilizing their supply of programmers would allow them to expand by 200%, adding $1M in in-kind donations to San Diego nonprofits.
Considering that Code for America has 90 brigades in the US, and there are about 60 more data-for-good organizations or technical-school capstone projects, the opportunity for increasing technical in-kind donations in the US is likely to be $10M per year.
Capstone Exchange is a website and service that centralizes the marketing for pro-bono technical services, providing a marketplace for organizations to connect with technologists, and provides basic features for forming project teams. The website will operate similarly to a contracting website such as Upwork or Toptal. The exchange will also provide, for a fee, project management and consulting services.
An important aspect of the concept is that the Exchange has staff to build relationships with project clients and promote it’s services to them, rather than expecting them to find the Exchange website on their own.
Who is it For?
Capstone Exchange connects two groups: civic and social organizations that have technical needs, and pro-bono technologists with skills with software or data analysis.
The civic and social organizations who need help are non-profits, government agencies and, occasionally, journalists.
The pro-bono technologist are a very diverse group that includes:
- Software and Data Science students with capstone requirements
- Local Code for America Brigades, such as Open San Diego
- Data For Good organizations such as DataKind or The San Diego Regional Data Library
- Independent organizations such as UCSD’s Triton Software Engineering