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Campus & Community

Website Help for the Helpers

Students Create Custom Software for Nonprofits

By Lucy Hubbard ’24

two people work on laptops

A student group, Hack4Impact-UMD, has built custom websites and software for philanthropic organizations since 2020. Below, members pose for a group picture.

Illustration by iStock

A veterans’ charity was having a hard time tracking its volunteers. An organization fighting opioid addiction in rural areas needed a website listing easily accessible resources. A nonprofit delivering food was having trouble coordinating deliveries. The solution to all was a group of University of Maryland students, who are polishing their coding skills while doing some good themselves.

Hack4Impact-UMD prepares students for socially conscious roles in the tech industry by offering them the opportunity to create software to help nonprofits across the country.

“A lot of these nonprofit organizations often don't have the funding to have their own tech team to develop a website for them,” said Co-Executive Director Wren Poremba ’25, a computer science major. “And we offer these services for free so that they can continue their mission without having to sacrifice funding.”

Hack4Impact-UMD group photo

Lack of funding is a major barrier for nonprofits seeking to advance their online presence. According to Salesforce, nearly three-quarters of nonprofits say digital transformation is a “need-to-have” or “must-have,” but still only 12% score high on Salesforce’s Nonprofits Digital Maturity Index, a measure of how well nonprofits use technology and data.

To address this deficit, Hack4Impact, founded at UMD in 2020 as part of a national organization, works to understand unique needs of nonprofits that apply to work with the group, whether that’s a full website, a new portal to manage volunteers or a dashboard to help employees track their assignments.

The 100 or so undergraduate students, mostly computer science and information science majors, in the group work in five project teams, composed of designers, engineers and product managers. Each project group meets with a nonprofit client once a week throughout the process, which may take about a semester or two.

According to computer science major Sheldon Padgett ’25, Hack4Impact’s director of project sourcing, the group looks for organizations that have been making a measurable impact in their community, and then provides technological tools to reach a new level of effectiveness.

“Now that [nonprofits] have these websites and things to organize for them, they can spend more time actually going out there and doing the mission that they set out to do,” Poremba said.

For instance, for Team River Runner, a charity for veterans and their families, Hack4Impact enhanced their online reporting system to help their national leadership track projects and decipher areas to focus resources and support.

“The mission of our organization is to provide health and healing to our nation’s military,” Team River Runner Executive Director Joe Mornini said in a testimonial submitted to the group. “The members of the Hack4Impact team assigned to our project were incredibly supportive and focused on helping us with our mission.”

Each semester, Hack4Impact hosts a boot camp for students interested in joining. The newcomers spend a semester learning not only about software development, but also the communication skills needed to collaborate with clients. The group is looking for more than adept programmers, including students with other skills who are eager to help nonprofits through their work.

“We don't just want people who want to put this on their resume,” Poremba said. “[We] want people that really care about what we're doing and who we know will stick with us even when the project gets hard.”

Over the last year, Hack4Impact has raised about $5,500, with funding coming from the College of Information Studies and corporate sponsorships with Workday, Geico, AARP, Uber, CodePath and Bloomberg. Since the group was founded four years ago, they have helped over 20 nonprofits.

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