July 27, 2011

Online Competition Provides Free Web Tools to Nonprofit, a nonprofit that makes it easy for teachers to create online appeals to raise money for classroom trips and equipment, now has dozens of new tools to help potential donors—and all were developed at no cost.

Among those tools are a map that shows donation "arrows" arriving at their destination over time; an iPhone app that collects and displays local projects in need of support; and a service that suggests projects to recommend to Twitter followers based on their location.

While other organizations, nonprofit or not, would pay considerable fees for these tools, developers and data artists created them free as entries in the DonorsChoose Hacking Education contest, in which the top winner received a trophy from Stephen Colbert, the television personality who is also a DonorsChoose board member.

The contest featured celebrity judges such as Arianna Huffington as well as education experts such as Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, and people with a large following in their tech-related fields such as Joichi Ito, executive director of the MIT Media Lab, and Gina Trapani, who leads development on ThinkUp, software that the White House and government agencies use to connect with their constituents.

According to Charles Best, chief executive of, working with well-known judges was integral to drawing a large number of entries. "It was a way for developers to get in front of these people," he says.

The organization collected an e-mail list of 400 interested developers and received a total of 50 apps and data projects as entries.

"We got stuff we had never thought of before," says Mr. Best.

The top award went to a website called, a service that lets people attach a fund-raising appeal to their e-mail signature.

Michael Nutt, the creator of DonorSig and co-founder of the company Movable Ink, said he became involved with Hacking Education when a friend invited him to a 10-hour "hackathon" organized by DonorsChoose in New York City.

"Developers are clearly interested in donating their time to good causes, and it's just a matter of making it easy to contribute and coordinating events," said Mr. Nutt in an e-mail. "Also, having Stephen Colbert award the trophy doesn't hurt."