Mixing your different passions can effect in awesome initiatives. For example from a combination of a passion for music and teaching you can create a great school band, love to history and theatre may be combined into battle reconstructions, etc. But what can result from programming skills and willingness to help? One of the best events I’ve ever organized — charity IT workshops. In this article, I want to recap two Cracow initiatives during #doItForAlex action — SQL and Python training for beginners.
The workshops were very popular — in the photo workshop about Python basics.
The whole story started from one post published by Rita Łyczywek (known from her blog flynerd.pl) on a Facebook group connecting polish women in IT. Rita shared with us the story of small Alex Jutrzenka — son of her friend — who is fighting against SMA. The only hope for him is a very expensive experimental treatment in the USA. Unfortunately, the cost of that therapy is 9 million PLN (more than 2,1 million EUR). Rita initiated the idea to organize charity IT workshops all around Poland — all money from the tickets will support fundraising for Alex. When I read that post I was sure — I want and I have to help. So I started building the team in Cracow.
Post from which everything started.
Harry Potter had a Ron and Hermione, Bilbo whole Fellowship of the Ring… My first step was also looking for great people. Fortunately, I have a lot of amazing people around me! Some of them I knew before (from previous actions, university, work, etc) but some were completely new people, who found the info on the Internet. We prepared a common communication channel (Slack in our case) and checked our predispositions and preferences (one person declared preparing graphics, the second one wanted to handle registration, etc). From that place I want to say “Thank you” to all people involved in our actions — Marta, Rita, Ola T., Ola S., Asia, Diana — you are irreplaceable! Having such an amazing crew we could proceed to the next steps.
Choosing the best topic for the workshop was one of the biggest challenges for us. Luckily, we have Facebook surveys. After posting a question on one of the most popular polish FB IT groups we had a lot of initiative but SQL was one with the biggest number of votes. It’s why I asked my workmate Krzysztof Bury (the owner of datacraze.pl blog and the best SQL magician I had a pleasure to work with) for help. Krzysztof accepted my invite, so we had our first “what” — “SQL for beginners”. In the meantime, I also received a question from Paweł and Olga from HardCoder company (www.hardcoder.pl) about how they can help us. As they proposed 2 topics — Lego Mindstorms and Python — we used Facebook surveys again to recognize that Python is much more interesting for our audience. Based on problem and trainers’ preferences we decided that SQL workshop should take 5 hours and be placed on Saturday, and for Python we can use 3 hours of any workday afternoon. Knowing that we started looking for a good place that meets our needs. The criteria were: capacity of the room, access to electricity and WiFi for all participants, access to screen and projector and — of course — renting for free as we can’t afford to pay. Thanks to good people (It’s all about people with big hearts!) from GE Healthcare (the company where I work) and Hevre (one of the best restaurants and cafeterias in Cracow) we found rooms suitable for our needs very fast. And we could announce our initiative to the world!
You don’t need a very special space to organize an event — e.g. our SQL workshop took place in a normal conference room of an IT company.
Numerous of people assume that you cannot do marketing without any money. But it is not true. Of course, having a big budget is very helpful but free resources are good enough for initiatives like ours. First of all — the graphics. If you have a professional designer who can create materials for you — you are very lucky, but what when you haven’t got such a person around you? Use the tool! For example, Canva.com allows you to create beautiful materials from artistic templates — no graphical skills needed! I’m using that for years and can strongly recommend to you — not only for social media but also for workshop materials, presentations, gift cards, etc. And if we are talking about social media — it’s the best channel to promote your event. Create a Facebook event, share it on groups connecting people who are interested in similar topics, post it on Twitter. All those actions may be done for free — and they are very effective. Don’t be afraid of creating notes — think like a potential participant. Ask yourself questions: “What the event is about?”, “What I should know before I join?”, “What I can achieve by taking part in the workshop?”. Also, be transparent about money — explain how the whole process works and where each coin from the workshop’s tickets goes.
Facebook cover photo created by myself in Canva.
Speaking about money… Paperwork and formalities might be soo scary that some people give up, but you can use a very simple trick here (as we did) — fundraising portals like siepomaga.pl or greatergood.com. Participants should only send you confirmation that they paid for the goal through the website and you don’t have to worry about law restrictions at all. In my opinion, it’s the easiest way to handle paying for charity workshops (especially most of charity actions already have the accounts there). To avoid cheating ask people to sign funds with their full name and title of the workshop. It works! Of course, sometimes you have more people interested in participating than the capacity, so you need some form of registration. There are two approaches to the topic: you can ask people to answer some questions and after the deadline review them and select participants or use the rule: first come, first serve. Both of them have their pros and cons. Whatever you choose Google Forms are enough to register people for an event. Don’t forget to add a field for an email to stay in touch and send the relevant info to participants.
Alex’s page on fundraising siepomaga.pl portal.
You were waiting for that day soo long — and it came. The day of the workshop! Remember, as an organizer you should be at the place at least half an hour earlier than participants. Check if everything is OK: projector and microphone work, you have needed connectors and extension cables. Prepare water and coffee for participants if possible. Print list of participants and all materials. Decorate room if you want (and can). Help people who can’t find the correct address. In the beginning, introduce the trainer and thank participants, volunteers and hosts for making the event happen. Later on, leave the stage for the mentors — they know what to do :) You can use that time to take pictures or learn with participants. Important — be around to help with unexpected problems. In the end, ask people for feedback and again thank all people involved in your initiative (I recommend also posting thanks message on social media). Together, you made something special — congratulations!
Photo from Python workshop.
To sum up, in Cracow we organized two workshops — “SQL for beginners” and “Python for beginners”. Thanks to them we added almost 2000PLN to the charity fund for Alex Jutrzenka and introduced 35 people to programming. For each spot in Cracow’s workshop, there were more than 3 interested people. Similar actions were organized in other Polish cities: Poznań, Warszawa, Katowice, Białystok, and Wrocław. From all those events, we collected almost 43000PLN — and it’s not the end! List of all events you can find here: https://flynerd.pl/alex/.
Some of the events organized during #doItForAlex action — the full list is available here: flynerd.pl/alex.
You may wonder why I wrote that article. There is no rocket science inside, I’m not describing anything super special. Yes, I know that. But when things calm down a little bit and fundraising reached 9 million PLN goal I thought it cannot be the end of initiatives like that. It wasn’t the first time when I discovered people really want to do good things but sometimes they need some impulse to start. Who knows — maybe this story will be the beginning of your volunteering journey or a starting point to organizing action you always wanted to do? You can treat this article as a high-level roadmap for your initiatives. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me here or via Twitter (@domizajac). Together we can make the Earth the better place for all of us. As Gandhi said — “Be the change you want to see in the world”.