One of our partners at Build was called on to contribute to a pretty cool project recently, a quick project where he could make a difference. David Deal received a phone call from Neil Albert, Executive Director at long-time Build Consulting client Downtown DC BID (Business Improvement District). Mr. Albert is on the ReOpen DC Committee that planned the phased reopening of Washington, DC from the COVID-19 pandemic. Neil is part of DC Mayor Bowser’s advisory team that led the effort to distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to businesses that opened in the first phase, and he was seeking technical guidance and assistance to make this happen.
Mapping Project for DC PPE Distribution
DC was considering distribution of PPE not only through government agencies but also through BIDs, Community Development Corporations, and Main Streets, local nonprofits that are closest to the businesses in the areas they serve. The advisory committee wanted to understand the geographic coverage of each of those organizations, so Neil called to see if David could help to develop a map. This would help the city provide the best coverage of PPE distribution.
Working with Brian Kraft, who provided GIS expertise, and using a mix of online research and publicly available GIS data provided by DC, David and Neil turned around most of this interactive map within 24 hours (and that on a holiday weekend!).
This quick map answered the questions the Mayor and ReOpen DC committee had: how could they identify PPE distributors that were close to businesses that needed PPE, and would those distributors cover all the geographic areas needed?
In addition, the map was turned into a tool for the general public, showing the contact information and pick–up locations by PPE distribution zone.
Tips to Make Quick Projects Successful
Build Consulting always recommends a thoughtful and measured approach to technology changes. But we all know that sometimes circumstances demand a very quick turnaround time. Quick projects require some additional practices you can incorporate into your repertoire to heighten your probability of success.
Tip 1: Use Your Networks
David has a lot of folks in his network of friends, colleagues, and clients from 25 years of nonprofit technology consulting. You probably do, too. While some people will respond to calls for general assistance, often people respond best to a personal appeal. Look through the expertise of your colleagues and ask for direct help in an area where they have knowledge.
Tip 2: Find Your Super-Networked Helpers
David has worked in the nonprofit sector in Washington, DC, for over 25 years. If you haven’t worked in your community that long, consider who you have in your network that has those contacts. Find your David.
Tip 3: Play to Your Own Strengths
To be clear, David is not an expert in GIS and did none of the hands-on GIS work. He has experience in technology strategy, requirements analysis, and project management, and those were the skills he brought to this project.
He first carried out a business analysis: “What is needed? Who are the stakeholders? How can the needs be met effectively and efficiently? What are the downsides to the proposed solutions? What are the next steps?”
Once the solution was clear, David acted as the project manager, coordinating the technical work, communicating with the participants, and delivering the project on time.
Tip 4: Teams Are Even More Important When the Project Moves Quickly
Everyone on this team contributed their strengths. Neil articulated the business challenge and needs. David focused on getting the right resources and plan in place to make it happen quickly, and Brian brought GIS expertise.
Next Technology Steps
The ReOpen DC Committee used the new map tool to help select 13 community agencies to distribute PPE, with a clear eye to geographic distribution. They announced at a press conference the following day the process to begin accepting requests for PPE within the week, using an online form the BID and Build would develop. Build was also asked to help design curbside pickup scheduling.
With Build’s expertise in vendor-agnostic software selection (we like to call it a “passionately independent” approach) we can provide all the tools and guidance for a successful technology project, even when an incredibly fast timeline is required.
The Bottom Line on Quick Projects
Call on your network, play to your strengths, and work as a team, even when the turnaround time makes your head spin. In this instance, setting up a map overnight was a quick project with a challenge that required a strong existing network of technology partners to complete.
The nonprofit sector lives and breathes strong networks—it is how nonprofits thrive. For Build’s part, we had the opportunity to contribute to a vital effort in some small but meaningful ways behind the scenes, and we were excited to be involved in this important effort for our community.
Having a strong network in the nonprofit technology world is one way Build plays to our own strengths to lend a hand on quick projects. That’s how we make a difference when nonprofits call us.
“It’s not how I expected to spend my weekend but it was also something I was very happy to do. There are a lot of people doing a lot more and in more dangerous circumstances. Helping set up community–based PPE distribution networks in DC will get protective gear to those who need it.” – David Deal
- Here is information on Geographic Information Systems for Nonprofits if you’re interested in what mapping can do for you.
- Nonprofit technology leaders should not ignore change management, even for quick projects.