Members of Hack4Impact meet for a bootcamp to prepare themselves to help with nonprofits' tech needs. Credit: Courtesy of Hack4Impact, Maggie Yang

It was the day off for the Partners in Equestrian Therapy volunteers. Six tech developers from Cal Poly’s Hack4Impact stood on the ranch grounds, hay scattered. The smell of manure perfumed the area. 

The monotonous pattering of rain was occasionally interrupted by horses braying in the stables.

The Partners in Equestrian Therapy, a nonprofit focused on providing therapeutic programs, were sharing miracle stories of life-changing horse rides the organization has been able to provide. 

“But once I came in, we started shoveling poop,” computer science senior Bora Joo said about when she arrived late to volunteer, laughing.

Joo is a tech lead for Cal Poly’s Hack4Impact club. In the club, engineers and designers team up to develop technical tools for nonprofits with challenges ranging from organizing workflow to creating apps to run specific services. 

Hack4Impact is a national organization that focuses on implementing social change through software, according to its website. Out of the 17 chapters on a variety of college campuses, Cal Poly’s chapter is one the larger ones, with more than 100 members. 

However, co-executive director and computer science senior Anna Reid started with Hack4Impact during her freshman year as a developer when the club was made up of 20 members — only web developers. 

“We quickly realized that it’s very beneficial to have people who know design and people who are the primary contacts between the nonprofit and us,” Reid said. 

This year, Hack4Impact has seven project teams who are directly helping nine different nonprofits.  Teams with a product manager, designers and web developers take on projects starting in the winter, revisiting projects from previous years or taking on new nonprofits to work with.

When working on the projects, teams will sometimes volunteer for the organization they are developing software for to better understand what their clients’ missions are. 

“One of our focuses is expanding outside of focusing on the code and just seeing what’s around us and our presence,” co-executive director and software engineering senior Maggie Yang said. 

Partners for Equestrian Therapy to volunteer and get to know their clients. Credit: Courtesy of Hack4Impact

One of the projects that Joo worked on this year is creating a web app for Partners in Equestrian Therapy. She and her team converted the process of setting up appointments to an online format.     

Previously, the nonprofit volunteers at the ranch would text each individual client their available hours and manually input appointments into a calendar each week. 

“It means a lot to a nonprofit, a small nonprofit, that we are to have something like this,” Executive Director at the Partners in Equestrian Therapy Melanie Williams Mahan said. 

This month, Mahan plans on visiting Hack4Impact on the Cal Poly campus to understand how to use the scheduling portal. 

“We’ve been doing demos online, on Zoom and it’s really easy for me to understand,” Mahan said. “That’s saying a lot because I’m okay, not great on a computer. I’m better with the horses.” 

Even though Hack4Impact is a national organization, Cal Poly’s chapter specifically focuses on helping local nonprofit organizations with technical solutions.  

Common projects involve setting up volunteer portals, which allow those involved with the nonprofits to log service hours. 

“A lot of our projects have been based around volunteer management portals with this admin and volunteer side solely because a lot of them that do exist out in the real world are very expensive,” Yang said. “And since they’re nonprofits, they simply can’t afford the financial stuff on their end, every single month.”

For the past two years, Hack4Impact has been working with The Land Conservancy of SLO, whose mission is to protect San Luis Obispo scenery. A team initially created a website for them, and more recently created a volunteer management portal that offers rewards to those that help with the organization. 

“They were really wonderful about making sure we got everything that we needed to make the website a success,” volunteer and events coordinator at The Land Conservancy Niki Uyemura said. “They are very skilled.” 

Before working with Hack4Impact, Uyemura said they would track volunteer hours on paper, which would eventually get lost or would be recorded incorrectly. Now, they have a centralized and digital space for volunteers to log their own hours. 

To motivate volunteers, the portal has added a reward system, notifying administrators of volunteer hour milestones and gifting volunteers prizes like gift cards to local restaurants and donated REI items. 

Hack4Impact has also collaborated with the Cal Poly Cat Program, the SLO Botanical Garden and more

As the year comes to an end, Hack4Impact will once again start emailing local nonprofit organizations before interviewing them about potential needs they can address in the fall. 

Club members participate in Hack4Impact bonding. Credit: Courtesy of Hack4Impact

Similarly, the club evaluates its needs internally, to create a welcoming space for club members. 

“It’s kind of always looking for ways to grow and make friends and make it a positive community,” Reid said about her role as co-executive director.

The club recruits again in the fall, while continuing to expand and help more nonprofits. 

“If people want to have a great impact, there are a lot of opportunities,” Reid said about joining the club. “It’s just really cool to give back to the SLO community.”