Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Project Idea #1 - SIlent auction system for non-profit charity events

As I prepare to take on a volunteer programming project, my first thought is to create a system or product that would benefit a local non-profit agency. While there are many areas in my life where a new system could benefit me directly, I think it's important to reach out and help those who are unable to create, or pay for someone to create, a system for themselves. 

My mother works for a local non-profit agency called Parents And Children Together. They provide family and child services for those who are in need. On occasion, the agency hosts a silent auction where they auction donated items and services. These items are donated from various sources and are sold to the attendees of the silent auction. 

Currently, the agency uses multiple spreadsheets to track donated items and services as well as those who donated them. During the auction, bids are placed manually for each item with the bidder writing their bid down on a piece of paper. Once the auctioning closes, all papers are gathered and the winners are input into another spreadsheet which is then posted on the wall.

While the current system in place is functional, I believe that much of this can tracked much more efficiently. Creating a database to store donors, bidders, items, prices, and payments will give the agency a way to better access this information in a way that is helpful to all stakeholders. In addition, adding a front end system that would make data entry and reporting quicker and easier would greatly benefit the organization. If possible, creating an interface where bidders can easily enter their bids into a computer system would make the process much more streamlined and accurate. 

Most of this project is fairly "easy" in terms of creating the database to store the data. The challenge is creating an application that is easy for the agency to operate. The most difficult part of this system will be to create an efficient and non-intrusive/non-technical interface for bidders to enter their bids. 

1 comment:

  1. Michael, fantastic. I've started working with a local non-profit facing very similar issues in terms of spreadsheets. I think the interesting question in this case is will the best solution be a more effective use of the existing spreadsheets by adding formulas, or migrating to a simple database like MS Access that might reside on just one machine, or a more sophisticated cloud hosting solution. In some ways the technology is, as you correctly identify, one small part of the bigger picture, which is all about whether some change introduced into the organization can really improve the organization's effectiveness.

    I suspect that the key thing will be to carefully work with the stakeholders to discover what they think is most important, what is important but they don't realize, and gradually present simple prototypes (starting with lo-fi mockups) and get rounds and rounds of feedback