by Michael D. Johnson

Open Source for Good

We’ve spent two years coding for a cause, one nonprofit at a time. And now Free Code Camp’s pushing ahead to help organizations at scale.

Today I’m thrilled to announce Open Source for Good.

The premise is simple: all nonprofits should benefit from our pro bono code, and all campers should contribute to open source projects. Open Source for Good achieves these two goals at once.

I’ve personally evaluated hundreds of grant proposals from nonprofits. Time and time again, these nonprofits ask for help with the same basic problems.

They hope to leverage technology that either doesn’t yet exist, or is prohibitively expensive. And in many cases, we’re able to build it for them.

But why should these tools continue to benefit just one nonprofit at a time?

Pro Bono at scale

Take the app we built for Chasdei Kaduri — a food bank in Toronto.

We built this tool for Jonathan and his team to help them minimize administrative overhead, reduce errors, and ultimately increase their efficiency.

The app we built helps them manage deliveries to the families they serve, categorize donated food items, create packing lists around dietary restrictions, and optimize delivery route assignments. It even issues tax receipts to donors.

There are hundreds of thousands of food banks around the world who should have access to this tool. Chasdei Kaduri agrees. They want to open source it.

Or take the app we built for Options Inc — a nonprofit that finds jobs for adults with intellectual disabilities, then transports them to and from those jobs every day.

When they told us about their daily nightmare — managing the routes for dozens of vehicles using nothing more than an excel spreadsheet — we helped them pro bono.

In Matt’s words, the app that we built now allows them to “do in 2 minutes what used to take 2 hours.”

Now their team can assign drivers and passengers to vehicles and optimize their routes with Google Maps.

And there are many other nonprofits that control a fleet of vehicles or manages a list of delivery addresses who should have access to this tool. Options Inc agrees. They want to open source it.

We’ve already begun the process of stripping out organization-specific features so that these tools are relevant for a wider range of nonprofits. And it’s not just completed projects that we’re open-sourcing. We’re launching completely new open source projects, too.

Spend money on the mission, not the software.

Let’s talk about email.

Nonprofits need to communicate with their constituents. This means email — lots of email. And even though a nonprofit’s mailing list may be growing, their budget may not be.

At Free Code Camp, we’ve struggled with the same fundamental problem. Here’s how much it would cost us each month to use the most popular email service today:

We’d spend $1,800 each month to send weekly emails to our open source community. Even with a nonprofit discount of 15%, this is prohibitively expensive for many organizations.

Jimmy McMillan says the cost of sending emails is too damn high!

Freemium services sound affordable when a nonprofit is just starting its mailing list. But as soon as they exit the free tier, they’ll pay heavily.

We’re helping these mid-sized nonprofits en masse — organizations too big to qualify for free tier solutions, but too small to pay thousands of dollars each year for software.

Our Open Source for Good email service is just the first of many tools we’re building so that nonprofits can replace expensive enterprise subscriptions.

Our community is in a unique position. We have thousands of skilled volunteer developers. We have a system in place to coordinate their efforts. If anyone can help nonprofits shrink their technology expenses, it’s us.

What does this mean for campers?

This means our community will continue to create tools for nonprofits that don’t yet exist, or that they can’t afford.

It means that after you finish the first 1,200 hours of challenges, you can make your first open source contributions to a variety of projects right here, with the support of our community.

It means you can volunteer with more flexibility than ever before. Even if you can only contribute a few hours a week, you can still make a huge difference.

We’ll also introduce a system where campers can earn points toward their Full Stack Development Certificate by contributing to Open Source for Good.

We’re still awarding Code Grants to individual nonprofits. And the work we do on many of these tools will continue through Open Source for Good.

With Open Source for Good, we’re building up minimum viable products (MVPs) using teams of one volunteer project manager plus two campers, just like we do with Code Grants. Once these MVPs are in place, these campers will become project maintainers, and field pull requests from contributors at large.

After months of planning, Open Source for Good is here. We’re helping nonprofits at scale with the power of open source.