The Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center has become a destination for those looking to immerse themselves in nature and learn more about the different trees that inhabit our planet. Melissa Burdick, the arboretum’s director, as well as the membership and marketing committee, believe that one way to improve a guests’ visit is through a new and improved website.
Burdick said that she has been getting quotes on a new website for the past year, but the cheapest quote she got was around $25,000, leaving the 501(c)(3) non-profit museum looking for a solution to bringing their ideas to light. The solution was dsmHack’s Charity Hackathon.
Brenton Arboretum was one of nine non-profit organizations chosen to participate in the 48-hour event, where organizations were set up with teams of volunteer computer experts to help create technology solutions.
Burdick said that since she became the director of the arboretum back in January of 2017, she knew that they were going to need a new website and has been talking with the arboretum’s membership and marketing committee about the need for a website overhaul.
“It’s old, it’s not fresh, it’s not easy to update and it’s not easy to find the information that you want,” Burdick said.
The major feature planned for the new website is an interactive map that will follow visitors, who share their location with the website on their smartphones, around the arboretum to show them where they are and what is near them. A visitor would also be able to click on the plants and trees on the map and have educational information about those plants and trees displayed to them.
“It allows us to have educational features out on the property where people learn to love trees without having to fill up our landscape with signs,” Burdick said. “Part of our appeal is that we’re very natural and very peaceful and we don’t have a lot of man-made printed stuff.
“So we want to keep the visuals clean, but still make it easy for people to learn everything they want to learn about these trees.”
The website will also have an integrated calendar, donor registry, so that users can use these features without being taken to a separate website.
Getting involved with dsmHack
Burdick said that she looked into dsmHack as soon as she was told about it and they were accepting applications at that time. She was surprised to be selected as she was unsure of the competition they would be up against in the applications process.
There was a quick turnaround between the time that Brenton Arboretum was selected for the Hackathon and when the event kicked off on Thursday, March 22 and it was a challenge to get everything ready.
“You have to get all your ducks in a row,” Burdick said. “You have to be sure you have all your login information, all your passwords of all of the different bits and pieces of computer stuff.”
They also had to have information available about any third-party websites, such as credit card processing websites.
At the beginning of the Hackathon, each non-profit organization got a chance to speak to the crowd about their project before trying to recruit the “hackers” to their teams to work on their projects. Burdick said that some organizations had their tables decorated and furnished with snacks to persuade the “hackers” to join their team.
“That was kind of a hoot to see all of the organizations do their pitch,” Burdick said.
Burdick’s husband was one of the hackers and was quick to join the Brenton Arboretum team. Each team had about 7-8 hackers to work on their projects for 48 hours straight before presenting their projects on Saturday night.
One of the biggest challenges the team faced during the 48-hour Hackathon was finding a way to get map apps and write them into the website.
“It was that back-end integration that took a lot of work and a lot of figuring out how to do,” Burdick said.
The “hackers” were able to provide a different perspective than those without a computer and web development background.
The team members laid out all of the components of the website on Post-it notes and what they noticed were that the website features could be categorized into “before your visit” and “during your visit.” The website, as it is developed, will include links to provide information for before a visit, during a visit and how to learn more after a visit.
“I thought that was a very interesting and unique perspective that sometimes… you can’t see the forest for the trees,” Burdick said. “These guys, with their fresh perspective, were able to see that, and I don’t know if any other institution is taking it quite that route.”
The website is not ready to be revealed to the public, and won’t be for quite some time, but the work done at the Hackathon put together the building blocks for the site. Burdick said that there is some smoothing out to be done, such as editing text and getting locations on the map in the right place.
“What I’m doing right now is trying to pull volunteers from the team to participate in going a little bit further,” Burdick said. “Then working with another local web design company and getting new quotes to take that specific piece (the map) of the website project and bring it to completion so that we can unveil it to the world.”
They will also need to go out on the arboretum and use cell phone GPS to find all of the “dots on the map” and upload the information about the plants onto the website, a task that Burdick said could be volunteer driven.
With the work that was done at the Hackathon, Burdick said that a project that was originally slated to cost around $25,000 will now cost a much smaller portion of that. She anticipates that it could cost around $10,000-15,000 and is “very fundable.”
They are currently working to apply for grants to fund the project and hopes that they could reveal the website to the public sometime in the fall.