Hack Project to Help a Non-Profit: Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse Volunteer Coordination Tool

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse is a non-profit runs a variety of human powered boating programs for both kids and adults on the Brooklyn waterfront.  We have a free kayaking program that puts nearly 4,000 people on the water.  We have over 100 volunteers and in any given week, we might have 25 or 30 people staffing our program.  

That presents quite a coordination problem that is only going to get worse as we scale--manually gathering responses, filling holes in our schedule, etc.

We'd like to great a simple tool that attaches to a gmail account that gathers replies by e-mail into a Google Sheet, and updates volunteers on our current staffing status.

Here's what would happen:

1) A note will go out saying "Hey, who wants to volunteer?  What times can you come by?"  We could either have specific slots that they could pick by number, or they might answer "Thursday, 5pm-7pm."

2) We'd like to gather all of their names, e-mails and phone numbers into a simple calendar page that shows a Gantt-like chart of the volunteers, and when they're staffing the program, and how many are present at any given time.  

3) It would be amazingly cool if the chart were available in an image, so if someone got the e-mail on Monday, but ignored it until Wednesday, they'd see how many people have already signed up just by reopening the e-mail.  

This would save our volunteer coordinator hours and hours, and undoubtedly be useful for lots of other volunteer coordination efforts.  Any hacker interested in helping out over the next couple of weeks?

Kayaks and Startups: Signalling direction on the open water by making a hard turn

I kayak on the waters around Manhattan--which is a ton of fun but can also be a bit precarious when it comes to navigating ferry traffic.

A few weeks ago, we were with a group of paddlers and came face to face with a ferry boat heading in our direction.  We wound up between it and the pier that it wanted to turn into coming around a bend.  The ferry boats in NYC are on pontoon-like structures, and so the worst thing you can ever see as a kayaker is straight through to the other side of the boat.  That means you are dead set in its forward path.  On the street, sometimes you wind up doing that little back and forth shuffle with someone walking in your direction and you bump into each other.  No biggie.  On the water, if you're a kayak, you can't afford to bump into a ferry.

So how do you signal what direction you're going to?  Point with your oar?  Some kind of lighting system?  No, you just start turning... and fast!   Since you can turn quicker than the bigger boat can, by committing to a direction, you force the other boat to move the other way to avoid you.  Instead of trying to guess, they clearly know where you're going and where they need to go.

The same maneuver works in product development.  The worst situation you can ever get caught in is when your users just feel so-so about your product, and you're kind of left guessing what the next feature or overall direction should be.  That's why a lot of people advocate dramatic product moves early on in a product lifespan to get good feedback.  If you start out with no social features whatsoever, you'll hear early on whether or not people want that.  When you suddenly make things public, you'll either see site usage go up, or see your fans completely throw up all over it.  Actually, either is a good outcome, because like in the kayak example, big moves make it clear what direction you need to go in to avoid disaster.

The best VC networking opportunity ever

Each day, hundreds of people stuff themselves into my inbox--pitches, career advice pleas, introduction requests.  It's almost as if I hand out cash for a living or if my job is to know a lot of people in the NY tech community... oh, wait... that is my job.

So, one would assume, then, if someone had the opportunity to a) put me in a position where I'd really owe them a favor... big time b) be able to pitch me or talk out what they're up to, next steps, opportunities, etc w/o it even necessarily counting as a pitch b/c it's so informal and c) do something fun and outdoorsy, they'd take it, right?

Well, for the last seven years, I've been helping to promote use of NYC's public waterfront by volunteering for free kayaking programs.  You may have seen or been to the ones on the west side at the Downtown Boathouse.  I may have even put you in a kayak over the years--we did put 28,000 people on the water last year.

Well, this year, I'm running the newly formed Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse in the ridiculously awesome and new Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Our "boathouse" is two shipping containers in the new park, and we've been having some great success in our first few weekends.  

However, this weekend, we're way short on volunteering help, and so I'm recruiting from the NY tech community.  Whatever I need to do to get you out there helping people out onto the water, fitting lifejackets, I'll do.  Listen to your pitch?  Done.  Provide some useful biz dev intros after?  Done.  It's a rewarding volunteering experience in my mind, but if you want to see it as a potential business opportunity--I could certainly think of worse ways to try and get in front of a VCs time then by doing them a favor in a fun outdoorsy setting in the shadow of the lower Manhattan skyline.

We're particularly short on Sunday from 10:30-4.  If you'd like to help out, the eventbrite rsvp is here:  http://bbpbvolunteers080110.eventbrite.com/

More info is available on our website: http://www.bbpboathouse.org/

I'd certainly appreciate the help.   I have to figure that among the thousands of people that frequent these boards or show up to tech networking events, that at least 4 or 5 of you might find it valuable to take a different approach to VC relationship building--or just be willing to try something new on a weekend and do something fun.

Been kayaking at the Downtown Boathouse? Become a fan on our Facebook page!

I'm running this fan page to learn more about marketing in Facebook, and of course, to support the Downtown Boathouse. 

Interesting things missing:

  • You can't invite your friend to the page, unless you want them to be admins.
  • No plugin for donations

I wonder what else people would want from their pages.  I'm a fan of several pages, but they don't seem to want to interact with me much.

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