Designers and developers make ‘for good’ at these 12-hour marathons

4 min read
Sarah Obenauer
  •  Nov 16, 2017
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I’m the founder and director of Make a Mark, an organization that seeks to provide resources and foster an environment where community organizations and visual communicators can engage with one another to better our world.

Our staple event is a 12-hour design and development marathon benefiting nonprofit organizations and humanitarian causes.

Related: Designers with these 3 skills work better with developers

Photos: Make a Mark

For one day, we gather teams of local creatives to work on projects for the most impactful nonprofit organizations in an area. These projects include brand refreshes, websites, print materials, social media toolkits, PSAs, and more.

These make-a-thons were built to give creatives an outlet to contribute their skills to meaningful nonprofits within the controlled environment of 12 hours.

We attribute 4 key components to our success: planning, tooling, feedback, and communication. Let’s go over each of these in depth.


At Make a Mark, we bring together so many different professions—including designers, developers, copywriters, other creatives we call makers, as well as nonprofit representatives who are receiving pro-bono work.

Because almost all of these makers have full-time jobs and the nonprofit representatives wear many hats, we coordinate planning meetings to bring these folks together.

A few weeks before each event, we schedule a 60-minute planning meeting for each team. The nonprofit representative, all makers, and Make a Mark representatives attend the meeting to lay the groundwork for the project to be completed at the event.

“We’re designing with people, not for people.”

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The planning meetings play both a functional and relational role.

Functional role

  • Opportunity to discuss the project and its details
  • Chance to discuss any prep work that needs to happen before the event
  • Allows makers to skip research and dig into the execution of the project at the event

Relational role

  • Opportunity to meet one another
  • Time to start building a collaborative team
  • Builds a foundation for understanding and investment

During the meetings, we talk about the goals of the project as well as the mission and impact of the organization. We also discuss the different strengths of the makers and start to define roles, which makes the day start much smoother.

The nonprofits and makers come in as “clients” and “consultants” but leave as partners on a project. This feeds into the idea of designing with people, not for people.


During the planning meetings, we discuss everything from content to colors, but selecting the right tools is crucial. Both makers and nonprofits are part of the conversation when it comes to selecting the tools and software that will be used.

Obviously we want designers and developers to use tools they’re comfortable with and agree on, but we also want the nonprofits to feel like they have access to update and utilize what they’re given.

“Everyone should work toward a common goal.”

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If a nonprofit is receiving a new website, we make sure that they feel comfortable using the CMS that the makers propose. If a brochure is being developed, we make sure that the nonprofit will be able to open and edit the file through a free trial, discounted software, or even just finding room in their budget.

Finding the right tools that a nonprofit can also use is a priority for their team. Focusing on the needs of the client allows developers, designers, and other makers to put their audience at the forefront.


During the make-a-thon, makers work all day. But to be respectful of their process and time, we ask that a nonprofit representative visit during a designated time in the afternoon to provide higher level feedback.

We require a nonprofit representative to visit during check-in and be available by phone all day in case the team needs to contact them.

“Real-time feedback keeps the process moving smoothly and quickly.”

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This check-in gives the makers a chance to show drafts of their projects to the nonprofits and get their thoughts and feedback. This is also an opportunity to ask any additional questions of the nonprofits before the final reveal.

We’ve found that this check-in clarifies any lingering questions and issues, and gets the nonprofits and makers excited for demos at the end of the day.

We’ve also seen a really inspiring level of collaboration between designers and developers across teams. They seek feedback from not just everyone on their team, but other makers at the event. This feedback is in real-time, which is not something that can always happen during a standard work day, and keeps the process moving quickly.


As a designer, I’ve been lucky to work with developers, marketers, copywriters and many other creatives in my career. Finding clear ways to communicate has always been the most important step to get the best results.

We work with makers and nonprofits to make them comfortable so they can openly communicate their expectations of one another and of the project during the planning meetings. Makers work with each other to define roles—especially designers and developers working on a website project—set timelines, goals, and checkpoints during the day of the event to make sure they’re staying on track.

At each event, we set up shared folders and a team messaging tool for members to chat and share files in a quick and easy way on the day of the event.

We make sure that everyone respects each other’s areas of expertise, as well as their limitations—and that everyone works together toward a common goal.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard