The origin story of 48in48

I don’t believe I’ve ever shared the origin story of 48in48, at least not in writing. For those that have supported us over the years, I thought you might want to hear how this whole thing started!

Over the years of having digital agencies (I started my first digital agency in college with Raj in 1999!), I would always introduce opportunities for our team to give back. Sometimes we would teach kids at a school or run job shadow days via Junior Achievement, sometimes we would work with a local homeless shelter, sometimes we would work to help refugees by providing meals, etc. At the same time, I was joining more nonprofit boards and realizing, with their donor and volunteer bases getting younger and younger, just how much digital marketing help they needed.

So here I was, with digital marketing experts and connections to nonprofits, finding ways for my team to help them…but not with digital marketing!

My first idea was to create small teams of digital experts (5-6 people) and pair them with 3 nonprofits. They would meet quarterly with the nonprofits and in those 3-hour meetings, they would give them advice and counsel on anything they needed help with. As an example, sometimes they helped the nonprofit understand how to set up and use Google Analytics, while other times they might be giving advice on how to use Instagram more effectively for their upcoming campaign.

I called the organization MATCH (Marketers Aspiring to Change Humanity), officially starting it in 2012, and over a few years we had 17 teams helping over 40 nonprofits.

At first it worked well, but over time the organization began failing because the nonprofits, with their small staffs and limited budgets, were unable to execute most of the ideas their MATCH team recommended. So the meetings were often underwhelming and both sides would leave feeling guilty.

I knew there was something “there”, but obviously the execution of MATCH wasn’t working. I then began to think that what the nonprofits needed was something they could be handed. Something they could take and use immediately, and not have to execute on their own. I eventually landed on a website being the best manifestation of that idea.

My original thinking was, take the MATCH teams and have them build a website for a nonprofit over the course of a year. They would meet with the nonprofits once a month, making progress over time and eventually building an entire site. But I knew the chance of that being successful was slim. It would take too much time and be too frustrating for both parties.

I started to wonder how compressed the time period of building a website could be. Could you do it in a quarter? In a month? Over a week? Around this time, I had been a part of judging a few tech hackathons and had seen the tremendous amount of work that could be done over a weekend, and that’s when the idea hit: what if you could build a website for a nonprofit in a weekend?

I figured that a team of 5-6 people could do it. And then I realized the organization of many teams doing this over various weekends would be a hard thing to manage, so what if we did a bunch over the same weekend? Well, if you could one website with a small team, there’s no reason you couldn’t build two websites with two teams, right? And four with four teams. And I did that math until I got to 48 over a weekend and thought, now THAT’S a big idea.

I then called Adam Walker, CEO of Sideways8, and bounced the idea off of him. If he believed it could happen – his company builds small and medium-sized websites – then perhaps the two of us could pull it off. He loved the idea and we immediately decided to attempt an event, which we would call 48in48.

Six months later, in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, we had over 100 people come show up on a Friday afternoon (October of 2015) to build 48 nonprofit websites. Delta Air Lines was our founding partner, giving us some much needed encouragement and financial support to help us put on the first event. And many great companies I knew contributed with in-kind donations – food, coffee, shirts, etc.

Adam and I at the first 48in48…with Warrick Dunn!

Adam and I weren’t sure 48in48 was going to be more than just a one-time event. However, the event was so successful, and the volunteers so excited to “come back next year”, that we decided we should test the concept in a market that we didn’t have as many connections in. The next year (2016), we put on an event in New York City and another event in Atlanta.

Those events went extremely well, giving us the confidence that 48in48 could grow well beyond what we originally had intended. Our big idea was born: put on 48 events, in 48 cities, on the same weekend…globally…by the year 2025.

In 2017 we held four events: Atlanta, New York, Boston, and Minneapolis.

In 2018, we held six events: Atlanta, New York, Boston, Bloomington (IL), Raleigh/Durham, and London.

Today, there is a staff of 3.5 full time people and literally thousands of volunteers supporting the organization. We have big plans in 2019: 10 cities, at least one international, and I hope to announce soon a special event in January tied to a BIG sporting event that happens to be in Atlanta…more to come on that ;)

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