So You Want to Hold a Hackathon?

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Resources and best practices from the NTEN and NetSquared global community, as collected by Sara Rasmussen. Check out the Google Doc for the latest version of this post.

Before you do anything, read this:

“You can't just hack your way to social change” in the Harvard Business Review

By Jake Porway, DataKind

And this:

“Hey tech people, stop thinking that only you can save the world” in Nonprofit with Balls

By Vu Le, Rainier Valley Corps


Read ‘em? Great. Now time for resources.

“How to have a hackathon” guides:

Best practices from the community:

Planning your event:

  • Instead of starting from scratch, consider partnering with orgs that already do hackathons.
  • Preparation by the project owner is the real key to success. Be organized and have ready: credentials, api documentation, access, servers, devops. If you can have a tech champion or lead prepped in advance too. Day-of time is too valuable to spend on mundane tasks.


Creating teams:

  • Have a skills matrix ready before the weekend so developers can self organize by their own technology skills.
  • Consider charging a minimal fee for participants to discourage people signing up and not showing.


Event format:

  • Consider a Code of Conduct. Here is an example: Code of Conduct
  • Developers need lots of push. Do not treat them hard and rigid with rules about submissions and group forming.



  • We used Slack as a communications tool.  this went over very well.



  • Don't keep them hungry. Caffeine is also key. In-kind food sponsorship can help.



  • Have a decent judges who really knows existing apps, who can find the flakes and really identify real innovation. I have found this part is very bad in many hackathons.

Examples of other hackathons and hacking collectives:





Thank you to our many contributors!