Chi Hack Night is incorporating as a non-profit!

Published on Nov 9, 2018 by Derek Eder

Chi Hack Night

In December 2018, Chi Hack Night will incorporate as an independent, membership-driven 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We will invite attendees to become voting members and elect who will serve on our Board of Directors. And on December 11th, we will hold a town hall feedback session about these changes at Chi Hack Night.

Why is Chi Hack Night incorporating?

In the 6 ½ years that Chi Hack Night has been running, we have established ourselves as a civic institution in Chicago. Our event and community have grown enough in size and scope, and we have cultivated enough new leaders to warrant creating a more formalized structure.

As our event has evolved, informal working groups were created as we realized we needed them. Some of these include:

  • A booking team to help find and coordinate with presenters
  • A website team to handle maintenance and updates of our website
  • A group of diverse co-hosts to manage the running of our events
  • An informal Leadership Council to oversee finances, policy and strategy

Overall, though, all decision-making authority rested with one person - me. In late 2017, participants in the Leadership Council felt that we needed to move from our ad-hoc working groups and ‘benevolent dictator for life’ style to a more formalized structure that would enable democratic decision-making and increase the diversity of our leadership.

I agree with them. I’ve been running Chi Hack Night for almost seven years. It has grown beyond me. In order for Chi Hack Night to grow and sustain itself, I need to give up some of my power and distribute it to others. By spreading this power around, Chi Hack Night will become stronger and better equipped to inspire and promote civic engagement and technology.

Who is behind this change?

Over the course of 2018, a group of 20 Chi Hack Night leaders met to establish our mission, vision, values and governance structure, which has now culminated in forming an independently run non-profit organization.

Steve Ediger, leading our initial leadership retreat on March 17, 2018
Steve Ediger, leading our initial leadership retreat on March 17, 2018

The change management process officially kicked off on March 17, 2018, when Steve Ediger and Samantha Sainsbury facilitated a retreat with members of the Chi Hack Night community to collaboratively review and solidify our history, mission, values, and guiding principles. You can read the report from the Leadership Retreat here.

Here is a lovely photo of the wonderful people at our Leadership Retreat:

From the left: Emily Drevets, Josh Kalov, Cameron Sow, Nina Sandlin, Derek Eder, Jannie Lung, Karl Fogel, Eric Sherman, Jonathon Rogoff, Steve Luker, Steven Vance, Reshmi Hazra, Steve Ediger, Kristi Leach, Claire Micklin, Jack Thorne, Rose Afriyie. Not pictured: Tom Schenk, Soren Spicknall.
From the left: Emily Drevets, Josh Kalov, Cameron Sow, Nina Sandlin, Derek Eder, Jannie Lung, Karl Fogel, Eric Sherman, Jonathon Rogoff, Steve Luker, Steven Vance, Reshmi Hazra, Steve Ediger, Kristi Leach, Claire Micklin, Jack Thorne, Rose Afriyie. Not pictured: Tom Schenk, Soren Spicknall.

This first meeting was only the beginning, however. From this group, a steering committee was formed to move Chi Hack Night towards incorporating as a non-profit:

  • Steve Ediger
  • Derek Eder
  • Emily Drevets
  • Katie O’Shea
  • Steve Luker
  • Eric Sherman
  • Josh Kalov
  • Joel Inwood

Chi Hack Night has a mission? What is it?

So glad you asked. Chi Hack Night’s mission is:

To inspire and promote civic engagement and technology.

We also established a set of values that we believe represent all of Chi Hack Night:

  • Diversity, equity & inclusion
  • A fun, welcoming, open-minded community empowering individuals
  • Practicing and promoting transparency and accountability
  • Commitment to supporting our community
  • Exploration and experimentation
  • Fulfilling our civic responsibility
  • Sharing knowledge, data, and open source code
  • Justice and positive social change

Results of our mission consensus workshop on March 17, 2018
Results of our mission consensus workshop on March 17, 2018

What benefits will becoming a non-profit bring Chi Hack Night?

Taking on a more formalized structure will mean more work and administrative overhead. We believe the trade-off is well worth it, as incorporating as a membership-based non-profit will enable us to:

  • Create clear and fair pathways to leadership and power in civic tech
  • Increase the capacity of our organization so we can provide more support to those who need it, and expand civic tech into all corners of Chicagoland
  • Give people the opportunity to have a real voice in our community through democratic elections
  • Establish ourselves as a financially independent and enduring institution
  • And of course, accept tax deductible donations and receive grants from foundations

What does this mean for me?

Good question! For most attendees of Chi Hack Night, these changes won’t make much of a difference for you. We will continue to meet every week on Tuesday nights in the Merchandise Mart. We will continue to bring in awesome presenters, eat tasty empanadas, and hack on civic projects.

For more frequent attendees of Chi Hack Night, it will mean that you will have an opportunity to become a voting member of our organization and have a voice in what Chi Hack Night does, vote on members of the board, and even become a board member yourself.

Since we are organizing as a 501(c)3, however, we will have some additional restrictions on doing things that could be construed as political activity. We’ll share more on this as we shape policies around our activities.

Kyla Williams from the Shuri Project
Chi Hack Night events will not change. We will continue to bring in awesome presenters (like Kyla Williams from the Shuri Project, above), eat tasty empanadas, and hack on civic projects

Sounds cool! How do I become a voting member?

Glad you asked! To become a member of Chi Hack Night, you will need to complete a membership application with your name and email address, agree to our Code of Conduct, and do one of the following:

  1. Attend at least 8 Chi Hack Night events per year and pay a $50 annual membership fee, or
  2. Attend at least 8 Chi Hack Night events and volunteer for Chi Hack Night for 4 or more hours per year, or
  3. Attend at least 15 Chi Hack Night events per year

We’re open to suggestions on these requirements, though we do want the process of becoming a member to be as straightforward as possible. If you have any feedback on these requirements, we’d love to hear it! Feel free to email us at info@chihacknight.org.

Elections, eh? How will those work?

Chi Hack Night will be governed by a seven-person Board of Directors. The board will be responsible for making decisions regarding policy, finance, fundraising and any other initiatives that the organization decides to take on.

For the first year (2019), an interim board will be selected by the Chi Hack Night steering committee, as we will not have a formalized membership established to hold elections.

Then, in January of 2020, we will hold Chi Hack Night’s first election. Any Chi Hack Night member in good standing will be eligible to run for a board seat and all members will invited to vote on candidates. The four candidates that get the most votes will be elected to the Board of Directors. The remaining three board members will be appointed by the current Chi Hack Night board and approved by majority vote by the Chi Hack Night membership.

What about the Leadership Council? Is that still a thing?

Yes it is! We plan on continuing to hold Leadership Council meetings every other month. These meetings will remain open to the broader public, and we welcome you to attend them!

Chi Hack Night Leadership Council, Oct 24, 2017
Chi Hack Night Leadership Council, Oct 24, 2017

We will also have Board of Directors meetings on the alternate months. Everyone is also invited to these meetings, though only Board members will be able to vote.

I’ve got a question about this. Who do I ask?

We welcome any questions or feedback on this big step we’re taking. We will be hosting a breakout group every week at Chi Hack Night between now and December 11th, when we will hold a town hall feedback session about these changes.

In the meantime, feel free to email us at info@chihacknight.org. We will update this blog post with new information as new questions come up!

Special thanks

I would also like to extend a special thanks to the Heart of Lincoln Square, mRelief and Read/Write Library for letting us borrow and learn from their bylaws. And to Kirkland & Ellis, for providing us with pro bono legal assistance on setting up our new organization.

Lastly, my deepest thanks to all of the Chi Hack Night-ers who helped in this process: Steve Ediger, Kristi Leach, Emily Drevets, Katie O’Shea, Josh Kalov, Eric Sherman, Steve Luker, Cameron Sow, Nina Sandlin, Jannie Lung, Karl Fogel, Jonathon Rogoff, Steven Vance, Reshmi Hazra, Claire Micklin, Jack Thorne, Rose Afriyie, Tom Schenk, Soren Spicknall.


About the author


Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and one of the leaders of the civic technology community in Chicago. He is a co-founder and partner at DataMade and is the lead organizer for Chi Hack Night.