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Charity Navigator Uses Bluemix Garage for Instant Results

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December is a wonderful time of generosity and giving. It can also be a confusing time for people trying to make wise decisions about their charitable giving.

We all want our money to be put to good use—so how do you know if your donation will be used effectively and efficiently to support your favorite causes? To receive an unbiased assessment, each year more than six million Americans turn to Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest evaluator of charities.

Finding One Charity in a Million

charity navigator logoCharity Navigator has 1.6 million non-profit organizations in its database. From that number, it provides in-depth evaluations on more than 8,000 well-known American charities. Through thorough examination of financial documents, Charity Navigator created an objective, numbers-based system it uses to rate charities.

But a database is only as good as its ability to produce quick results—a robust search engine is essential. This is where Charity Navigator faced a challenge. If a search query wasn’t spelled perfectly, the search results came back empty. Even with the correct spelling, it may have been fifth or sixth on the list because there wasn’t a sufficient relevance ranking.

Overhauling the old database was not an option for Charity Navigator’s limited IT department. At the time, one developer held the responsibility for maintaining the entire website.

Faced with conflicting demands and an exhaustive to-do list, this developer needed a trusted partner. This was the perfect opportunity to engage with IBM’s Bluemix Garage.

A Match Made in Bluemix

Pair programming is a Bluemix Garage practice where two developers work together on one task. This was an ideal situation to jump start Charity Navigator’s technical solutions. The first task was to set priorities and build a technology road map with an eye on what’s possible. It determined that job one was to fix the search challenges.

This ad hoc development team decided to use IBM Compose on Bluemix to transfer all the charity data from the old stack to a more flexible open source database. Since Bluemix supports multiple databases, they chose Elasticsearch to meet Charity Navigator’s search needs.

Within four days of focused effort, they had migrated all searchable data into the cloud. The new search capabilities could now provide instant, accurate, and relevant results. With Charity Navigator’s extensive database residing in the cloud, it can now be easily manipulated with future plans to investigate IBM Watson cognitive technologies.

Agility and Scalability When Needed Most

This technical challenge is a clear example of how the IBM Bluemix Garage method scales to all different types of development teams and environments. By working with Garage experts from around the world, clients can rapidly identify, design, build, and deploy the right app for their business.

In the case of Charity Navigator, having an expert on site was the perfect solution. Together, the pair set realistic goals, migrated the data to a more flexible database, moved everything into the cloud, and prepared its environment for future cognitive enhancements.

December is the busiest time for traffic on Charity Navigator’s website. Through its engagement with the IBM Bluemix Garage, Charity Navigator has had no problem dealing with the two million search queries it will receive this month. Best of all, people will receive the information they need to maximize their donations and help many worthwhile causes.

General Manager, IBM Hybrid Cloud

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