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How to design the right experience for your nonprofit

March 22, 2022By
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As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our everyday lives, stakeholders’ expectations around their experience with nonprofits are evolving. Whether it’s volunteers, constituents, or employees, either online or offline, they’re looking for a flawless experience with your organization.

There’s been a recent push for nonprofits to improve their use of tools and technologies to gather a unified view of constituent data across all business units. However, it can be challenging to keep up with evolving digital constituent experiences and create a cohesive constituent journey across channels and devices.

Whether your nonprofit is embarking on a digital transformation and developing a new digital experience or elevating a previous one, we’re tapping into the expertise of our nonprofit and digital experience teams to provide the tools you need to design the right experience for your organization and constituents.

1. Let experience lead technology.

First, it’s important to define your desired experience based on user research and determine how your technology platform can support it.

Start off by creating a success charter that will help your organization gain alignment on your needs and objectives both internally and externally. Creating a guide for your internal team and partners will help align teams and their target constituents who might typically be siloed based on point of entry or primary engagement channel, like a “walk supporter” or a “government advocate.” The success charter will work as a comprehensive engagement strategy and plan for building your experience.

Next, whether your experience is for constituents or employees, start creating personas and experience maps to help build a new experience or add to an existing one. Conducting discovery interviews and building out personas and experience maps will give your team a better understanding of your end-users and their needs and desires. The final result is most impactful when you truly engage end-users; many organizations think they understand their end-users but hearing directly from them will bring even further details. While building personas and experience maps is an investment in time and resources, don’t get discouraged–the investment pays off as it will assist your team beyond one project and support a variety of programs.

Be sure to design experiences that will serve your organization now, and well into the future. Embrace the research you gather from end-users in your persona building to create a strong strategy for design. It can be challenging to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation. In fact, in a recent survey, 90% of respondents acknowledged that their firms often struggle with that transition. However, leading with strategy will align and guide your team. If you face resistance from your board or budgeting team to skip this step to fast forward to results, remember that this step is valuable and the investment early on will provide a vision and glimpse into what’s possible on the platform.

2. Take a human-centered design approach.

Design thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods. Having a human-centered approach relies on empathy as it’s imperative to thoroughly understand the genuine needs of your project’s stakeholders.

This iterative process will enable your team to:

  • Generate a deep understanding of your user.
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.

Another aspect of design thinking that we love is the ability to fail fast. However, this can be challenging for nonprofits due to the ongoing pressures around efficiency margins and the overhead myth that leads many to be risk-averse and hesitant to invest. This can make a fail fast culture difficult to promote when every dollar is being carefully scrutinized. While it might be challenging to get your team on board, design thinking will allow you to iterate on solutions quickly so you can take into consideration multiple ways to design something and validate the best approach with end-users, before starting to build.

With design thinking you’ll want to be iterating constantly, so it’s important to ensure there's a consistent loop in observing, reflecting, and making. Even when a project is complete, there should be an ongoing vision for how you continue to learn from what’s working and how the experience scales. For nonprofits, consistent feedback is critical if you’re looking to evolve to a relationship-based approach. With a transactional and acquisition focus, nonprofits have struggled to gather solid feedback to understand the sentiment of constituents and drive retention and stewardship.

Additionally, design thinking doesn’t just improve products, it improves corporate culture. 71% of companies say design thinking has improved the working culture at their organizations, and 69% say it makes their innovation processes more efficient.

71% of companies say design thinking has improved the working culture at their organizations, and 69% say it makes their innovation processes more efficient.

3. Creating a modern, simplified experience.

Your constituents, employees, volunteers, and partners are looking for a streamlined user interface. Remember these tips when creating your own modern and simplified experience:

  • Less is more: There are always ways for us to rethink a simpler approach in terms of steps and execution. Keep in mind that we may only have one chance to make a first impression. Approachability is key!
  • Design for scalability: Take into account the future state of your experience; you need to be mindful of how the design interface will grow over time.
  • Look at the trends: We’re seeing a continued focus on minimizing steps, content, and actions to achieve success. Take inspiration from for-profit mega companies’ interfaces thriving in this space like Apple, Airbnb, and TurboTax with their modern, yet simple design.

By spending 10% of your project’s budget, a well-designed user interface could raise your website’s donation rate substantially, with websites seeing an increase in desired metrics by 135% following a usability redesign. Plus, according to Forrester, “Customers who have a better experience are more likely to stay with a brand…” and “...The average revenue per customer for these "devotees" is 50% higher than the average among all other customers.” With a user-friendly interface and easy navigation, the user decreases search time and increases satisfaction, fulfilling their needs in a fast and efficient way. As a result, your organization could increase donations, improve constituent retention, and minimize costs and resources.

A great place to start considering design thinking is on your main donation page. First, prioritize data within the experience. Determine what data you need to collect without adding excessive fields and use technology to pre-populate fields where possible. Also consider how you’re telling your story of impact. Mission messaging can be challenging, especially if it’s scientific, and requires extensive understanding of research and data. Make your messaging concise, simple, and easy to read, and find ways to incorporate visual iconography.

4. Make accessibility mandatory.

By making your website accessible, you are ensuring that all of your potential users, including people with disabilities, are able to easily access your information.

The first, and most important, reason to increase accessibility in your digital products is to ensure fair and equitable access to your information for everyone. You can start by familiarizing your team with accessibility standards through Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Accessibility should be ingrained in your process and any upcoming work should be created through an accessibility lens. Everyone on your team, from designers to writers to developers, should be thinking about accessibility while executing their work. Making your website accessible is beneficial for everyone: 71% of web users with a disability will simply leave a website that is not accessible and users without disabilities find accessibility features help them navigate websites more effectively.

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5. Embrace change and the latest technology trends

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been an impetus for change. 89% of nonprofit marketers have already changed their digital engagement strategy in the past year, demonstrating that the last two years have been centered around pivoting.

One of the biggest changes is our shift to distributed enterprises. This means a digital-first, remote-first business model that has the potential to improve employee experiences, digitalize consumer and partner touchpoints, and build out product experiences.

For nonprofits, there have been many operational changes as a result of the pandemic. Previously, many nonprofits only offered programs in person, but quickly pivoted to support constituents online when families needed help most. Organizations also embraced new technologies to better serve their constituents, realizing that there’s a new standard of experience that nonprofits must deliver.

This new distributed world based on a remote-first approach could also have the potential to further attract a broader and more diverse constituency and employees while democratizing nonprofit services. If your team is able to embrace this time of instability and change in order to break down internal silos and reluctance to innovate, it’s a great time to prioritize the constituent experience and fully make the shift to a relationship-based model.

Get started on your digital transformation.

As you get started on a digital transformation and look to design experiences for your constituents, teams, and partners, remember to lead with empathy and invest time in planning and strategy. It may be challenging to get buy-in for creating a long-term roadmap rather than jumping into results, but that investment will pay off well into the future.

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