Giving back has always been a personal goal of mine; this has naturally led me to notice the existing problems in the online charity donations market. I thought I would write up my thoughts on the process I followed and the design solutions I came up with. This is by no means a perfect answer, so constructive feedback on the viability of this concept is always appreciated!
Giving back online can be challenging nowadays. From observation, there exists three fundamental roadblocks to finding an optimal solution:
- Ever-increasing slacktivism or armchair activism that despite raising awareness at times, do not necessarily translate into meaningful results.
- A lack of engagement, mostly due to bad product implementation that don’t make the experience worthwhile.
- Narrowed and scattered alternatives that prevent easy access to multiple charities at once, thus resulting in mental fatigue from the part of users.
Some of these issues have been tackled to some extent by different services through methods like gamification mechanics or social media for instance (more on that below). However, while the amount of initiatives out there is encouraging, the market sadly still lacks an ideal answer.
After thoroughly looking into these issues and the available offerings on the market, I came about the following conclusion: That creating a platform for donations should provide the best answer to the previously mentioned problems.
I scraped away some of my initial hunches that involved building an overly simplified product – One that relied mostly on “fun” branding/visuals heavy with gamification mechanics that should have helped fuel engagement, in theory that is.
It quickly became obvious that the optimal solution required heavy participation from both sides of the market: Organizations on one hand and customers on the other.
In a sense, designing an effective solution meant I had to consider the intricacies of designing a multi-sided platform as well as deal with the dreaded chicken and egg problem.
Addressing all those issues in further detail is beyond the scope of this article. For simplicity’s sake I chose to focus most of my efforts on the customer aspect of the solution.
This decision helped me get into the project with a more concrete understanding of the challenges ahead before roughly sketching my ideas, as portrayed in the following wireframe:
Focusing back on the user, I went on to develop provisional personas to better test my assumptions. I made it a point to avoid digging deeper into more elaborate characterizations that I am not particularly a fan of as they can oftentimes be misleading when they lack causality.
Instead, my goal was to approach as many potential users as I could to discover their anxieties/motivations and confirm:
- First, whether there actually exists an interest for such a value proposition vs. the available options out there.
- Second and as importantly, if expectations regarding any of my hypothetical solutions would be verified.
The main idea was that for the sake of designing the optimal platform, I had to consider a vast market, one that embraces different character traits and contexts. Therefore being predictive in my assumptions helped me not only save a significant amount of time but also develop the right solutions.
To a certain degree, I was positively surprised with my findings. There was one common pain point that needed to be solved, summarized with the following job story:
When I feel like giving back, I want to have an easier access to my options, so I can contribute in a simpler and more informed manner.
Due to limited time and resources, I ultimately settled for a more focused approach and conducted recurring usability tests with a smaller group of people. Over time, this helped me improve my value proposition with more efficiency.
The vision for Donate can be summarized as becoming “the go to, mobile first network for online donations”.
This isn’t about reinventing the wheel, but notice how I emphasize the words “mobile” and “network”. My belief is that there are 2 ways for fundraising to be truly efficient:
Either get wealthy individuals to donate in big amounts or raise lots of money from a bigger crowd, in smaller quantities.
Looking at the current market, there are many alternatives, each offering its own advantage. However, none of the available options manages to embody all the benefits in one singular platform – They all play off of each other in terms of functionality:
I believe there is a balance that must be achieved between these offerings. This potential outcome sparked my conviction that a mobile first community is the right way to achieve that goal.
To further clarify things:
- Institutions are focused initiatives that aim to tackle specific issues. To name a few: World Wildlife Fund, UNICEF and Charity:Water.
- Private Funds are those run by wealthy philanthropists, the most common example that comes to mind is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- Piggyback offerings by lack of a better term, are smaller initiatives that piggyback on others. While very encouraging, they unfortunately lack significant traction to make them viable enough. I personally just recently discovered such services like Charity Miles, TinyGive or Charitweet.
It’s important not to deny the potential impact social media giants have in terms of reach (that’s great), but look closer and you’ll see that it hasn’t fulfilled its promises (that’s bad).
The reason is quite simple: It all goes back to a focused value proposition — Something that’s understandably hard to implement considering the multitude of features offered on those networks.
Out of the pool of potential users (active social media users) I interviewed, most weren’t aware they can actually donate on those platforms.
This brings us back to the previously mentioned problem of slacktivism — The common perception is that social media helps raise awareness but not actual funds. What’s worse is that multiple public service campaigns tend to get overlooked due to a clutter of diversified content.
This is where a dedicated platform like Donate can play to its strengths — By creating a community that has the double incentive of both raising funds and creating awareness around particular social causes.
Before we dive into the features, I just wish to share a quick video of the overall flow and interactions:
As mentioned earlier, Donate has the main goal of creating awareness on top of fueling monetary donations.
The explore section of the app has the sole purpose of pushing previously undiscovered content to users. This can be done in different ways:
1- Search by using keywords for related nonprofits.
2- Browse through and add new categories of interest — Here a user can select the kind of nonprofits he’s most curious about (also a recommended step at sign-up), for quicker access over time.
Following an NPO means that its content will now appear on the home page. The idea is to have the explore tab as a way to follow and find out more about organizations for the sake of donating over time (explained further below).
3- Discover recommended nonprofits. The goal here is to regularly give out suggestions for NPOs to follow.
Recommendations can be based on different factors, although I’m well aware that these are just scratching the surface of the required back-end logic:
- Previously selected interests, although not crucial since browsing through categories can be enough.
- More importantly, based on subjects at the forefront of global news that need special attention, such as recent natural disasters, humanitarian reliefs to specific conflicts and so on. Those initiatives are created with a specific timeline in mind thus the importance of pushing the content when appropriate.
- Finally, based on popular trends on the platform itself. If a specific NPO gathers more attention through followers and better content, it should then be featured. This is tricky however as it can marginalize the lesser known initiatives which need as much attention as the big ones.
Overall, I like to believe that Donate should be designed in a way that natural selection takes over. In other words: The less active an organization is, the less chances it has of gaining traction.
The home tab lets customers interact with content shared by the organizations they follow. As I’ve stressed up to this point, Donate is first and foremost designed around raising awareness prior to the actual act of financial contribution.
With that in mind, as organizations actively push their content, they can expect followers to contribute to their cause in small fixed incremental donations:
As you can see, each post has a “Donate” call to action, which allows customers to contribute to a certain topic. Tapping that button brings up 3 fixed options: 1, 5 or 10 dollars.
When a donation has been made, a user’s last contribution is updated. While you can make the argument that this should be more emphasized — I made the conscious design decision to undermine it as to not unconsciously block users’ impulses, letting the content spur decisions.
You might be wondering why there is no option to either enter a custom amount or opt for recurring subscriptions. After all, maybe some people wish to donate more, this should yield higher returns overtime right?
Well the short answer is no.
It all comes back to the idea that Donate should be envisioned as a network for the mass, one that is ultimately fueled by exponential micro-donations.
To clarify things, contributing in small amounts should lead to more engagement. Picture this: If I were given the options of either entering a large custom amount or opt for subscription fees, I would just donate once, satisfy my ego and call it a day.
On the other hand, if I progressively contribute to a cause (or multiple causes for that matter), not only am I offering more monetary value in the long run but that will also engage me more with the platform. This should help increase my stickiness to the product and that of my friends in the community by way of social interactions.
Furthermore, since awareness has been raised, one always has the option of engaging himself outside of the platform (more on that in the profile section).
As I’ve stressed, conversations are a fundamental part of Donate’s value proposition at both levels of the platform:
In that sense, interactions on Donate should help fuel a feeling of trust between customers and organizations — In our case, with the typical likes and notes/comments.
Profiles on Donate are pretty straightforward and come in two forms: nonprofits and users/customers.
Nonprofits’ profiles are basically a collection of recently shared posts, a call to action for donations as well as the organization’s information.
An organization’s profile provides critical information that should lead users to following and later donating. Recent posts help assess whether this particular NPO is active enough on the platform to warrant further attention.
If needed, clicking the info button provides additional information listed the following way:
-Who we are: Is meant to provide an overall overview of the organization
-What we do: Gives a better understanding of its mission and objectives
-With your help: Presents positive action that will result from your contribution
With respect to the previously mentioned argument of incremental donations vs. custom amounts: If certain users wish to donate more substantial sums of money, they can be redirected to an organization’s social accounts or to its website.
While my initial hunch was to include charts to better assess progress weighed against the rest of the network; I ultimately decided to go against it for different reasons.
First, to avoid undermining less popular but equally relevant nonprofits — More important however, was the simple realization that no charts would actually benefit the value proposition to warrant developing further at this point.
Eventually, I also went for more simplified versions of users’ profiles:
Instead of opting for overly done gamification mechanics, the best solution was to only provide essential information: Total number of donations and contributions from recent weeks.
User feedback also helped me decide for the option of sharing personal profiles vs. sharing individual donations — The logic being that sharing small donations on a regular basis wouldn’t bring much self-satisfying value in the long run.
The activity section on Donate is divided in two parts: Following and Notifications.
Following gives you updates on the organizations and individuals you follow. Notifications on the other hand are updates on your personal activity on the platform.
While nothing groundbreaking, there is one aspect worth noting: Additional subtle gamification mechanics that should help spur engagement over time.
First, by letting Donate notify you of friends’ contributions, without necessarily having to visit their profiles.
Second, by being notified of yours or your friends’ achieved milestones.
This brings us to a fundamental point: Getting users on board. The only way I envision that concept to become feasible is through extensive initial promotion.
That said, the ideal scenario would be to see it implemented by an existing major institution vs. going the startup route.
User growth is at the forefront of a service like Donate. As an exercise, I developed a provisional model mainly for the purpose of validating my main assumption:
The viability in terms of monetary impact that incremental donations can have over time, as opposed to custom amounts/subscriptions.
I am very well aware that the numbers I used are speculative. These values should be filled up progressively by tracking real metrics on a live product.
As you can see, there are several important aspects to consider — Starting with the supposition that an initial press coverage should bring about 70 thousand initial converted customers.
I am making a point of addressing this since I envision Donate as a platform that should require initial media exposure to succeed, in the form of press coverage vs. paid publicity. In that regard, customer acquisition costs (from advertising) would kick-off 24 months after launch.
Another important aspect to consider is the following reasonably conservative supposition: A viral coefficient at 0.15 for month 1 that decays over time at 0.2x the previous month’s viral factor.
As for average donation per user, I was overly optimistic considering 2.50 dollars per month, constant over time — Make no mistake, this purely represents a moonshot estimate.
Simple fact is that there is no real way of determining that number without backing it up with real reporting metrics.
Admitting this, it goes back again to the idea that Donate is also designed for spreading awareness, not solely for potential financial benefits.
Monetary compensations however, clearly remain the objective of a platform such as Donate. One can expect active users to contribute more often than not.
As you can see from the chart above, things obviously get out of hand. In any case, I just want to reiterate the fact that I did this model as an attempt to asses the potential viability of the envisioned business model.
You can play around with numbers here.
I am merely scratching the surface of Donate through this post. In due time, there are a few things I’d like to explore further, to name a few:
- Dig deeper into the design challenges for the other side of the platform i.e. publishing tools for nonprofits.
- How to make use of existing APIs (Facebook & Twitter) to help kick-start content in the starting phases.
- Developed product roadmap (local donations, better interactions etc.)
Thanks for sticking with me up to the conclusion of this post. I’d love to hear your feedback so feel free to comment with your thoughts.
If you like what you just read, please recommend 💚 this post so that others might stumble upon it. To see more of my work, you can go on edsab.com