Can Finding Volunteer Work Be Simple?

An UX case study to help Canadians find local volunteer opportunities quickly and easily.

Taylor Nguyen
Nov 5, 2017 · 5 min read

Finding the right volunteer work can sometimes seem as challenging as finding a paid job. Navigating through nonprofit websites is not always intuitive, and the application process can take up weeks to months.

As part of my UX course at Red Academy, I designed a solution to improve the experience of finding volunteer opportunities.

Beaver App is created specifically for Canadians looking for local volunteer opportunities that fit their availability, skills, and interests.

User Research

I began with a broad research question:

How to improve the experience of volunteering and donating in Canada?

From here, I started the research process to identify specific problems. After interviewing 7 people who volunteer and donate frequently, I developed primary and secondary user personas.

Using affinity diagraming to analyze interview results
User research data is summarized in user personas. Ben is the representation of the primary users for this app.

I realized that people encountered less issues with donating than volunteering. Many users donate to the same nonprofits for years, while volunteer work usually last for less than a year.

The problem statement changed to:

How to improve the volunteer experience for Canadians?

The process of volunteering involves multiple steps, starting from thinking about volunteering to ending the commitment and reflecting on the experience. While user persona is a great tool for picturing the user, it cannot capture the complexity of every steps along the volunteering process. To visualize all problems and opportunities, I created an user journey map.

User journey map: any points lie below the baseline is an opportunity for improvement

From this map, I developed a list of app features that either address a problem in the process or create a more enjoyable experience for users.

User flow & wireframes

After getting a good understanding of the problems and users, the next step was mapping out the app flow.

Feature prioritization became critical at this stage as I only had 2 weeks to create a high-fidelity prototype and test it.

The user goals had been identified as:

  • Primary goal: Search and apply for volunteer opportunities
  • Secondary goal: Manage volunteer activities (e.g. communicate, reschedule…)

With the time constraint, I decided to focus only on the primary goal. The app flow focuses on the process from signing up to completing an application.

User flow outlines steps that an user needs to follow to complete their goals

After having an overview of the app, I started to brainstorm ideas and create wireframes. I went through two iterations of wireframes before making the high-fidelity prototype.

Wireframes are content layouts that focus on usability instead of aesthetic

With the first iteration, users would set up their location, availability, and cause preferences when signing up, then browse opportunities based on skills. However, this made a long onboarding process that might discourage users from trying the app. In the second iteration, I eliminated most of the questions in the onboarding process. Users would customize their preferences through using the app, as opposed to answering questions up-front.

Focused on the primary user goal, Beaver app has 3 ways to browse opportunities — by location, causes, and skills.

Users can find opportunities based on their location, causes, and skills

The application process in Beaver was designed to minimize efforts and ensure users always have a clear next-step. Applications are auto-saved as users go through each question. At the last step, submission success triggers an auto reply from the nonprofit, which ensures users will know who to contact if they have any issue in the wait time for application processing.

Application process was designed to minimize efforts and ensure users always have a clear next-step

Usability testing

Usability tests were done throughout the wireframe and prototyping process. The goal was creating a simple, intuitive search and application process.

These tests focused on the path from the Home screen to application completion.

Users were asked to describe their expectations of every interaction and compared it with the actual experience.

Some insights from usability testing were:

  • Users want to be able to share opportunities with people who don’t use the app.
  • Users want to have a map on the posting.
  • Users are confused at the uploading resume step.

Some of these insights were incorporated into the final design. All insights related to usability issues, such as the confusion about uploading resume, were modified and improved. The share function was also added because it was requested by all interviewees. However, function that was requested by only one user, such as the map function, was not added to keep the simplicity of the app.

Usability testing guides the design

Interactive Prototype

Overall Reflection

This was my first experience designing an app. There were a number of lessons I learned along the way:

  • Prioritize.

While my initial intuition is to provide users with many features, I realized that this makes the navigation more difficult, and easier to make mistakes. Furthermore, this would have prevented me from completing the project on time.

  • Start testing as early as possible.

Once I started testing, it became very clear what features were essential and which ones were just “nice to have”. I didn’t start testing until I had wireframes of the full app flow. Looking back, I could have reduced time fixing mistakes by testing earlier.


Thanks for reading! I hope the article was fun and useful for you. If you want to collaborate or chat more about UX, contact me @ taylornguyen144@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

Taylor Nguyen

Written by

UX researcher, avid learner, optimist, writing to share experience in design and everything I find fascinating. Website: taylornguyen.net

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