Illustration by Anna Iurchenko

When Design and Non-Profits Join Forces

BarnRaise 2017: Creative solutions for the community

San Francisco, July — At the most recent BarnRaise hosted by, over 50 volunteers broke out their Sharpies, Post-its, and journey mapping skills to help fight human trafficking, gun violence, and the challenges of homelessness. Say what!?

This wasn’t a how-might-we-help-pizza-delivery-guys-get-here-faster kind of service jam. A BarnRaise event connects non-profit organizations (NPO’s), volunteers, and design firms to solve for some serious human needs — in just three days.

Volunteer match-making

As an independent volunteer, it can be tricky to find an NPO that knows how to partner with creatives, and trickier still to identify specific needs the volunteers should tackle. NPO’s recognize the value of the partnership, but they often don’t have access to designers in the first place.

The BarnRaise movement operates within that gap, connecting designers with the organizations who need them. They coordinate dates, times and problem spaces so that volunteers can walk in the door and focus on solutions.

Quan Nguyen, a UX Designer at Capital One and first-time BarnRaiser, said, “I want to use design to solve, so the BarnRaise connects me with needs.”

Even once you’re partnering with an NPO, Quan admitted that independent volunteers have a limited capacity to bring their designs to fruition. “It’s just like working at an agency, actually — you design a solution, hand it off, and then you have no control,” he said. “Even if we come up with an amazing solution, there’s no knowing if it will go anywhere.”

The BarnRaise organizers (led by the indomitable Anel Muller at recognized that challenge and decided to build a hand-off strategy into the core of the event. Their secret sauce? Joining up with top-notch design firms to facilitate.

EchoUser, Salesforce, Capital One, Design Map, Frog Design and Future Draft served as our Design Facilitators.

While most of the volunteers only participate during the three-day event, the facilitators first spend several weeks with the NPO’s to conduct empathy research and identify needs.

By the time volunteers walk in on Day 1, the facilitators have tee’d up a specific problem (at an appropriate scale) that can be solved for in a short time frame. After volunteers are brought up to speed on the research and problem framing, they break out their UX, UI, visual, and service design skills to start crafting solutions ASAP.

Misssey, Glide, Mission Asset Fund, Support For Families, Miracle Messages and Gun x Gun joined us as NPO partners.

Here’s a peek at one of the projects:

Non-profit: Misssey

Misssey’s mission: To fight commercial sexual exploitation; to support and serve sexually exploited youth.

Design facilitator: Salesforce

Broad problem space: Check out the full project brief

Refined problem statement: How might we drive community awareness of Misssey and the needs of sexually exploited youth?

Other teams worked with problem statements like these:

  • How might we provide safe injection sites to meet the physical and emotional needs of people who use intravenous drugs? (Glide Harm Reduction; HIV/Hep C Prevention and Harm Reduction Services)
  • How might we engage first-time donors to give money to Gun by Gun? (GunxGun; Taking action to prevent gun violence)
  • How might we increase the success rate of a detective in finding a client’s loved one? (Miracle Messages; Reconnecting homeless people with their loved ones through short video messages and social media.)
  • How might we improve the online enrollment experience for users with low digital literacy? (Mission Asset Fund; Creating a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families)
  • How might we help families with a disabled child find the best agency based on their needs? (Support For Families; Supporting families of children with disabilities)

Design for the Hand-Off

Day 4: The volunteers may have all gone home, but the facilitators stay in the game to help the NPO’s implement and test the new solutions. So this is where the hand-off strategy starts, right?

Nope! The hand-off strategy isn’t implemented on Day 4 — it begins weeks before the volunteers walk in the door. It starts when we use the core user needs to formulate How-Might-We questions that lead to appropriately scaled, implementable solutions.

The BarnRaise track record speaks for itself: five of six 2016 BarnRaise projects went on to be fully implemented. How’s that for lasting impact?

Calling All Volunteers: September 21–23, Washington, D.C.

Not a designer? Not a problem! The BarnRaise team invites all volunteers, with all skill levels, from all companies — not just Capital One employees — to break out their creative tool kits and join the next BarnRaise in Washington, D.C. this September. Product owners, engineers, data scientists and designers alike: if the thought of dedicating your creative problem-solving skills to help those in need is ringing your bell, your time has come.

Email to join up!

Psst… ONE Design is hiring. Interested?

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