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Why is digital discovery so important for nonprofits?

Remember the first version of the iPhone back in 2007?  It was a brand new concept, and Apple cleverly referenced familiar real-life materials in its user experience to help people adapt.  

Real life materials emulated in early versions of iOS (Reference Apple Insider)

This is a design concept known as “skeuomorphism”, and it worked wonders to bring people on the journey toward embracing the touch screen.   This didn’t happen by accident though, and Apple invested heavily in discovering the needs of their users to achieve the world changing success of the iPhone. 

Apple’s design solution was to lean on skeuomorphism, and they weren’t the first to use it, but as a nonprofit, what solution will you bring?  Your website or app will need careful thought to meet the needs of your donors, supporters, beneficiaries, volunteers or staff team.

Apple were not the first to use skeuomorphism

So how can we understand and address the needs of our stakeholders? For contemporary website and app development projects, a human centred design approach is used, known as digital discovery. Digital discovery is the process of placing ourselves in the mindset of our users so that we create a user experience that feels natural and intuitive.   The process combines research, workshopping, and analysis to answer questions like…

  • Who are the people using the website or app?
  • What are their needs?
  • What are their “tasks to be done”?
  • What blockers are they facing, and how can we overcome them?
  • What content do we want to guide their attention toward?

This is super important to nonprofits for a number of reasons, let’s dive in and find out why.

Nonprofits are all about people

If you’re involved in a non-profit, chances are you’re either working to create better outcomes for people, or working with people to drive positive change.  It’s all about people.  Applying human centred design principles to your nonprofit’s website or app is critical to taking care of these very special people.

When a person in need seeks help online, it’s important to make the user experience calm, simple and respectful.  Otherwise, they may decide not to proceed with their request and never receive the assistance they need.   A new donor needs to feel confident in the way you are handling their money before they hit that donate button.  A volunteers’ time is valuable, so don’t make it hard for them to log in and look up their schedule.  These are all everyday tasks that can be implemented poorly without a thorough digital discovery process. 

Achieving your strategic goals

You may have heard the old adage “failing to plan is planning to fail”.  This stands true when it comes to digital projects.  Part of a robust discovery process is aligning your digital strategy with your organisational strategy, and ensuring decisions are prioritised accordingly.

This is especially helpful to ensure your user experience not only meets the needs of your stakeholders but also your strategic goals.  Every nonprofit has a mission that they stand for, and it’s important to be intentional about serving that mission in the way you present your website.  The digital discovery process gives you confidence that you have done your due diligence to plan a project that will achieve its desired outcomes. After all, how will you achieve your goals if you have not identified them in the first place?

Bad UX affects donation revenue

If we think back beyond that first iPhone to the early days of the internet,  we can all remember how tedious it was to use. But we were so excited about the raw benefits of the internet (such as dynamic content, fillable forms, and hyperlinks 😄 ), that we put up with bad user experience.

Today, it’s very different.  For starters, using the internet is part of everyday life and people are accustomed to seamless intuitiveness when it comes to online banking, reading the news or chatting with friends.  But beyond that, software giants (think Meta, Google, Spotify etc.) have sunk billions into creating these easy user interfaces.  This creates an expectation amongst consumers, and a challenge for nonprofits.

For example, If your donation experience is clunky because you haven’t properly understood your users, you may be missing out on significant donation revenue.  Prospective donors will have no time for bad user experiences, potentially abandoning their donation.

Make the most of limited resources 

One of the great things about the discovery process is prioritisation. It may sound boring or frustrating but it’s actually freeing!  As a non profit with limited resources and the responsibility to be diligent with donated funding, it is helpful to prioritise the features in your digital project.

During a discovery workshop, there’s a lot of brainstorming going on.  Great ideas.  Smart ideas. But not all of them can fit within the budget or align with strategic goals.  The prioritisation of user stories helps with decision making, to ensure the most important needs of the user are met AND organisational goals are considered. 

Plan effective content

Stepping into the shoes of your various users or “personas” is crucial to understanding the content needed to create a useful and effective website.  A human centred discovery process will unpack what’s front of mind for each persona, as well as some of the objections that they may have as they consider your cause.

Having a list of prioritised user stories for each of the personas helps design a user-centric navigation menu and also guides the design of key landing pages.  In practice this means that high priority messages might be featured in the hero banner at the top of the web page, while low priority objections can be addressed in the FAQ right down the bottom.

Effective content strategy means that donors, volunteers and beneficiaries can understand your organisation quickly, and are more likely to take that next step.

Listen and learn from your subject matter experts

Last but certainly not least, the discovery workshop is an ideal environment to receive input from key stakeholders within your organisation.  Every nonprofit has passionate and knowledgeable people on team who need to be heard when designing a new website.  Their experience and insight is crucial, and will contain nuggets of wisdom that may not be considered by anyone else.

External stakeholders are also super important.  While the experience of your internal team is highly valuable, there will always be some level of assumption that has to be made (because they are not the actual users).  To validate these assumptions, the discovery process can  include external stakeholders such as service users, donors, or volunteers.   Leveraging techniques such as useability testing and card sorting provides real world insight into how the website is actually used and the blockers your users are coming up against.

And beyond…

There are many more benefits of digital discovery, such as choosing the right tech stack, accessibility, and getting your brand positioning right. It’s our hope that these brief insights will inspire you to dive deep next time you plan a digital project!  It’s reassuring to know that robust thinking has been applied to your project plans, your users will be able to find what they need, and your goals for impact are set up for success.

To learn more about Heartburst’s digital discovery services, head over to our Digital Discovery for Nonprofits page.

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