VOLUNTOPIA: THE VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE REIMAGINED

Overview

For DESIGNATION, I worked with Diana Rooney and James Perakis to create a mobile platform that fosters community engagement through a gaming experience shareable with friends.

Client

Exploratory project for DESIGNATION

Role

UX Research, Strategy and Design

Timeline

4 weeks

Tools

Sketch
Axure RP
Marvel (POP)

THE BRIEF

The nonprofit sector has changed over the last decade. Working with three other UX designers I was prompted to create a two sided market technology solution for a nonprofit that increased individual online donations. 

WHICH DIRECTION DO WE GO?

Our team initially associated the donors with individuals making financial contributions to charities, but when we started to consider this concept further, we realized that each of us RARELY donated and if we did, we didn’t take part in any regularly declared donations. However, we discovered we all had volunteer experience and I participated in community service initiatives in college and company-promoted initiatives post-college. In order to design a solution tailored to the needs of our users, we researched nonprofits relying on service-volunteers.

These service organizations showed us how much volunteers impact the overall missions of some nonprofit organizations. These organizations are unable to successfully expand and execute their missions in communities without volunteers.

Over the next three days, we shifted our focus to researching volunteer match models by speaking directly to nonprofits and volunteers. Our research focused on understanding both fundraising and volunteering efforts with organizations and individual donors/volunteers. It was important to gather more insight into the mental models of volunteers and nonprofits, with a primary focus on volunteer management and raising funds for operations. The following questions guided our research with nonprofits and volunteers.

  • How do volunteers connect to service organizations?
  • What are their backgrounds and circumstances?
  • What are the challenges faced from the service organization side?
  • What are the goals, motivations, frustrations, needs from volunteers, donors and service organizations?

In addition, we researched existing fundraising and volunteer-match applications to understand the current technology domain for these areas. In the process, we discovered Donors Choose, Public Good, and Volunteermatch.

Through our competitor analysis, we analyzed the tools used by nonprofits and individual volunteers for efforts relating to service opportunities and fundraising.

Our plan for interview recruitment required quick planning and execution. We targeted nonprofits that rely primarily on volunteers to deliver on their mission. With my previous project management experience, I decided it was best to have a single person manage the communications with organizations and volunteers that we planned to interview. This kept our team organized and helped with tracking by having a single place to reference recruiting and scheduling. We were able to confirm five organizations to meet with us, including Chicago Cares.

Here I am interviewing an experienced volunteer.

With every nonprofit interviewed, we learned more about the importance and drivers with both volunteers and fundraising. In particular, I learned the significance volunteers had on the continued missions and growth of these service organizations. One our most important finding was that 85% of nonprofits’ funding came from corporate donations, and that organizations had a more pressing need for attracting and retaining volunteers.

In addition, we learned there was an oversaturated market of technological solutions for volunteer matching, crowdsource funding, and volunteer management tools. We learned that the most effective way to recruit volunteers was through word of mouth.

We identified the (1) Discovery processes (2) Motivations, (3) Needs and (4) Frustrations and limitations for individual volunteers and organizations we interviewed.

LOOKING AT POTENTIAL USERS

Our interviews with volunteers showed us there was a disconnect with nonprofits and their ability to maintain positive and impactful relations with volunteers. Volunteers described the process of searching for volunteering opportunities as noisy on most web sites and apps. They struggled to find opportunities to help and expressed a need to understand the value perceived from a volunteer experience. They felt it was important to not waste their time. This resonated with us because it was a motivator for the nonprofits we spoke with. Volunteer coordinators were looking for innovative ways to attract more diverse volunteer pools with impactful service projects. Since nonprofits were discovered primarily through word of mouth, it was important to generate a positive reputation and positive feedback.

Here I am writing more of my user interview insights for our affinity diagram. These insights helped our analysis of the primary user we designed for.

We decided to identify our volunteer as the primary persona, to further explore and discover the needs of which the nonprofits could leverage to help with providing volunteers a rewarding experience. This user persona helped us to begin understanding the motivations and mental model of the volunteers better.

This user was known as Jessica, and was a college student volunteer, hesitant to commit her time to a cause without getting a firsthand account of what an experience will be like from a friend.

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM 

With further analysis we were able to confirm that Jessica represented volunteers who discovered new volunteer opportunities from friends. They don’t want to feel underutilized and needed to see the impact of their work and time for gratification. These users were also motivated to do volunteering when they knew it would be a fun and social experience with friends.

Using an ecosystem map, we were able to learn more about the relations between the organizations and individual volunteers. It all led back to the key motivation identified earlier, volunteer’s positive and negative experiences.

After several iterations, we identified the key problem to design for as:

How can we incentivize those who have had a positive volunteering experience with a service project to recruit and prepare others for new volunteering opportunities?

Service-oriented nonprofits can foster greater community engagement by creating unique and rewarding experiences for their volunteers. They recognize that committed volunteers are an essential component of successful service projects, and one of the most important channels for finding new volunteers.

PREPARING FOR DESIGN

After identifying a clear problem to solve for Jessica and service-oriented non-profits, it was time to define principles that would guide our design decisions moving forward. We analyzed our interviewing excerpts again to understand what volunteers expressed to us, and ensure these made it into our design principles:

We completed various design brainstorming exercises to ideate the best solution for the problem identified. From there, our team created a wide range of potential solutions to test with users. I came up with an “enhanced volunteermatch” mobile app that allowed a third party (volunteer or local business) to provide a gift or token appreciation for volunteer opportunities. James created a mobile app, “Voluntopia” that allowed users to build a virtual world by signing up and completing volunteer opportunities in their local communities. Diana created a mobile app inspired by social media challenges like the ALS Ice-bucket Challenge, where users could do mobile microvolunteering activities and challenge their friends on Facebook. Microvolunteering is a form of online volunteering…typically done in small increments of time via a connected device or mobile phone.”

CONCEPT TESTING RESULTS

Overall, we learned that people understood the enhanced volunteer match program, but rewards didn’t motivate them to volunteer. The microvolunteer challenge concept was difficult to understand and users weren’t interested in challenges. The Voluntopia concept was well received, but users didn’t understand how it would ultimately work with the activity being physical and the virtual world being built within the mobile app.

Additional takeaways from the testing that helped with later design decisions included the following:

  • Ties to social networks like Facebook were important. The social aspect was fun and very familiar to users.
  • The idea of microvolunteering was difficult for users to understand initially.
  • Some users valued practicality over gamification. This was primarily found with the Voluntopia concept where there was an online gamification element conflicting with a physical volunteer task.
  • The ability to search for select volunteering opportunities, sign up, and invite friends was crucial.

TONS OF INSIGHTS, HOW DO WE MOVE FORWARD

Although our results appeared to lean towards the practical concept of volunteer champions or businesses rewarding volunteers for their time, we realized we could fill the large gap addressed with our users with gamification and potentially merge this with microvolunteering. Through additional research, we discovered there were many mobile apps that focused on a single microvolunteering activity (i.e. Be My Eyes). We also discovered that most people only participated 2-3 times before losing interest.

At this point, we realized that the gamification aspect of Voluntopia could be a huge help to implementing microvolunteering to our solution. Voluntopia + Gamification would:

  • Be more convenient for individuals to volunteer on their own time. 
  • Near instant gratification would be more suited to game cycles. 
  • Easily convert new users who aren’t familiar to existing microvolunteering platforms. 
  • We could fill the gap of existing platforms and integrate and innovate an experience for new and current volunteers.

BUILDING THE PROTOTYPE

Under short time constraints, it was important to discuss the key areas we’d build out for the new and improved Voluntopia. We wanted our users to test a complete experience of an microvolunteer activity, on-boarding/tutorial. It was important for testing to allow the user to experience selecting their own category prior to completing the activity. This along with a virtual map still did not allow the user to understand the social aspect of Voluntopia. The social feature was a key incentive that our team ensure was built in the prototype.

Creating the site map allowed us to see the key areas our prototype covered. This also helped with deciding the navigation bar sections that would be available. Since we understand the importance of social interaction, the Friends section was the ideal area for this function.

TEST, REITERATE, AND HANDOFF

With our usability testing efforts, we were able to understand how the new Voluntopia was received by users and how to help our users understand the concept of microvolunteering. We tested the key features of the app and the instructions that would be provided to the user. The goal of our testing was to understand if users were (1) motivated to share Voluntopia with their friends, and (2) enjoyed using the game.

From our usability testing we learned:

My team member James P. mocked up some of the feedback recorded from our usability testing. This helped tremendously with our revisions of the final prototype.

From our testing results, I understood we had more work to do in refining the on-boarding section. I went back to the drawing board and updated the copy to simplify it while emphasizing our design principle of “cutting out the noise”. It was important to make sure the on-boarding was concise and clear on the purpose of Voluntopia, or else users would simply skip or leave the app. Our team also went back to the “Friend” section where the social features were available. We updated the labels and restructured the “add friend” functions to help make the section’s tab layout more clear and usable.

As we wrapped up the final prototype, I was responsible for completing final deliverables for handoff to a UI team. Our deliverables included task flows and user flows, which can be found here. Although this was a mock project, it’s important for any future developers or UI teams to understand the viability of integrating existing micro-volunteering platforms into Voluntopia. Our platform relied on third party integrations for crowdsource data and in return the platform created a new incentive for users to make a difference through online microvolunteering. Microvolunteering platforms with API integrations represent the continual growth with Voluntopia.

These potential API integrations (Ex. Elbi, BeMyEyes, +U, Catchafire, Wheelmap.org) proved the viability of the Voluntopia concept. 

Our project was selected to be the design challenge addressed by a group of UI design students from the next design cohort. We were able to meet with the group of designers, where we expressed the unlimited interpretations the Voluntopia concept had. Although our wireframes illustrated a 3D display of the home city view, we did not want the designers to be limited to this perception. The resulting UI visuals needed to balance the appropriate level of gaming and real life causes introduced in the platform.

Here's Marjan Ghahremani's take on the UI design. Her example shows the unparalleled interpretations a designer has with our concept and virtual city.

CONCLUSION

Throughout this project I learned the importance of adequately on-boarding for users. When you are introducing new or unfamiliar concepts, it is important to set users up for a successful experience. It was evident through user feedback and the number of design iterations of the on-boarding section, that users will not spend much time with on-boarding. As a designer, Iwill strive to design on-boarding experiences that are comprehensive, concise, and adaptable for both new and returning users.