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2020 Trends: Using a Design Thinking Approach to Create Meaningful Constituent Experiences

By Susan Mahon March 3, 2020

Design thinking for nonprofits

Supporters are stepping up their involvement with their favourite causes. According to the 2020 Nonprofit Trends Report, 74% of organisations report that supporters’ desire to participate has increased over the last five years.

To take advantage of this growing commitment, organisations need to build connections that last with experiences that inspire. To deepen connections with beneficiaries, donors, clients, and partners, nonprofits first need to understand the expectations of each constituent group. 

Design thinking is a great way to see things through the eyes of different constituents and create experiences that maximise the potential for engagement. 

Putting people first 

So what is design thinking? It’s a human-centric approach to innovation that enables organisations to harness new technologies to better meet people’s needs. It has already been used with great success by digital disruptors, such a Spotify and your nonprofit organisation could be next. 

Design thinking encourages people to challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and experiment with different solutions. Here are some of the key stages of design thinking to consider:  

  • Empathise with users
  • Define their problems and their needs
  • Explore and ideate different solutions 
  • Prototype and test solutions 
  • Add improvements based on user feedback

Due to its collaborative and iterative approach, design thinking is much more fluid than other development and project management frameworks. So phases can be swapped around, run in parallel, and repeated as many times as needed. 

Faster time to value 

Design thinking can be particularly useful when determining how new technologies, such as mobile apps or online communities, could help to enrich the experience for different constituents. 

Although 85% of nonprofits recognise technology is key to their success, they often struggle to maximise the digital advantage. More than 90% of nonprofits say a lack of IT skills hampers their ability to adopt new technologies, which means opportunities to improve the constituent experience go untapped. 

With design thinking, organisations can accelerate and simplify the development and deployment of new technologies. It encourages the release of a minimal viable product rather than the perfect end-to-end solution, which means key lessons can be learnt earlier and value can be delivered faster.  

By involving more people in the design and development of new solutions, nonprofits can also ensure they address any accessibility and inclusivity concerns. This can be particularly important for nonprofits working with constituents with health or mobility issues, which needs to be factored into their overall experience. 

How to get started 

Design thinking doesn’t require a big investment or implementation program but it does require a culture shift. Nonprofits will need to think disruptively, act quickly, and work collaboratively for design thinking to be a success. 

Implementing new technology can be daunting for any organisation, especially if they have limited internal IT resources. According to Charity Digital’s CRM Trends Report,  16% of nonprofits say implementation concerns are so great that they turn their backs on CRM completely or choose to stick with their existing solutions even if that’s spreadsheets. Using a design thinking approach can be a great way to get come up with solutions that you may not have thought of before. New systems and complexity don’t always go hand in hand: 74% of nonprofit team members think their CRM platform is easy to use.

If you are ready to give design thinking a go, then here are some tips to get you started:

  • Appoint design thinking champions within the organisation 
  • Start small so you can test the process 
  • Leverage existing survey and feedback data from constituents 
  • Consider the who, when, where and why of any new solution 
  • Think ahead – innovate not just for today but for tomorrow

By encouraging a human-centric approach, design thinking helps to not only enrich the development process but also boost the adoption of new solutions that improve the constituent experience. 

Want more insights from the 2020 Trends Report?

Download Report