Few people would argue that nonprofits rival their for-profit counterparts when it comes to innovation. Competition in the nonprofit sector continues to grow (see this month’s shocking statistic), but charitable giving is remaining steady at 2 percent of GDP. Add in increased competition from socially minded for-profit organizations, and you have an increasing need to innovate how services are performed and funds are raised in the nonprofit sector.
Design thinking offers an accessible, systematic and creative approach to solve issues nonprofits face—from strategic planning to how donors make gifts on your website. The Institute of Design at Stanford lays out the following five-step process for design thinking:
- Get out in the field and observe the people you are designing a solution for. Ask them questions, but not a survey. Have a conversation. Ask why they do or don’t do something, what their needs are, and how they view the world.
- As a group, discuss what you heard and saw in the empathize stage. Put any words, phrases or ideas on Post-its and group them according to patterns that emerge. Begin to draw a persona of your end users, describing their demographic characteristics as well as their needs and attitudes. Sketching out a timeline of each persona’s typical day may also be helpful. The goal is to define the problem through the point of view of the user.
- Start brainstorming solutions to the problems faced by your personas. Generate and build on ideas, but don’t evaluate or shoot down anything at this stage.
- This doesn’t require engineers or 3D printers. Create prototypes using materials you have around the office: boxes, notebooks, folders, etc. This allows you to cheaply and quickly test a number of different ideas.
- Put your prototype in the hands of your users. Don’t try to explain everything to them, just observe how they interact with it. Continue to alter your prototype until you arrive at a workable solution.
The goal of design thinking is to put the user at the center of the process, finding a solution that meets their needs. Of course, this needs to be balanced with the resources of each organization. But don’t be afraid to think big and work back from there.
Shocking Statistic: From 2001 to 2011, the number of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. grew by 25 percent, outpacing both business and government sectors (Forbes).
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