Methods Used

User Research
Competitive Audit
Stakeholder Interviews
Cognitive Psychology Research
Usability Testing
Affinity Diagramming
Information Architecture
Style Guide

Tools Used

Pen & Paper
Paper Prototyping

The user is a Twin Cities resident who wants to volunteer but has limited time and does not know where to start.

The Challenge

Greater Twin Cities United Way (GTCUW) predicts that there could be up to one million potential volunteers in the Twin Cities that want to help, but don’t know where to start. GTCUW would like to create a more meaningful connection between TC residents and volunteer opportunities. GTCUW also has a large volunteer event coming up (Action Day) and they want participants to find meaning in what they help with that day.

The Team

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I worked alongside Emma Ripley, Joel Lueders, and Molly Horton. We brought together our backgrounds in visual design, psychology, ideation, and marketing to create two fantastic solutions for GTCUW.

The Solutions

Through user research we discovered that we could recruit these one million people in predominantly two spaces: the digital space and the event space. We designed a solution for each of these spaces. A meaningful web app called Kind Finder for the digital space, and a fun and easy card sort system for the event space.

View the Kind Finder Web App Prototype

View the Kind Card Kit

User Research & Competitive Audit

Finding out how to reach potentially one million people is a tall order. We needed to learn more about Twin Cities residents and their volunteer habits, so we created a survey and cast a wide net. We asked 100 people these questions:

Survey Screenshot.001

We heard their voices loud and clear: Twin Cities residents are morally inclined to volunteer (73%), they care about a wide variety of causes, but they do not feel they have the time to volunteer (83%).

A competitive audit of other volunteer matching websites and apps let us know that no one has created a true matchmaking volunteer app that had a significant amount of meaning for a potential volunteer. Most of them required a person to know exactly what they were looking for. So instead of looking at direct competitive apps, we began looking at dating apps! Tinder was the clear winner: easy to use UI, fit well with peoples mental models, and gave a small amount but vital information for users might be looking for. We kept this model in mind throughout our process.

Stakeholder Interviews

After learning a little more about our users we needed to learn more about how the current GTCUW volunteer matching system works. We spoke with two coordinators at GTCUW over the phone about their process matching volunteers to causes and learned more about large events coordinated by GTCUW.

Currently there are two ways someone could volunteer through GTCUW:

  1. Speak with one of the two coordinators over the phone and get matched through a personalized and meaningful conversation.
  2. Use Volunteer United, GTCUW’s volunteer webpage.

We were able to participate in one of the over the phone conversations and found the results meaningful and opportunities that were perfect for the causes we cared about and the skills we have. However, with so many potential volunteers, GTCUW would need a lot more people over the phones!

Since they already have a Volunteer matching website that could match a lot more people, we decided to dig into that a little more and find out how it was working.

Usability Testing & Affinity Diagramming


We conducted a usability test of the current Volunteer United website to understand how people used this website. We found that for people who were regular GTCUW volunteers they had no problem finding meaningful results because they knew exactly what keywords to search for. However, for those who did not volunteer very much or ever, they had a difficult time finding meaningful results. They would use search terms that were too broad and yielded random or unhelpful results. We also learned that neither of these groups could find at-home volunteer opportunities.

We decided GTCUW needed a simple and responsive web app that would recreate the meaningful matching that coordinators yet still be able to reach a lot of people.

Cognitive Psychology Research

In order to create meaning, we researched what motivates people. Our research found that Purpose is a very strong motivator. Purpose is when you believe in the outcome of the work. You may not like doing it, but you believe in the greater mission of the work. Stuffing envelopes might not be an invigorating task, but if it helps to save a kitten’s life then you’ll show up every Wednesday to stuff envelopes!

However, we found one more motivator that is stronger than Purpose and that is Play.

Play is when your reason for doing the activity is the activity itself. You do it because you enjoy it. The work is its own reward.

The complicating factor, is that what you and I consider play can be very different. Some of us like to build things, while others like to tell stories, or go dancing. Stuart Brown in his book Play, breaks it down to 8 distinct play types: Collector, Competitor, Kinesthete, Explorer, Director, Storyteller, Joker, and Artist.

Information Architecture, Prototyping, Style Guide

We were ready to begin prototyping a responsive web app with a lot of meaning. In order to stay on brand with United Way I created a Style Guide you can View Here.

We then began structuring a web app that began with a personality type quiz. We first asked questions about purpose, then play, and one brief screen addressing preferred skills. Emma Ripley found BF Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning to keep the user engaged. His theory: in order to keep a person engaged,  they should be supplied with reinforcement every 3-5 actions and reinforcement that surprises them about every 10 actions, and so we kept this front of mind as we prototyped our Kind Finder Web App using Sketch and Invision.

View the Kind Finder Web App Prototype

The Event Space

Part of our challenge was that GTCUW also wanted a way to connect volunteers at large volunteer events to more meaningful opportunities at those events. So that’s where the Kind Card Kit comes in handy. It’s a simple PDF with Cause and Skill cards GTCUW can tailor to all kinds of different volunteer events. To Learn a little more about that, check out this video!:

Moving Forward

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With the Kind Finder web application in combination with the Kind Card Kit, we have come up with two solutions not only Greater Twin Cities United way can use, but can be scaled to all United Way branches without too much more time or effort.

We completed one round of user testing with Kind Finder and made some changes based on those results. Once this application is developed, we would like to do more rounds of testing with more volunteers to ensure it’s creating meaningful connections. We would also like to see how the Kind Card Kit works at large events such as Action Day and maybe even incorporate it into it’s own web application someday.

United Way is an incredible and important organization that cares for people. We were honored to create more meaningful connections between them and the things they care about.

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