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Design Thinking: An Innovative Way To Approach Your Volunteer Program

Posted By Christine Martin, Senior Manager, Volunteer Engagement, Evergreen, November 18, 2016
 Ways to innovate your volunteer program

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Design is everywhere in our lives – from websites to buildings to smartphones. The mindsets and processes that have been behind them are now being applied to everything from the retail experience to health care to education. But what about volunteer engagement and the non-profit sector more broadly? It’s time to add to our toolboxes in this area so we can adapt and improve to meet the challenges of an ever-changing sector, in an ever-changing world.

But what is design thinking?  At its heart, it’s a practice that uses a host of creative tools and approaches to identify and solve problems for the benefit of users. It’s about improving products, processes and services.  It’s collaborative. It is human-centred. It’s creative. It focuses on action.  And it has huge potential to transform volunteer engagement. 

We all want volunteer engagement to be amazing and add value – for our volunteers, for our staff and of course, for our organization’s clients and mission.    In a way, each of these groups are “users” of volunteer services. Through applying design thinking, we can open up new possibilities for these users, resulting in a better experience for staff and volunteers. At Evergreen, it’s about putting myself in the volunteer’s shoes – what is it like when they look for an opportunity? What are they experiencing on their first day of volunteering? How might we make it better?

By exploring what’s possible, looking at the whole system and digging into our challenges, we can take volunteering to a whole new level. So, pull together a diverse, collaborative team and follow these key stages for a design-thinking approach:


EMPATHIZE: Really understand your users and their experiences and challenges


DEFINE: Use this understanding to be clear about the real problem you want to address


IDEATE: Come up with as many solutions as possible – encourage divergent thinking, no judgement, then narrow it down.


PROTOTYPE: Explore how the possible solution might look; work using physical objects or models.  This will help stimulate better conversation to surface new insights, questions and needs.


TEST: Try it out with your user – how is it working?  How can we improve?

 

The design thinking world is full of tools. Tools like brainstorming and interviewing will feel familiar while point-of-view madlibs or how to draw toast might seem downright strange. However, two key tools really stand out with potential for innovating volunteer engagement:  empathy mapping and journey mapping. 

 

EMPATHY MAPPING

Using deep knowledge of your volunteers, ideally from direct observation and interaction, you can synthesize this knowledge into four key quadrants: what a volunteer is saying and doing and what it seems they are thinking or feeling – use this to help identify needs and insights better.

Here's an example of what an Empathy map can look like:

 Empathy Map Example
 From David Leetch Ed Tech

 

Here’s a few more examples of Empathy Maps:

DSchool

Desiging A New Way of Thinking: A New Approach to Solving Social Problems - Charity Village



JOURNEY MAPPING

Imagining a persona of a volunteer, map out their actions/experiences with you as a volunteer over time. Along a parallel timeline, map the moments when the volunteer is interacting with you organization – virtually or in person and what the volunteer attitudes and needs might be at various steps. Where are the pain points?  What stands out? What are possible solutions?

Here's one example of a journey map:

 Journey Map Example
 From 7 Things To Consider When Designing A CX Journey Mapping Workshop

 

Here’s a few more examples: 

Designing CX

IDEO

 

The field of design thinking is rich and deep and proving to be incredibly powerful for innovation and for organizations to thrive. Imagine if this were applied to how we engage volunteers and work with stakeholders and clients. Imagine if we could quickly identify and adapt to emerging trends and opportunities.  Imagine if you had a ready toolkit to identify the hard questions and transform your organization.  Imagine.

 

Christine Martin is the leader and designer behind Evergreen’s dynamic and varied volunteer engagement which engages over 7000 volunteer a year in about 70 different roles across the country, and especially at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. She’s committed to equipping and empowering volunteers and staff to reach their potential in partnering together to achieve great things. She loves to apply innovation, facilitation and collaboration approaches to all aspects of her work and to share this with others to help them thrive.

Tags:  Design thinking  empathy mapping  innovative thinking for volunteer management  journey mapping  volunteer management  volunteer program 

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