At Unself, we built an hour tracker for volunteers to self-report their hours to nonprofits, so the latter could better access grant funding. While our app resonated with our core user base of super volunteers, our research showed most people looking to get involved don’t know where to start (let alone have service hours to track).
To connect more volunteers and nonprofits IRL, we held a series of local nonprofit+volunteer speed dating happy hours. The success of these analog matching events prompted us to scale vetted volunteer opportunities in our app.
As UX and project lead for Events, I defined, designed, and led the dev build effort to release a back-end events system and the volunteer-facing experience on Unself.
Our team has had over two years of 1-1 conversations with volunteers and nonprofits. A recurring theme for everyone was it takes way too much time to find out if you “match” with a given mission. The relationship between volunteers and nonprofit staff is key to ensuring that there’s an ongoing volunteering commitment.
We realized early on that we could really help the community by leveraging our connections to host nonprofit speed dating events. Unself covered the location and beer, coordinating 5 local nonprofit partners to table at each event. We recruited active and potential volunteers from the Front Range, growing our regular attendance to almost 80 people per event.
From Beers & Volunteers, we not only helped nonprofits recruit new dedicated volunteers, but we also more than doubled our user and test participant bases.
As the events grew, I recorded feedback from attendees, nonprofits, and our team on how to streamline the workflows. Pretty soon, we knew it was time to scale to hosting events in our app so that we could connect more like-people together.
Our team met in early 2018 to begin to define what portion of volunteer opportunities would be most valuable and feasible to scale through our app.
We started off the day reviewing a previous competitive analysis document my team mate Madeline Pickering and I put together on event-hosting apps. We then moved into an exercise where everyone brought a few product examples and whiteboarded how each competitor was uniquely solving a piece of the puzzle. My favorite examples were niche dating apps (Peanut) and fitness subscription services (Classpass) for their attention to surfacing what attributes matched users/studios together.
By the time we finished, we knew that the larger marketplace need was a robust, individualized matching engine for volunteers and volunteer coordinators (matching people with other people felt more personal than matching a person to an organization).
We completed the Crazy Eights sketching exercise around this idea, which was really great to get non-designers contributing awesome visual ideas.
Our main challenge though was to walk away with a manageable sense of product scope. A turning point for us was realizing that event page content needs to change over time – to show the volunteer logistic info (pre-event), last minute updates (during event), and the impact created (post-event).
Rather than biting off more than we could chew with an entire matching engine, we chose to focus our efforts on a system that could publish single events, designed with a volunteer in mind.
After our team brainstorm, I was so excited about Events I took on the feature’s project management. I created a Notion project hub for our team so that we could share past work around this topic, ongoing designs and requirements, as well as keep track of meeting notes and important decisions.
One of the biggest technical limitations of this project was that unlike nonprofits themselves, there is no robust database in existence of the opportunities they host.
Not only that, but nonprofits don’t have standard ways of posting opportunities online, if they do at all. This meant that we couldn’t meaningfully integrate with other event hosting platforms like Facebook, Eventbrite, or Volunteer Match.
For us to have vetted volunteer opportunities on Unself, we would have to build our own events system and populate it manually ourselves for the Front Range to start. Later, we would need to scale to allow for nonprofits to host their own events.
The scope of our project was a single event page template design that displayed the logistical info of an event with a volunteer-first approach (along with the back-end system that powered it).
I sketched low and mid-fi wireframes after ongoing conversations with our Community Engagement team. My team mate Genevieve Nakos helped me with organizing content blocks and identifying the key pieces of information volunteers need prior to RSVPing for an event. Over a few iterations, we solidified the information hierarchy and informal tone of the UI copy, all the while working with our brand designer on UI critiques.
As our events page designs progressed, I worked with our dev team to iterate on requirements for our internal team experience to add, edit, view and delete events from our back-end system.
We experimented with a new requirements process during this time: phasing sequential requirements groups to match development build processes. Each story still provided value to the end user, but the stories were grouped to be more aligned with dev cycles in related parts of the code base, allowing for more frequent releases (whether back or front-end features).
Our Unself Internal Tool was designed for our Community Engagement team to input and curate events on our platform for the Front Range user community. While the UI is very utilitarian, the workflow process helped the rest of the team efficiently maximize their time managing this content.
For me, it helped immensely to work on the back-end, the data input, and the data display processes congruently. It helped make each aspect of the project tighter and quickly showed where I need to seek out a team member’s help with a knowledge gap.
The end result was a branded set of UI components that made up our Events display page, but the system and rationale behind it was the real value. When we showed this mock to volunteers, we were hard-pressed to get any constructive feedback – a testament to our research practice.
After we launched Events on Unself with a select partner group, we continued to get feedback on it in our most recent research study. This resulted in UI improvements that were pitched to the National Parks Foundation to show them that we were in a unique position to promote participation in their national FRIENDS group volunteer campaigns.
In the end, this project was so much bigger than a feature set. It grew out of a real community need and evolved past that to have national impact at the highest scale.