Volunteer Hour Tracker
Unself is a startup focused on measuring philanthropy. We built a volunteer hour tracking webapp to connect volunteers with nonprofits.
Every hour spent volunteering is worth at least a $24.69 donation in-kind. If that hour’s tracked on Unself, those nonprofits receive reports that enable them to more easily apply for grants and attract more volunteers for their cause.
This two year long project outlines how our hour tracker went from an undefined business need to a real product helping people celebrate impact in their communities.
On my first day at Unself, the company pivoted from an all-in-one volunteer management solution to a volunteer hour tracker in order to be a more unique competitor in the market.
At the time, we were also working with a consulting tech firm while building the in-house Unself team. We collaborated on the most simple hour tracker design we could imagine, while our engineering team architected a new webapp from the ground up.
But as soon as we showed our first prototype to local nonprofits and volunteers, we learned that we needed to expand the data we were capturing to build a true MVP.
That resulted in the foundation of our platform: a chunk of data called an “Experience”, which connected self-reported volunteer hours and descriptions to a nonprofit database.
After we launched our MVP hour tracker, we grew our community of nonprofit and volunteer users. From those conversations, we knew we needed to invest in a compelling volunteer UX around tracking, as they are our primary data source. Nonprofits also desperately needed a simple UI to view and export the real-time hours being tracked.
With feature requests and valuable insights flying in left and right, a big part of my role was to facilitate conversations with the team to prioritize, write requirements, and co-design these two concurrent efforts.
One of our earliest super users frequently volunteers with a police trauma care unit and told us that they used Unself as a journal to review their past volunteer experiences prior to going on-call, so that they could psyche themselves up.
This beautiful use case grew into an overall design shift where we focused on the personal narrative and emotions volunteers feel when they track.
I began capturing these themes in an Invision board and our sketches became tightly focused around a complete-the-sentence UX and a simple but celebratory UI.
As our requirements for the volunteer tracking redesign and admin reports began to take shape, I led iterative story writing, weekly iteration planning meetings, and backlog management for our 5-person engineering team.
During this time, the senior engineers and I codified our story, defect, and spike formats, captured here. While many of our stories had robust scenarios and notes, we also had many that were in shorthand, keeping to the mantra that “every story is a placeholder for a conversation.”
From our learnings in the community, we built our design concept around facilitating a volunteer telling their story. I led the design effort to reimagine what was once a sterile white form into an immersive, meaningfully sequenced narrative.
The first step of tracking is to identify where you volunteered. One of our unique product offerings is a scalable nonprofit database, seeded with IRS bulk data and volunteer-provided data. Our team built a beautiful search tool that allows volunteers to track to nonprofits from anywhere in the world, adding them if they are not in our system.
Once we introduced the takeover flow component, it gave us so much more room to speak to volunteers, to encourage them to share their stories and celebrate the impact they created.
This modular front-end allowed us to soften the concept of a form. It lowered the barrier of entry and provided more context around tracking for volunteers. And yet the interactions were quick enough that dedicated volunteers who track repeatedly weren’t annoyed at the repetition. All of this contributed to higher quality and greater diversity of volunteer feedback than most nonprofits have ever received.
As we evolved the inputs for tracking, we simultaneously designed the outputs of that data for nonprofit admins.
Most small to mid-size nonprofits rely on very simple tools (i.e. Google Sheets or paper & pencil even) to track volunteer hours, if they do at all. Almost always, a volunteer coordinator (who may have up to three roles at a nonprofit) is tasked with this additional chore of guesstimating total hours.
While at first we assumed we need to build a flashy, visual reporting tool off the bat, my teammate Madeline Pickering & I were surprised to learn that just a table view of volunteer self-reported data was the main thing that admins needed. We added on string and date filtering, so that admins could download exactly the right slice of data they need to apply grants.
At last we had our core product: a volunteer hour tracker that encourages people to keep volunteering and gives nonprofits the data they need to rally more resources to their cause.
Once we had the foundation of our product, it was time to build a brand around it to give it life – both on screen and to encourage adoption in the community.
At our core, Unself is volunteer first. This comes through everything we do – from our data model, to the hour tracking input UX, to the youthful brand colors and tone.
Our target user segments are high schoolers and young professionals – the two most externally-motivated types of volunteers. I co-led a research effort with teammate Genevieve Nakos to establish our personas, and at the same time, we re-skinned the app based off of those markets.
As we introduced our brand throughout the app, we expanded our feature set to include volunteer profiles. These profiles are a shareable service record that volunteers use for school or job applications.
After that, we learned that many volunteers weren’t sure how to find vetted new opportunities, so we built a volunteer workflow to “match” them with nonprofits in their same area of interest/cause.
This production screen cap showcases all our major feature sets as of winter 2018.
One of the greatest drivers of volunteering amongst our target segments of high schoolers and young professionals is finding a sense of belonging in a community.
Our most recent push for evolving tracking was to connect it to a more social aspect: to spread the word about a great experience to inspire others to get involved.
I organized and led a week-long volunteer research study to find out the best way to weave together these ideas. This body of work resulted in us improving our nonprofit search and copy throughout. We also added cause and emotion tracking, social sharing, and nonprofit feedback.
Today our tracker helps volunteers and nonprofits realize the story of their efforts, not just in hours anymore, but on to broader types of impact that no other platform has every quantified. I’m excited to see these stories grow over time!