Pretending to be your donor

2468506922_c1ed495959_z - Sybren A. StüvelI found myself wondering the other day – as I struggled to make sense of the less-than-clear instructions on my business’ quarterly sales tax return – how often anyone from the Department of Revenue actually goes through the process of filling out their own paperwork as though they were a business owner like me.

If the folks who process returns, the people who manage the people who process returns, the department heads and the political appointees at the top of the org chart … if any of these folks had actually experienced the process of filling out a return, they might be inspired to improve the design of the system, or at the very least prepare clearer instructions.

I suspect, however, that most of these folks don’t actually use the system they run, so most have no idea just how complex, frustrating, and difficult it might be for the end users.

It’s easy to poke fun of large government agencies for not bothering to use their own services, but I’m willing to bet that most nonprofit folks don’t do it, either. When is the last time you walked through any of your user experiences, not with the eye of the program manager or executive director but as though you were the customer, user, visitor, or client? If it’s been more than a few months, it might be worth revisiting.

  • While pretending you are a first time prospective donor to your organization, visit the website and see how easy it is to find the information you think you might want to know.
  • Go through the process of making a donation while pretending you are a supporter of the organization but unfamiliar with the donation process … visit the website, find the donation page, and actually make a donation. Any annoyances? Any steps where you might be tempted to give up and do something else?
  • Try signing up for your newsletter. Was there any friction in the experience? Now unsubscribe to your newsletter. Was that as easy as it should be?
  • If you sell products online, are there any annoyances in the shopping or purchasing experience, or it is smooth and delightful?
  • Try playing the part of a long-time supporter experimenting with a new service or tool for the first time. Did you easily figure out each step? Did the process make you feel valuable?
  • If your nonprofit provides a facility or a service, this list gets a lot longer: imagine being a first-time visitor to the museum, or a first-time customer of the service.

Walk through every step of the process thinking about how that user will experience it. Every user touch point sends a sharp signal to your supporters and potential supporters. It tells them how much you care about them and their contribution. And beyond the symbolism and messages, the more friction and the less pleasant your user experience, the fewer who will actually complete the transaction.

When we run programs, websites, and organizations, we often think about their design in terms of what’s easiest for us. We pick the donation tool that most easily integrates with our database and our bank. We design the navigation on our website in terms of how our staff uses the website. We design the sign-up forms for our membership programs, field trips, and services based on what’s convenient for managing those offerings.

We often don’t think about the experience of our supporters, visitors, customers, and clients. The result: the user experience is often neglected, filled with unnecessary points of friction, and can even be simply unpleasant.

And, unlike the Department of Revenue, we can’t compel people to use our services.

(Photo by Flickr user Sybren A. Stüvel).

Jacob Smith is the co-author of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, the former mayor of Golden, Colorado, and a nonprofit consultant.

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