Designing Simple

Yesterday, I dropped off another bag of donations at my local Goodwill.

My husband thinks I’m obsessed, as I make a drop-off nearly every single week. I continue to stand by my claim that it is not obsessive to keep a grocery bag hidden in the hall closet and to save long-forgotten toys from eternal “bottom-of-the-toy-box” doom.

The Goodwill staff who help me unload each week probably think I’m a recovering hoarder. In fact, I’ve started telling little white lies as to why I’m back— “Just dropping off some donations for friends,” I have heard myself say with a sheepish grin.

The actual truth:

1) I’m obsessed (with a clutter-free home);

2) I really do feel sorry for the lonely dinosaurs and robots that never get played with; and,

3) Goodwill has me hooked with its simple, well-designed donor experience.

In fact, the donation experience is so easy that I’m embarrassed to say I often skip taking my donations to the non-profit I work for (because I’d personally have to lug them out of the car), and, instead, take them to Goodwill.

Here’s what I love about my Goodwill experience:

  • The giving opportunity is accessible and pleasant. The store is bright and well maintained, both inside and out. It’s easy to find and access, and has ample free parking for shoppers (a convenient plus).
  • The donation process is easy, and the staff are friendly, helpful, and available. No more hauling donations inside a store, or tossing them into an insanely tall and overfilled bin outside in the middle of a blizzard. In order to drop-off my donation at Goodwill, I simply zip around the back of the store, drive into a covered and clean garage, pop open my trunk, and stand by as their staff help me unload my bags and boxes.
  • The impact of my donation is evident. I get to interact with the employees. I can see the shoppers (heck, I’m a shopper!). There is even a client testimonial right on my receipt.
  • The “ask” to give again is immediate. Did I mention the receipt has a 25% off coupon? That is ample encouragement to head into the store to see what goodies I can find for under $10. (And, yes, I always round up my purchase price to the nearest dollar in support of their employment programming).
  • The donor benefit is real. My house is clean. My trunk is empty. My soul feels nourished. And, hey, even fundraisers understand the feel-good psychology of itemized deductions!

From beginning to end, the experience is easy, enjoyable, and emotionally satisfying.

There’s no real magic in my Goodwill experience—nothing earth shattering—with the simple exception that so few organizations get all those subtle details right. And those subtle details are what create a meaningful and beautiful donor experience.

Designing an experience that is beautiful for our donors doesn’t take magical powers, I promise. It simply takes tuning your eye to think like a designer—with the donor in mind.

Step back from your current donation process, and pretend you are experiencing it as a first-time donor. Where in your donor experience are your design flaws? What are those things that would frustrate you when accessing your organization’s donation experience? At my organization, a frustration point is having to lug my donations from the open-to-the-elements parking lot to our building’s front door, which is around the corner and requires me to be buzzed in. Maybe at your organization, it’s the number of clicks on the webpage it takes to make a donation, or that your volunteer process is ungodly complicated. Maybe it’s that the after-donation “thank you” takes weeks to arrive, leaving donors feeling unappreciated or concerned that their check never arrived.

Whatever it is, you can design it better, even if you have to work within the pesky non-profit constraints we all deal with on a daily basis.

Design is often more creative, and more powerful, when there are limiters—limited budgets, small staff, no staff, shared space, or old technology. What may seem like a roadblock may actually be your best friend when doing creative design brainstorming.

Take for example the collection of six-word memoirs in the book Not Quite What I Was Planning. Six words can be pretty limiting when you’re summarizing your life, yet at the same time it can result in something incredibly poignant and powerful. And what about the thousands of well-known and multi-billion-dollar corporations that started out in someone’s garage? Apple, Medtronic, Google, and Mattel—just to name a few. Talk about huge (no pun intended) space constraints.

Designing within constraints can be the beginning of something beautiful, unique, and authentically “you.” Take the advice Phil Hansen, a multi-media artist who suffered nerve damage, shared in his inspiring TED Talk: “Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves and, collectively, transform our world.”

Thinking like a designer allows you to work with whatever you have (or don’t have) and create something more powerful that you ever imagined. This week, take a step back and experience your non-profit like your donors do. If you see a design flaw—fix it. It may just be the beginning of something beautiful.

Still unsure you can think like a designer? Here are my favorite 10 tips.

P.S. – Check out the Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota Instagram feed. Second-hand goods and clothing? Try “transformed and beautiful.”

“Make it simple, but meaningful.” – Don Draper



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