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How human-centered design helps nonprofits succeed

October 12, 2021
A nonprofit professional writes on a glass screen dotted with sticky notes, applying human-centered design for an upcoming program.

Human-centered design is an innovative approach to designing programs and initiatives for your nonprofit organization. The philosophy behind it centers on listening to beneficiaries, involving them in the design process, and creating solutions tailored to their specific needs. 

By putting real people first, nonprofits can generate a more meaningful impact and achieve their goals with greater efficiency. In this guide, we’ll explore human-centered design in detail and provide five steps for how your nonprofit can implement it. Let’s get started!

What is human-centered design?

Human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving that focuses on the needs, behaviors, and perspectives of the people who benefit from your programs and services. It involves connecting with your intended beneficiaries and soliciting their feedback throughout the design and implementation process. 

The idea behind human-centered design is that your beneficiaries understand the issue at hand more intimately than anyone and, in turn, have greater insight into how to solve it.

Why is human-centered design important for nonprofits?

Human-centered design is important for nonprofits because it allows them to create programs and services that better meet the needs of the people they are trying to serve. By involving their beneficiaries in the design and implementation process, nonprofits can gain a deeper understanding of their needs and develop solutions that are more effective and sustainable. This approach also helps nonprofits to be more responsive to changes in current events and adapt their programs accordingly. 

For instance, by sending out a series of surveys, a nonprofit focused on fighting food insecurity might discover that the public transportation system recently raised its prices, which makes it difficult for food-insecure individuals to travel to their food distribution center. As a result, the nonprofit creates a food delivery service to address the issue and meet beneficiaries where they are.

5 steps to implement human-centered design at your nonprofit

Now that you know the importance of human-centered design and the impact that it can have on your organization, you can begin adopting your own approach. Consider working with your team to:

  1. Empathize with your community. Identify the needs, behaviors, and perspectives of the community you serve. This can take place through phone calls, interviews, or surveys. 
  2. Involve the community in the design process. Engage directly with the community you serve throughout the design process by hosting workshops, gathering feedback, and soliciting advice. 
  3. Prototype and test. Create prototypes of your solutions and test them within the community. This will involve running pilots, conducting focus groups, making improvements, and addressing the issues that arise. 
  4. Implement your idea. Introduce the finalized program to the community. Pay attention to how beneficiaries react as the solution goes live. Continue to regularly review your solutions and make adjustments as necessary.
  5. Measure impact. Track the impact of your solution, making note of how it meets your community’s needs and addresses their challenges. Use this data to provide transparency to key stakeholders and inform future improvements to your solutions.

With these steps, you can create a more inclusive organization and generate more positive change within the community. However, keep in mind that this process will likely be a new and unfamiliar challenge for your organization. Ensure that it aligns with your budget before getting started and consider how your fundraising campaigns will help fund your newly designed programs. 

Getting started with human-centered design

Overall, human-centered design can help nonprofits maximize their impact and create real, meaningful change within their communities. To get started, meet with your beneficiaries and familiarize yourself with their needs. Doing so will help you optimize your operations and better serve your community.

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