Improve your fall event through better design: Part 1

Matt Radel

Matt Radel

Design Director

The Design Sprint, a process pioneered by Google Ventures, was created to quickly test the viability of ideas. At DonorDrive, we use Design Sprints to build new features, determine marketing strategy, discover better processes, and more. They’ve been a huge success for us, and we’ve been sharing this fast prototyping process with our nonprofit clients as a way to create new events and improving existing ones. This article will show you how to put this time-saving process to work now.

I took Design Sprints to the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Conference 2018 in Miami and presented it as part of our Create an Amazing Fundraising Experience presentation. In our hands-on workshop, I sat down with some of North America’s largest nonprofits and showed them practical uses and best practices in their peer-to-peer fundraising that they can put to good use right now for their fall events.

The recipe for success

My favorite analogy for a five-day Design Sprint is a recipe for problem solving. Before you begin, define the problem you're looking to solve. A broad problem will probably not be successful as a Design Sprint, so narrow it down and focus only on one piece of the problem. Retention strategy may be too broad, but looking at communications as part of that strategy may work well in a Design Sprint. Another may be the experience of a returning participant. Prototyping the series of emails they get would be a practical use of a Design Sprint.

Here’s how you start: First you gather your team of five to seven people. Then, you’re going to block off a room and block off everyone’s calendars for the week—which I assure you is the hardest part of the process. The sprint starts at 10AM each day and you’re done at 5PM, so there’s still time to check email before and after. Here’s how the week goes:

You’re going to do research as a team. Talk to on-staff experts, set goals, and create a map. On the left side of the map you’ll have key players, fundraisers, donors, anyone involved with your idea. On the right you’ll have your goals. Then you connect the dots, the steps that happen in between. Then, once you map all that out, you’ll pick a point to focus on for the rest of your sprint.

You sketch. Don’t worry: you don’t have to be a designer to participate. Everything you need for this you learned in kindergarten. Draw boxes, stick figures and words. Stick figures and words on sticky notes, it’s not anything that’s difficult. What you create are potential solutions.

You decide. You put up sketches, promising solutions, and talk about roles on the team. By the end of the day, you’ll pick a direction to build a prototype.

You build the prototype as a team. Everyone will break down into different roles to execute that prototype. If it’s a new digital presence or a new event, you could build the registration booth at your event. With DonorDrive, our clients can easily prototype the whole online experience of their event in our software.

You test as a team. You don’t need a lot of people for testing. Find three to five people in your target audience. Studies show it’s diminishing returns after that.

Once the week’s done, you’ll have a proven prototype you can then take to your stakeholders and say: “This idea works.” Or maybe it doesn’t. But the point is that you can make these decisions very quickly, test them, get actionable data, and push decisions through a lot faster.

This is a quick outline. It’s useful to read Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. It’s the instruction manual for this process. You can get it from Amazon, or if you sign up for a new Audible account, the audio book is free

It’s a week that’ll save you weeks

Five days for five people may seem a lot of hours to spend on creating a new event or improving an existing one that needs help. But typically a lot people spend a lot more hours when you drag out a process like this over a much longer period of time. Design Sprints were formulated to circumvent the long, painful process of change. The process of getting through red tape, getting stakeholders on board and getting feedback for the possibility that something is going to work can make solving a problem seem near impossible. A design sprint is about spending a small amount of focused time to quickly determine the success or failure or your big idea.

A design sprint is about spending a small amount of focused time to quickly determine the success or failure or your big idea.  It’s a quick, concentrated burst to test the viability of an idea.

In Part two of this article, I give some real-world examples from our workshop with suggestions of how you can use Design Sprints for their real-world events.

Watch my presentation:

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