Axure, InVision, Sketch
1/6 The brief
Who is HowDoWe?
HowDoWe is a small startup in Chicago run by four friends. Their product, HowtoFund, as — per their website, is ‘a SaaS product designed to help K-12 school districts raise money for individual fundraisers, while still keeping the look and feel of their existing website.’ When we met with co-founders Mike Anderson and Brian Letzter, they were already pitching their product to Illinois school districts — with a prototype reminiscent of popular crowdfunding platforms — e.g., DonorsChoose and GoFundMe.
What they wanted from us
Mike and Brian acknowledged that the crowdfunding space was oversaturated and wanted us to help differentiate them from the competition. They asked us to help increase HowToFund’s value proposition to school districts by implementing features that would meet the unique needs of the K-12 market.
2/6 Exploring our options
We left our initial meeting with Mike and Brian with a number of assumptions regarding the activities involved in K-12 fundraising. We used the following methods to test our assumptions and aid in this phase of discovery:
Speaking with the experts
Understand the pain points of fundraising.
Determine the need for fundraising.
Understand parent and teacher perspectives on fundraising.
Understand the K-12 educational landscape.
Who we spoke to
What we heard from teachers
Teachers need support but struggle with communicating their needs.
“I hesitate to ask for monetary donations and end up spending out of my own pocket” - Andrea E.
Teachers need more than monetary assistance.
The teachers we interviewed valued not just monetary donations, but volunteers and material donations as well.
Teachers are busy and wear many hats.
Along with teaching their class, teachers have other duties (e.g., after school activities and fundraising events) that increase their weekly hours.
District and school policies are unclear to new teachers.
“I didn’t know this before but the school prefers us not to use DonorsChoose because if you move schools, it’s up to the principal’s discretion to let you keep the materials or not” - Nancy H.
At this point, it was apparent that teachers’ inability to get financial or material support in their classrooms was an issue. This prompted us to focus our next interviews on understanding the reason for such lack of support.
What we heard about donors
School fundraisers need fresh ideas to retain interest.
“We were inspired by the elementary school that organized a dog walk and saw $90K raised in 2 weeks” - Heather L.
Parents want to see their impact in the classroom.
“Donors like to see exactly what it is that they are paying for...The more we can tie a dollar amount to a specific need, the more appeal the event has.” - Kaitlin T.
What we heard about the educational system
Different schools and districts run fundraisers differently.
The influence of Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTOs) and school administrations vary. In some schools or districts, PTOs have full autonomy and can choose to fundraise for any cause they wish — even if it’s not the most beneficial to the school.
Teacher’s voices get lost in a sea of competing priorities.
Within the school hierarchy, teachers are towards the bottom, near the support staff — e.g., janitors, cafeteria workers, etc. Their needs aren’t directly addressed as a result of school administration and PTOs attempting to help their schools in a broader sense.
From our talks with education and fundraising professionals, we learned that teachers were in need of the most help. Unfortunately, teachers lack support and spend money and time to supplement their classroom needs. This prompted us to dive into more research to verify what we had heard.
Understand the out of pocket expenses of teachers.
Understand how other fundraising platforms have tackled the K-12 market.
With the research to support what we had heard during our interviews, we looked to understand how other platforms addressed the issues of the K-12 market.
School to parent interaction:
Content management systems; inform and organize students and parents.
Teacher to parent interaction:
Direct communication with parents.
Teacher to public interaction:
Money fundraised by community involvement.
While the market is saturated, we found no platform that both help fundraising efforts and facilitate teacher and parent communication.
School administrations and PTOs are unable to provide for individual classrooms due to their responsibility to other school issues and priorities. Though parents are supportive, teachers hesitate to solicit resources for fear of burdening donors and breaking school policy. As a result, teachers are overburdened, underfunded, and generally sidelined.
We found the best way to differentiate HowToFund from other platforms was to focus on teachers. Not only were they in need of support, but their connection with the students provided them with the opportunity to retain parent interest in fundraising efforts that directly affected their children.
3/6 Focusing our efforts
Next, we focused our efforts on ensuring our solution would provide the teachers with the tools needed to help them become self-sufficient fundraisers — which would make the platform attractive to school districts.
Hesitant teachers need a direct communication channel to confidently request resources (funds, materials and volunteers) from the parent community in order to equip themselves and their students with the tools necessary for success.
4/6 Testing what ideas stick
We wanted to enable teachers to take control of their classroom and decided to make a platform for teachers to communicate the material, financial, and volunteer needs of their classroom. I explored how other platforms (as highlighted below) approached communication through project creation.
After exploring other platforms, we sketched 2 divergent concepts. We tested the desirability of our ideas on our primary target audience — teachers.
This concept provides teachers with a dashboard that is both familiar and robust in features. Templates are used to help guide teachers during the project creation process.
This concept provides teachers with a step-by-step project creation process. It explores conversational questions to simplify the process and uses a list based dashboard to fit the mental model of how teachers organize information in their classroom.
What concepts worked
What concepts didn't work
Concept testing taught us our solution should prioritize fitting into teachers’ lives — considering how teachers actually ran their classroom was important. We had spoken to both elementary and high school teachers and learned the teaching experience was different after the 6th grade. We choose to target K-6 grade teachers, as our research showed parents are more likely to be invested in their children at an early age.
5/6 Our solution
Our team designed a platform that lets teachers take control of their classroom by providing them with the tools to confidently communicate their needs to the parents of their students.
6/6 Future recommendations
Along with our deliverables (sitemap, annotated wireframes, style guide), we provided the team at HowDoWe with some recommendations to help them in the future.
From our testings, many teachers suggested a way to integrate their curriculum into resource gathering. Teachers want an easy way to display how a campaign would benefit their educational plans for the upcoming academic year.
While interviewing and testing, teachers suggested this platform should attempt to support the Common Core State Standards. We believe this feature would help teachers convey the importance of their campaigns and generally feel less hesitant about asking for resources.
Better understand high school needs
High school teachers have completely different needs and problems than elementary school classrooms. They teach multiple grades and often head various school clubs and groups. Further research would need to be done to revisit the viability of an integrated or different platform for high school needs.
Better understand parents
Our goal is to help connect teachers with parents. Due to time constraints, our research has been focused towards the teacher’s perspective. In order to help facilitate a strong relationship between parents and teachers, more interviews need to be conducted with parents. It would be beneficial to understand what information motivates parents to be more involved and engaged with the classroom. By doing this, features for the public page (parent portal) can be designed with their input in mind.
Working on this project was a great growing experience. I walked away with a better understanding of my own process and the value I brought to a client. I also learned to recognize the client’s understanding of the UX process and spoke to them through a language they were accustomed to.
During this project, I understood that research methods were tools in a toolbox, and I had to use the proper methods that lent themselves to the assignment. Due to our limited time on the assignment we couldn't waste time. All of our research was objective oriented and done with a clear focus.
Overall, the project was successful in providing Mike and Brian with wireframes, a prototype, and future recommendations as sources of inspiration. They loved the outcome and believed it would assist in their efforts to sell HowToFund to school districts. Success!