HCD process to build a strategy to tackle operational efficiency at a nonprofit

Case study

The client is an American nonprofit.

They faced many challenges - bureaucratic processes, yet many structures were ad hoc, and being predominately full of volunteers around the world, management and compliance was cited as a challenge by senior leaders.

The brief provided was to explore:

  • Opportunities to uplift internal operation efficiency
  • Informational and decision making flow
  • Leveraging resources

This case study uses a Design Thinking approach to building a strategy around improving internal proceses at a nonprofit.


The project was run between December and February, meaning I had to work around being unable to access a number of team members during the Christmas and New Year break.



The project focused on the workflows of the leadership team, which comprised of two groups: the local representatives, and the global governance teams.


I followed a classic Double Diamond approach for this project. The team comprised of additional 6 team members (client) - 4 of them being leadership team members. This was done on purpose in order to allow for direct ownership and input by the leaders who would be implementing and in which support was needed from.


The discover phase was about trying to understand as much as possible - this meant interviewing stakeholders, exploring existing information, and researching competition.

The types of documentation we explored were anything related to process, organisational structure or governance.

We also interviewed some third party individuals from similar but external organisations - specifically those that were similar in reach (global nature via volunteers), structure (local vs global governance), and social impact related (for young people).

Internal interviews invitations were sent out to a broad range of leadership members, with the aim to cover as many different types of people as possible - duration of stay, team, position, geography, etc.

In total we ran 29 interviews:

  • 4 team members
  • 15 leadership team members
  • 2 external parties
  • 8 deep dive topic consultations

We found that team member’s ambition, clarity of role and motivations depended on the level of support they received.

There was a clear lack of resources and process documentation, leading to an ad hoc culture.


We started by creating personas of the 4 key roles in the organisation to represent the collated experience.

Employee journey maps were also created to identify areas for potential improvement.

Taking a look at these artefacts, we listed out all the pain points identified. Categorised them and articulated the impact.

We then grouped impact based off of pain points, and mapped them to stakeholders, culture, or governance.

Before moving into the solution space, we also did risk assessments of each group to understand the severity and impact of not addressing the pain points.


We then moved into the opportunity space, and we also moved all the pain points into Trello. I chose Google Sheets for listing and categorising the pain points as we wanted a collabortive space that was easy to edit. Now that we were in the Solution space, I wanted to a) ensure the problems identified would not be edited (this final state is also compounded by how Trello cards look more ‘polished’ than a Google Sheet cell) and b) I wanted us to focus more on the grouping and voting of the pain points, in which Trello provided that clean, but most importantly, focused experience.

It also helped since all the team members were based in different countries and timezones.

So to begin the solution ideation process, I paired the team members into groups of 2, based off of alignment of their departments. Each pair had to run their own calls and ideate solutions (as many as they wanted) for each pain point (in separate Trello boards) - so this meant we had 3 duplicated Trello boards.

The pairs used Trello to list potential solutions and discuss their ideas:

All solutions were then combined and I ran a group call between the 6 team members to vote on the pain points they saw as most urgent to solve.

The pain point/solution groups were then prioritised by urgency, into a list of 24 categories.

The last workshop stage was an in-person workshop with the Director of the nonprofit, and one of the leadership members. We looked at the solutions alone, and grouped them into themes to create 8 distinct initiatives. The last workshop was done specifically with the Director as they had explicitedly called out wanting to be involved in the solutioning process.


These initiatives were socialised with the team members one more time, before expanding on each initiative’s objectives, expected outcomes and approximate timeline to explore any dependencies the initiatives may have on each other and how they would fit into the timeline for a 2-year implementation roadmap.

A report was created to outline the potential implementation of the initiatives, and initiative owners identified.


The initiative provided the leadership team with a clear roadmap and number of initiatives to improve their internal operations.

For the local representatives, this also provided the opportunity to have challenges that were traditionally had no clear platform to voice, to be directly shape the internal operations strategy of the organisation.

It also provided an opportunity for the a number of the global governance team members to build relationships with the local representatives 1-1.

Since the review, 6 initiatives have started. 2 have already been completed.