work /
Go Go Give!
volunteering
work
No items found.

A way for nonprofit funds to generate free marketing with their hard-earned cash

context /

A proposal I created while participating in Effective Altruism activities

team /

Scott Liang

Bringing tech startup techniques to the nonprofit realm

I've long had a passion for philanthropic work. Not long ago, I became involved with Effective Altruism, a movement focused on understanding which charities actually have the best outcomes.

Just think about it: If the money you donated could save two lives instead of one, wouldn't you rather it save two? This seems commonsensical, but more often than not people are swayed by false metrics such as "look how little our CEO gets paid." If you haven't already, I highly recommend you check out Givewell.org. They're the best outcome evaluator in the biz and have a running list of the top charities to give to. Some might surprise you!

Effective Altruism organizations have made a lot of progress over the years but are still largely unknown among the general public. Having been immersed in the tech startup scene for some time, and exposed to many of their clever marketing techniques, I wondered if some could be bridged over to the nonprofit realm.

Maybe so! Below is a proposal to generate free marketing for effective charities by running funds through a novel referral marketing engine.

3. Client Portal

Understanding the needs and experiences of Vetty's customers was priority #1, so I made sure to keep a steady stream of qualitative research both pre- and post-launch.

The following is a journey map developed from a talk-aloud with an account manager (the user who spends the most time on the product):

Vetty's users didn't conduct background checks because they enjoyed it; they conducted them because they had to. The less time and energy they spent in Vetty, the better. Some particularly frustrating experiences they faced:

  • Dealing with the complex legal workflows that background checking required
  • Encountering stalled checks (which happens frequently, for a variety of reasons) and not knowing the cause
  • Having to prod candidates to start or complete their applications

These insights led to the following product principles:

  • High simplicity. Reduce complex workflows to approachable steps, hide unnecessary elements when they're not needed, and use intuitive patterns and language.
  • High transparency. Provide granular updates on each step of the process to avoid confusion.
  • Operational efficiency. Automate repetitive tasks, such as sending reminders, wherever possible.

3.1. Packages

The client portal is organized around "packages," a top-level configuration of checks that one can "set and forget." This way, admins configure the packages once during on-boarding, and then account managers simply select the appropriate package for a given worker (no need to think about it).

This is the account manager's most simple workflow:

3.2. The Dashboard

The dashboard is home base for account managers. Statuses are styled to be the loudest elements on the page, as they are meant to inform users which tasks to perform next. They can also be filtered through a set of dedicated controls.

Hitting "New Candidate" (the "+" button) brings up this modal:

3.3. Candidate Details

Most of the account manager's tasks are performed here.

A few callouts:

  • The action box is where easy, contextually-relevant workflows appear when they're needed (e.g. when a manual reminder should be sent or when a hiring decision should be made)—and disappear when they're not.
  • The timeline provides highly granular updates on the status of the check (clients loved this). Notice that Vetty automates bothersome tasks such as reminding candidates to start their applications.
  • Rather than serve reports as a series of (quickly outdated) PDFs, the Verified Profile consolidates all results into a single, most up-to-date UI. If additional checks are conducted on the same candidate, the profile simply updates.

Examples of statuses, action boxes, and modals:

Action boxes and modals allowed us to condense complex workflows into very simple "wizards" for users to follow. In the above pre-adverse action workflow, regional legal requirements are handled and email values are automatically generated.

3.4. The Unique Link

The unique link feature was one of our most well-received iterations. In the account manager's original workflow, he was tasked with both a) keeping track of each candidate and b) manually entering their preliminary information. Over time, this proved to be unwieldy due to the volume of gig workers they handled.

Fortunately, we found that most workers had a supervisor (or "candidate representative"); e.g. the owner of a small painting company who hired painters off the street. Such reps could easily keep track of their workers and were happy to distribute links to them.

This allowed us to created a unique link feature, which offloaded some of the account manager's work onto the reps and candidates.

Creating a new unique link:

Clicking on the link brings candidates to this special welcome page:

Once their applications have been completed, candidates appear in the dashboard for approval:

Here, the candidate's details are set up and the checks are waiting for approval:

As a bonus, the unique link can also be used in kiosks or custom landing pages to expedite the hiring process.

Overall, the new client portal led to numerous desired outcomes:

  • Retention of key existing customers
  • Acquisition of new customers through sales demos
  • A ~10x increase in MRR in the months since launch

5. Researcher Portal

Lastly, the third leg of the stool: the product that researchers (Vetty employees) use to actually conduct the background checks.

Product principles:

  • Speed. Make tasks easily identifiable.
  • Efficiency. Focus on minimizing redundancy; at high volumes, every redundant action is magnified (even eye movement should be considered).
  • Memory management. The UI should work to minimize information that the user has to hold in memory.
  • Power users. Due to training, higher complexity in exchange for higher power is OK.

This is a basic researcher workflow. Note that it is divided into 3 stages:

Generally, teams of researchers are assigned to different accounts, with each member taking on a specific phase. Due to Vetty's limited resources, individual researchers take on their own accounts and conduct all 3 phases.

5.1. Researcher Dashboard

The main focus of the researcher dashboard is the "Adjudication Needed" column, which uses a simple "yes" or "no" to indicate when there is a pending task. Hovering over the cell in the column brings up more detailed information.

Because researchers are trained users, the dashboard can adopt more complexity for more power. Below, custom components that allow each column to be independently searchable:

5.2. Candidate Details

Much like the client portal (for account managers), the candidate details are where most of the tasks are done:

Key items:

  • The reference panel can be brought up at any time for glanceable information (for example, the researcher may need to compare SSN trace results with national criminal results). The panel eliminates the need to scroll back and forth. Furthermore, it includes a notes section for each candidate, eliminating the "mountain of sticky notes" that researchers previously had to deal with.
  • All top-level information is easily glanceable in the left navigation panel.

The researcher portal is now undergoing a major redesign to accommodate larger teams. Stay tuned!

Conclusion

Whew, that's it! A complete Consumer Reporting Agency platform from scratch. As of this writing, Vetty has experienced a 10x increase in MRR and is now undergoing a serious M&A bid. If you have any questions, or would like to work together, please don't hesitate to reach out at hello@scottliang.com.