a primer on design thinking with Betty Xie



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Have you ever heard the term design thinking thrown around whether in our sector or in the business world and you've thought, what are they talking about? What is that such a buzzword? But there's actually a lot of really cool stuff happening around design thinking and the approach that it has to problem-solving, which is exactly what today's podcast is about, how we can apply design thinking to our fundraising and our work.


Our guest for today’s episode is our colleague at The Good Partnership, Betty Xie, a fundraiser, filmmaker, and Coach for creatives. She studied Strategic Foresight, Innovation and Design at OCAD and brought that to our work.


Myths that Betty wants us to walk away from:

  • Design Thinking can't be applied in fundraising. At the core of design thinking is a process of problem-solving that is focused on a human-centric, problem-solving process. In the fundraising space, empathizing with the user is the key. This means understanding your donors and funders’ needs, reaching out to them, and getting feedback.

  • You need to have a perfect pitch deck to raise more money. Following the process of design thinking, at the most minimum prototype, it’s just like passing an idea or some kind of model that doesn’t go for the most perfect state and move forward with it. It's another mindset block that we encounter with charities. We always spend too much time on creating the perfect pitch or appeal but in actuality, the one thing that we worked for hours on might not make such a difference. Second, once you put so much effort into it, if it doesn't work, it discourages the spirit to try again.

The Stages of Design Thinking Process

  • Empathize with the user - In the nonprofit’s case, this could be our beneficiaries, the people that we serve, or our donors.

  • Framing the problem- Defining what exactly is the problem that we try to solve. 70% of the time, once you are able to articulate your problem, you get to the solution much faster and in a much holistic solution.

  • Ideate and design a solution - Once you have an idea of a solution, instead of going with the perfect solution, you will come up with a prototype and a prototype doesn't need to be physical. In a context of an organization, the prototype can be an idea that you're testing or a server or program.

  • Testing and Iterating - Testing the prototype to see what works, what doesn't work, and then bring it back, have an honest conversation of other feedback, and try again and again.


Favorite Quotes from Today’s episode


Empathize with the user is key. And in the fundraising space, that means really understanding your donors and funders’ need. I just think that it's very common to not spend enough time staying in that space and trying to reach out and getting feedback.


Here again is another kind of mindset block that sometimes we see with small charities or charities in general. And I completely understand is like, let me have like the perfect pitch or like the perfect appeal and that my team like kind of work on there for hours before we roll out. And in actuality, like one that the stuff that we worked for hours might not make such a difference. Second, once you put so much effort on it, if it doesn't work, I think that it also, in some ways discourages the spirit to try again. So that's sort of the mindset, I would say, behind fundraising in relation to prototyping.


Resources from this Episode


Betty Xie LinkedIn

Lead to Create

The Good Partnership


Transcript:

Cindy W.: Have you ever heard the term design thinking thrown around whether in our sector or in the business world and you've thought what are they talking about? What is that such a buzzword? But there's actually a lot of really cool stuff happening around design thinking. And more specifically around the approach that it has to problem-solving, which is exactly what today's podcast is about, how we can apply design thinking to our fundraising and our work. And I'm so excited because this is the first time we have my colleague Betty on the podcast. So Betty has been a part of The Good Partnership for a while now. She's incredible and brilliant. And I'm so excited for you to learn from her.


I'm Cindy Wagman, host of the small non-profit podcast, where we bring you practical and down-to-earth advice on how you can get more done for your small nonprofit. You are going to change the world and we are here to help.


Betty, is a very multitalented, multi-passionate human being. She is as I said, she's a fundraiser as part of our team, she's a filmmaker. She is an artist as well as a coach for creatives and she studied strategic foresight, innovation, and design at OCAD and has brought that to our work. And again, I'm so excited to share it with you. So please join me in welcoming Betty to the podcast. Betty, welcome to the podcast.


Betty X. : Thanks for having me, Cindy.


Cindy W.: I'm so excited to have this conversation because we talk all the time, but never in this context and never at this high level where we can really leverage and bring your experience and training to our listeners. So let's dive in. Sound good?


Betty X. : Yeah, I'm excited to be on the podcast too, because obviously, I listened to it every single episode.


Cindy W.: So yeah, like I feel like we should give everyone a little background. I, you, and I met years ago You were a fellow with the AFP fellowship. And I was asked to be your mentor. I was recruited specifically for you. I was doing work with hot docs at the time you were with a relation film festival. And we just hit it off right from the beginning. But since then, so you, you have that fundraising background the sector and then you went and you did a degree. Tell us a little bit about what you studied.


Betty X. : Yeah, thanks Cindy. So I have a background in film studies and then after graduation, I mostly work in film festivals. I will say that I was an accidental fundraiser and I really learned from anything on the job and also through mentorship support like those that you give for me through the fellowship.

And then I sorta hit a point in what can our sector and as a fundraiser, and really wanting to understand how to apply prop problem-solving processes through complex problems and organizations. And then I found this amazing program at OCAD University called the master is Strategic Foresight and Innovation and really what the program does is it teaches people, professionals usually from different backgrounds design thinking, strategic foresight, and other kinds of innovative problem-solving processes.


Cindy W.: I think we can all agree that there are many complex problems needed to be solved both within our sector and how we work, but obviously the problems we are trying to solve as a sector. But I feel like design thinking is one of those terms it's thrown around, and it's become buzzy and not really like with so much of a clear understanding. So can we break that down a little bit? What does design thinking actually mean? Let's start there. What is design thinking?


Betty X. : Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think that it has become quite a buzzword. And even when I started studying, I was like, Ooh, it's design thinking. But really at the core of it is a process of problem-solving that focused on human-centric, problem-solving process. And it comes from as the term refers to it comes from boring, how designers use in designing products or services and now it has spread to business and innovation space. Using the same kind of process to solve complex problems in organizations of really with any kind of problems. Yeah.


Cindy W.: So there is a process and it's very defined one. Because most of us who are not designers don't really know what that process is. So let's, can you walk us through what that process looks like? At a high level?


Betty X. : Yeah, for sure. Different people will use different terms or say that there are five or six stages, but really they all get to a similar process. So the first process in the design thinking is always empathizing with the user in a non-profit's case that can be our beneficiary or people that we serve or the donors.


And then the second process, which, the second stage in the process, I think that often is I would say the most important stage is framing the problem, really defining what exactly is the problem that we try to solve. I say that is the most important because oftentimes when we deal with a complex problem, our brain gets us to like a solution mode or wanting to have a solution right away.


Cindy W.: I'm so guilty of that.


Betty X. : It's a human, I think it's human that our brain propels us to try to get out from a problem. But one thing that going for that program, I think it was a huge mindset shift is that 60, 70% of the time, once you are able to articulate your problem you get to the solution much faster and if a much holistic solution.


After that there is the ideate and design a solution. I think the later part of the design thinking process articulate the spirit of testing. The whole idea is once you have an idea of a solution, instead of going with the perfect solution, we will come up with a prototype and a prototype doesn't need to be a physical one, in the context of an organization, a prototype can be an idea that you're testing or servers or program. And the last stage really is testing and iterating. So really roll it out and see what works, what doesn't work, and then bring it back, have an honest conversation of other feedback and try again.


Cindy W.: Yeah. Awesome. And I have to say I. Probably not the best at practicing this, but it really, the process really resonates with me. And I hope with our listeners as well, in terms of, so often I would say I'm guilty of either rushing to the solution or trying to get things perfect out of the gate.

And I think this process, if we follow it can, as you said, can help us have better outcomes and probably even faster if we spend a little bit more, more time upfront. I think we're gonna, we're going to talk about, and we're gonna go through some examples because you've been using this in our fundraising work with our clients.


And there's so much richness to the outcomes that have come from it. So let's dive into that. Do you want to share some examples of how we've or how you've been able to apply design thinking to fundraising? to fundraising problems?


Betty X. : The, in fundraising, I will say that before, after the degree, I haven't had this design thinking. Lance has been really helpful. I also think that Cindy, you've been humble in saying that you do not use design thinking where much, one thing that strikes me, I was like, what you teach or what you use in fundraising, is that there is a lot of design thinking involved. The first thing I would say as an example is that empathizing with the user is key. And in the fundraising space, that means really understanding your donors and funder's need. I just think that we it's very common to not spend enough time staying in that space and trying to reach out and get feedback.


Cindy W.: No, every day, like I'm laughing because I repeat myself over and over again with this, not to our team because they're amazing at it. But when I'm teaching, it's just talking, get to know your donors., get to know your donors. Be curious, connect with them, and curiosity, I think is probably a pretty close synonym to empathy or not synonym but you know, it's the same approach or the same mindset. Yeah. Do you want to give us an example of how we've used that with how that empathy and spending time to get to know donors and what that's done for our clients?


Betty X. : Yeah, for sure. A so for the listeners of this podcast, one thing that we do with all of our clients is that we always reach out to existing funders and donors for donor call. Really it's, this is not to ask call, this is just really understanding things from their perspective. What's working and what's not working.


And I think people usually there is a little bit of assistance for what are we reaching out to donors, but 99% of the time, like people, actually love being asked for feedback and. Yeah, I could see this being really beneficial is in our work is with corporate sponsorship. We've worked with a film festival that one of our clients that they have a lot of partners and sponsors at their organizations.


And I think when we started working with them one of the questions that the team had was like, there were several major partners at a time that had decreased support or like pass support for year two. And there was a lot of hesitation reaching out, and a lot of self-doubt about why they decreased support. There was a lot of my drama. And obviously, we are following the process of our process at the governorship or design thinking process, as we would like to frame it today, the first move is let's reach out. We call us and just ask for a very harmless call of let's chat and what we find out it's actually where we, in that case in a very particular case, most of the partners that decrease their support, one, had nothing to do with the charity's performance in that events, there was actual external reasons, the second is that there are lot of things that they value about the organization, and there was no doubt about whether they if they can, they want to come back. And the first thing is everybody like a slightly different piece about the festival. So really co-creating opportunities with them that fits their needs became the meeting strategy in the next stage.


Cindy W.: Yeah. And we saw that. I in typical me fashion, I'm like, let's jump to the prototyping, but I want to spend some time talk cause, cause we did that, and you mentioned co-creation and I think what we did really worked.


But before we get there, I definitely want to talk about defining the problem because I actually think that's one of the hardest. Things to do. So let's talk about some ways either with this particular client or with others where we actually, the problem was different than what you hinted at, in this case, why they stopped giving was not at all what we expected.


But let's talk a little bit about that because defining the problem, as you said, I think is, otherwise we're spending time doing something that's not going to be that helpful. So how has that shown up in fundraising?


Betty X. : So I think that again, corporate sponsorship is a really great example of this in defining the problem because there's often when facing the first corporate partner, there's often a lot of push and pull there is that we don't know what we want to offer.


Then once it's accepted an offer, there's a hesitancy of, are we giving too much? And then I'm off, then another push and pull, that I see is let's standardize all of our packages. But really in practice, and you and I have known this really acutely almost 90% of the time standardizing is just for the peace of mind for ourselves internally. Once it gets to like the external partner date, they would like to see a deck, but that's not a signal to reach that they need everything to be standardized. If I was in a friendly kind of date they care less, about standardization.


Cindy W.: I think that is such a great framing because I think so often I hear from organizations. You hear this too. We just need the deck. We need to nail the deck. How do we like to standardize this? And make it, equitable is one thing, but make it a strong pitch and that's abs and that's how we, what we think the problem is. We think that our problem is we don't have a strong enough pitch. But in actuality, the problem is we haven't done the listening. We haven't connected with the sponsors or donors to understand what they're trying to solve.


Betty X. : Yeah, yeah for sure, and I can give a more specific example. We have another kind right now that has an annual conference and they are an educational charity. And, in the COVID time, they pivoted their conference to be virtual. And of course with that, there were some, I would say discomfort for some partners of adjusting to that or not using, not used to something physical, being virtual. And in having this like sponsor call a feedback call, we realize that everybody's probably, everybody's feedback is actually slightly different.


Like we fought that going into the call, one of the hypotheses was that maybe we just move away having done supporting just the conference and ask them to support the organization. But what I heard and some of the calls is that for some organizations or some partners, it's very important that they attach their dollar to an event and they really love the content of that event.


And then for some partners, you're actually able to open up the conversation and they say, yes, actually my daughter watched, w like rather than spend on the program. So that's another good example of were listening and then framing the problem is key rather than jumping to a solution.


Cindy W.: So good. All right. So we've empathized, we've connected. We've, we're listening, we're redefining the problem. And in some ways, the opportunity, in fundraising then, we want to ideate and test and prototype. What does that look like? I think like most people, I would be like, oh yeah, there's like a prototype app or prototype thing that I can touch. What does that look like in fundraising?


Betty X. : Yeah. If I can take out all the buzzwords from design thinking, I will.


Cindy W.: That's true of fundraising to my friend buzzwords don't benefit anyone, but anyways.


Betty X. : Yeah, but like at the most minimum prototype, it just passes an idea or have some kind of model that doesn't go for the most perfect state and embroiled all and pass it. That's my best attempt to define it. And I think that here again is another kind of mindset block that sometimes we see with small charities or charities in general, and I completely understand is let me have the perfect pitch or like the perfect appeal and that my team like kind of work on there for hours before we roll it out, and in, in actuality, like one that the stuff that we worked for hours might not make such a difference. Second, once you put so much effort into it, if it doesn't work, I think that it also, in some ways discourages the spirit to try again. So that's the mindset, I would say, behind fundraising in relation to prototyping.


Cindy W.: Yeah. And I think that I mean there are so many examples. The sponsorship one, again, it's such a clear one where we're like, okay, so we had this conversation now let's put together a deck or presentation and it's been all this time and I've worked with organizations. We all have where it's like goes through five rounds of edits.


And it's I sent an email out this morning and two people replied with typos on our website. I was like, okay, I'll go and fix those. But it went out and it was imperfect. But I think we, we really have this mindset of we have to present, like we are, untouchable, we don't want to give anyone an excuse to say no.


But that's not what they're looking for. And that's not why they're going to say yes or no. Let's go a little bit more specific. How would you, and we'll keep on the sponsorship conversation because obviously, we've, we started there. What would that look like in terms of that sponsor relationship? Where we get, we move forward with something that's not necessarily like fully baked or that has room for feedback or iteration. What does that look like?


Betty X. : I think that for a lot organizations last year was a good example of this, right before the events, a lot organizations pivoted digitally and is forced their hand to put the pipe basically. And in our conversations for our clients, with corporate partners, every conversation, once you put the idea out there started something in this phrasing. We are going to test this for the first time in our digital setting. We think that this has this merit, but we also be mindful that this might not work in this aspect.


Are you okay with going into this with us. Even, I feel like positioning like this, sometimes there's a little bit of fear of being expressive. We are just going to, it has this but into some way, interestingly enough, I think COVID gave us force our hand once again, but I think it's always okay to say it to a partner in most cases, but most cases it's okay to say it to a partner that we are very excited about this idea, oh, this new activation that we are creating in this event or the program, we want to test it out for this year, and then we'll regroup. And how did we deal? What work or what doesn't work?


Cindy W.: Which leads us to iteration and which is in some ways that reflection and reflective process. Again, I'd love to hear an example of how that worked, let's say after the festival, we were talking about where we did try some things with sponsors for the first time. Again, I feel like, we just, there's low tolerance for feeling vulnerable around our supporters. And so we don't like to have those conversations, like what went well, what didn't go what can we, how can we do better? But you did that. So tell me how that went and what you heard and how it has affected what we've done differently or how we've moved forward.


Betty X. : I will if it's like, like I give two examples, very specific in that context of testing and iterating, one thing that we did with a couple of sponsors last year that they for the film festival, because this batch of sponsors, they were all kind of film industry-related sponsor. One thing that we tested was like doing virtual one-on-one call, connecting them with filmmakers, their attending, which we follow is a great idea. And they turn out great. So this is an example where testing it, like in a way we like, like we fake it very quickly for lack of better word.


And people knew that fully expected that this, the first time that we did it there was a couple of hiccups about like actually pre-screening the people who get introduced to, to the sponsors, but by and large in the feedback session, when the sponsor gave us that feedback, it wasn't from the intent of we didn't like this idea. They loved the idea. They just knew, because we've managed the expectation from the I'll find that this won't be perfect. They knew that it was not going to be perfect, so most of the calls they had were great. And then one or two didn't feel like a fit. And then they voiced that feedback to us. And this year we have put in a pre-screening process. So it's in some ways, as simple as that. Before we go into, yeah,


Cindy W.: No, I think that's important because it goes back to the empathy piece we talked about at the beginning as well, which is, it's not it's a done deal, right? There's always room for improvement and building the structure or following the structure to have those conversations is so valuable because we, it forces us in some ways to go there where I think, I've seen run a lot of fundraising events over my career, have lots of you know, donor interactions and proposals and sponsorships. And so often once we like get that money and we're like, okay, onto the next thing or like you just steward them and say, thank you. And then just go back again for the year after.


But reflecting on like how, what went well and what didn't I think is something we all have capacity to do a little bit better and really build, bake into our process. So like I've said bake a lot on the side.


Betty X. : Yeah. I think it's really valuable. I do notice that sometimes we get into a, it's interesting once the money in their hand, there's a little bit of, can this just not kneel on the same thing. And if you go through the empathy, empathy with like the funders, this is where you really ask the landscape changes year after year. Why should it be like why should they just,


Cindy W.: Yeah, yeah. And it's scary. Cause we don't wanna, we don't want to open up that can of worms with are they gonna dump on us and tell us all the bad things and that's super uncomfortable. But it's way better than the no, because if we don't have those conversations, we are opening ourselves up to going with the wrong ask the next year. So yeah, I think it's so valuable. I love this conversation.


Any other thoughts or ways that we can incorporate this in our day to day? So that again I think ultimately the results of this incorporating design should be better outcomes, right? Either raising more money or more meaningful partnerships, if we do this kind of work with our programming, better outcomes for the people we serve. Yeah. What kind of final thoughts do you have for our listeners?


Betty X. : Yeah, I guess because we focus so much on corporate sponsorship, I just wanted to mention the same kind of like process of mindset can be applied to different aspects of the organizations at large, which is I think yeah, that's usually like an organization design or program design thinking is very helpful, but also different aspects of fundraising.


I think that for individual giving the same process can be thought of what this apply. I know that I am here to square. I floated words back to Cindy a little bit know, you kind of encouraged a lot of kinds and our team this holiday season, and we are doing AB testing with all of our holiday appeals, basically sending different versions offer, of a holiday, to people out there right there and then and it's an excellent example of test prototyping and testing. And so many creative things can be done on different aspects of fundraising.


Cindy W.: Yeah, totally. We did that with a client. Were they, the client was like, I really want the email to be short and visual and like maybe just like one line in a video and was like, no, no everything like that I've always learned in fundraising. Obviously, email's always a little different, but we want it to be narrative and longer and all that. And so we're like, okay, let's test. And then the funny thing is like both performed really well. And our learning from that was we need it to be varied. We need to reach, an odd, like different people, have different ways of consuming content and we need to reach all of them.

So for this person, it might belong and we don't know which is which, so let's send a variety so long content, short video content, keep it all a part of a series that engages people in various ways to meet them where they are.


Yeah, we love testing. And, there's so much that we're still learning. So Betty, where can our, our listeners, aside from at The Good Partnership, where can our listeners connect with you? And you have some like really cool side hustle. I don't even want to call them a side hustle. I would say, you're like, what do they call it? A multi-passionate person. And you do a lot of different, cool things. So where can they connect and learn about all those amazing things that you're doing?


Betty X. : Thank you Cindy. So I, the best way to connect with me aside from The Good Partnership is on banking to search my name Betty Xie pronounce she and XIE and you will find me on Linkedin.

And also as I mentioned, I have a background in film, and right now I'm also outside of fundraising, coaching creative. So for my coaching, you can find me at on Instagram lead.to.create you put that in the show notes


Cindy W.: Yeah we put all the show notes. Betty, it's about time we've had you on the podcast. I'm so happy we had this conversation also for anyone who Betty often we'll do our show notes or a draft to the emails that you receive from us. So you already know her without knowing her. So it's really nice to be able to share her wisdom directly with all of you are our audience.


So thanks Betty. I really appreciate it.


Betty X. : Thank you so much. This was so fun.


Cindy W.: Yeah. And of course to you, our listeners, thank you for the amazing things you do in our sector and for the world. And we'll see you next week.


Folks, that's it for today's episode of The Small Nonprofit, I'm your host, Cindy Wagman. And this show is brought to you by The Good Partnership. As a reminder, if you want more resources around raising more money for your small nonprofit, visit thegoodpartnership.com and download our free fundraising strategy guide. I'll see you next week.

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