Philanthropists who want to donate significant amounts of money face a complex process to do so—it’s never as simple as just cutting a check.
With over 1.7 million registered 501(c)(3) organizations in the U.S. alone, it can be overwhelming to find a starting point. Finding a meaningful fit, ensuring the organization is able and ready to receive the gift, and navigating the tax implications and planning is a time consuming challenge. And, as Magda Swanson says: “[Donors] want to know their dollars are really making a difference, and that the impact is being felt by those who need it.”
As a research project strategist at Vanguard Charitable, Magda sees their many donor clients as individual strategies. As part of the research and strategy group (RSG), she works to understand and connect with donors, finding new ways to empower them with data and insights to inform their support of their local communities. Ongoing research and feedback projects keep Magda and her colleagues in close contact with the donors, helping Vanguard Charitable curate ways for each donor to give. The pandemic raised new issues in ensuring that donor dollars were better aligned with the actual needs on the ground in individual communities facing unique challenges in responding to the pandemic.
Meeting the needs of hyperlocal communities
In March 2020, the RSG team was considering how to best serve their donors in a troubling time. “In the early days of the pandemic, we were all waking up to the realization that life was going to change dramatically for everyone, and for a very long time,” she says. Already users of SurveyMonkey, the RSG sent out a survey to ask donors what they could do to help them. The overwhelming response was that these charitably-minded folks wanted to get hyperlocal with their giving, and as soon as possible.
Magda says that many donors were unsure how to find and support local nonprofits, which often have the power to make an immediate and localized impact, but don’t necessarily have the resources to make themselves known to the broader public. Additionally, donors wanted to support hard-hit areas of the country, even if they lived elsewhere.
The Vanguard Charitable team wanted to create an online resource that could answer these questions for donors. However, the solution would likely have to involve complex mapping software and technical background to be done right—calling for a significant upfront investment.
Getting buy in from the Vanguard Charitable leadership team on the project—and sign off for a sizable budget—would require proof of concept; a tall order in a chaotic spring 2020. Magda found the market research solution the team needed in Product Concept Testing, one of SurveyMonkey’s seven expert solutions for creative and concept testing.
Road-testing the Nonprofit Aid Visualizer (NAVi)
Magda and the RSG team quickly began crafting a concept platform. They wanted to ensure it offered detailed local information as well as specific information about pandemic response organizations and incidence rates by area. The team worked with a mapping technology specialist to scope a solution.
“At this stage, we knew we needed to road test the concept in more detail in order to move forward with the initial investment,” Magda says. Using SurveyMonkey Product Concept Analysis, the team set some benchmarks based on the financial services industry and launched testing to a targeted demographic.
“We were blown away by the response and the speed with which we were able to get results. Just from sharing a demo video and a sketch of the concept, we were able to get valuable feedback without investing a dime into development upfront.”
Magda Swanson, research product strategist, Vanguard Charitable
Feedback from the product concept test showed that Vanguard Charitable was on to something big, and affirmed the decision to move forward. As a next step, RSG again turned to expert solutions to test out branding and names for the new product, eventually landing on Nonprofit Aid Visualizer™ (NAVi).
With the proof in hand, Vanguard Charitable was able to create and roll out NAVi very quickly, launching the platform for both donor and public use by the early fall 2020. The team also leveraged SurveyMonkey to connect with donors they could see had used the tool to get their feedback on the experience.
A “big step” and opportunity for the industry
Throughout the development and launch process, Vanguard Charitable leveraged SurveyMonkey at 4 key points: concept generation, product concept testing, branding analysis, and adjustments. In the initial “How can we help?” survey in early spring, Vanguard Charitable received 1,000 responses within a week, one of the highest response totals for any survey from the organization. Expert solutions provided a speedy turnaround, delivering initial results within 3 hours, Magda says.
This valuable feedback helped RSG feel confident developing the NAVi platform, before they made an upfront investment. And because Vanguard Charitable had an ingrained culture of feedback, the RSG team had already tapped into the needs of donors long before 2020, and was able to execute on a product launch quickly.
Vanguard Charitable donors are set to exceed $1.5 billion in grants in 2020, which Magda credits in part to the launch of NAVi and the ability to curate opportunities for donors in new ways. Beyond the time factor, NAVi is no small feat—as a free public offering, it’s a “big step towards providing accessible, timely, and actionable data to donors at a critical moment in which smart and effective philanthropy is needed—perhaps more than ever,” Magda says. “While we have a strong sense of our donors’ preference already, we wanted a gut check on this different approach to interacting with them.”
NAVi will continue to evolve post-2020, creating new ways for charitably-minded donors to give, whether it’s $5 or $5 million. Magda says RSG already has ideas to tap expert solutions for future product development, and the insight from SurveyMonkey will continue to be an important part of quarterly reporting.
“Getting a fresh perspective, trying new things, and having the tools to do it will be increasingly important for us,” she says.