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Venmo for Charities

The Problem

Our mock client Venmo - a social payment app - wanted to give users the ability to donate to causes they care about, but were reluctant to make majors changes to the platform. Charities needed a simple way to engage with donors but struggled to convey credibility through a social payment app. We discovered that by validating the authenticity of charities we could beneficially expand the number of users that Venmo connects with the participating charities.

Time Frame

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We used an agile framework to communicate as we worked together through a ten-day sprint. As a team of four designers, we conducted interviews, developed insights, mapped the user journey, and created affinity maps. I led the ideation, wire framing, and creation of high-fidelity mockups, and designed the usability testing portions of the project.

Charitable Giving Statistics

The clear majority of Venmo users were millennials using Venmo to settle small balances between friends. Additionally, most millennials who had donated to charities did so from mobile platforms. They learned about those charities via their peers.(Millenial Giving). So a social payment application between friends such as Venmo was primed to help make the donation connection.(Generational Giving Statistics)(Crowdfunding Industry Statistics)

Millenial Giving Chart


Research Approach

We wanted to understand the current ecosystems surrounding Venmo, charitable organizations, and charitable giving. We engaged several research channels: We did a competitive market analysis, an analysis of other charitable donation platforms, and a review of companies that are rating and assigning credibility to charitable organizations. We interviewed Venmo users, charitable donors, and charitable organizations, to gain insights about their process of spending and collecting money.

Competitive Analysis

We learned that Venmo users are social spenders who occasionally spend or transfer money between friends in small amounts, usually under $300. We believed that charities could expand their network and leverage the social nature of Venmo by tapping into the intimate relationships that connect most users.

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Charitable Donation Platforms

We looked at other crowdfunding platforms to understand who is best in class. We saw that companies like Kickstarter and GoFundMe (the two largest crowdfunding platforms) are using social networks to attract people to their site. Additionally we saw that the social nature of these sites helps to entice and engage a larger user base.

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Credibility Providers

We observed that trust and credibility were important factors when users were deciding which charities to donate to. Companies like Charity navigator and the Better Business Bureau rate charities and assign credibility based on the charitable organizations effectiveness.

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Interview Numbers

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We discovered there was no overlap between Venmo users and charitable organizations using Venmo as a platform to collect funds.

Traditional Venmo User: Sean

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Sean's user flow represented a common theme of user happiness within the app – he liked the simple, clean interface and was comfortable with Venmo’s functionalities. Later, we knew it would be important to keep Venmo’s basic flow and feel, even as we added features.

Traditional Charity Donor: Shannon

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For Shannon, donating means knowing what the cause is that she is supporting, knowing where her money will go, and knowing how she will affect change.

Charitable Organization Employee: Schoen image of abstract art

For Collaboraction – a nonprofit theater company – figuring out how to extend the viewer/donor’s experience is their biggest goal. In the donation world, making sure donors are engaged after their first donation is critical to future funding success.


Comparing the Experience

By comparing the Venmo experience with the donation experience, we found similarities in how people enter, engage, and exit the process. We concluded that Venmo could benefit from stronger engagement on the front end – at the “entice” stage – and charities could benefit from stronger engagement on the back end – at the “extend” stage.

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Venmo User Insights

We discovered that Venmo users seek convenience, value trust, and generally enjoy the Venmo experience.

Charitable Donor Insights

We found that traditional donors find many barriers to action in the donation process. Donors were encouraged to donate when there was a level of transparency about the organization they were donating to and when they were emotionally tied to the cause or could empathize with the need.

Charitable Organization Insights

In our interviews, charitable organizations were seeking to deepen relationships with new donors in particular. These organizations wanted to expand through their already-built social networks, and sought new opportunities for engagement around those networks.

Design Principles

Tying It Together

We mined our affinity maps, user flows, and insights to see where there were opportunities. We knew Venmo users were happy with the current Venmo experience so maintaining consistency was key.

Solutions should...

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the ideal donor journey

The Ideal Donor Experience

Potential donors are enticed into the donation process by using the same flow as regular Venmo users. Donors have an opportunity to feel like they are affecting change, and sharing that experience with their friends and fellow users.

the ideal donor journey

The Ideal Charity Experience

Setting up a charity account needs to be as simple as setting up a personal account. Charities can create their own causes based on their current fundraising effort. They can share their cause or account information to social media or prompt donors in person to donate via the Venmo app.


Small Tweaks, Big Impact

To maintain consistency with the current Venmo layout, our paper prototypes needed to mimic the layout exactly. The paper sketches helped us understand the features Venmo was already using, but did not help us in testing because of the specificity of the icons we were trying to implement. We started to realize that making small tweaks with a big impact was going to be difficult.

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Menu (Paper)

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Menu (Wireframe)

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Menu (High Fidelity)

Building in Low Fidelity

Using our low fidelity wireframes, we could test our riskiest assumptions about icons, microinteractions, and feedback for the user. We learned that it was difficult to search for charities within Venmo, so we brought the “search charities” functionality to the top of the menu.

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Profile (Paper)

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Profile (Wireframe)

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Profile (High Fidelity)

Icon Creation

The changes made to Venmo needed to be small tweaks with a big impact. Developing a new set of icons that stayed consistent with the Venmo model was crucial to setting an appropriate tone.

  • Donations Float Up
  • Donate Button
  • Verified Charity Icon
  • Mutual Friends
  • Newsletter Offering
  • Website Offering
  • Manage Causes Hub
  • Donate Button
  • Hide Comments
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Feed (Paper)

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Feed (Wireframe)

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Feed (High Fidelity)

User Test Scenarios

We did our first round of wireframe tests with 6 people. We tested within two scenarios. One scenario was for regular Venmo users to donate to their favorite charity, the Red Cross. The second scenario was with charitable organization employees acting as the Red Cross to set up a cause to raise money for a recent tsunami.

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Donation (Paper)

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Donation (Wireframe)

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Donation (High Fidelity)

Test Results

Our usability tests helped us solve user flow issues and provided guidance on how to remove obstacles. We struggled with a two-flow solution (when testing with charities and testing with Venmo users), and learned that if we are going to test two users flows at the same time, we needed to separate those flows and screens.

  • Users responded very positively to the heart badge because it was consistent with other verification badges.
  • Users commented on the consistency of the Venmo experience, and how it was similar to the Venmo experiences they currently know.
  • Users responded very poorly to being asked if they would like to be contacted by the charity.
  • We had initially assumed that searching for a charity would happen within the same flow as the "search people" but without a search charity icon in the menu button people were confused on how to look for a charity.


Next Steps

A Second Sprint

After completing the ten-day sprint we took our prototype over to the Delta Institute – a sustainability nonprofit – to validate our assumptions further. We allowed charity organizers to play around with the prototype. We got feedback that showed a second design sprint was needed. The charity organizers wanted the ability to switch easily from their own personal account to a charity account they are managing. An account-switching feature would reduce barriers for the charitable organizations. We took our feedback and developed a list of additional features that would reduce barriers, increase trust, and facilitate relationships.

Additional Features

  • Data report feature
  • Group feature / charity feature integration
  • Profile management / switching between a personal account and a charity account
  • Personal account- causes feature
  • Bio section for all Venmo profiles

Additional Questions

During a wrap up meeting we questioned how we could we improve our product.

  • How does switching between a personal account and charity accounts enable trust between donors and charities regarding the management of funds?
  • Can we provide analytics that provide a holistic understanding of the funds raised, and what does effective charity analytics look like?
  • Can we connect the world in a deeper way by developing a platform where we are enabling a greater sense of giving and responsibility than we are already doing?

What I learned

After the Venmo project, I was left a greater understanding of the UX process and where I could grow.

  • Your teammates are a wealth of information and they present daily learning opportunities.
  • Mapping a concrete user flow is vital to speed when creating wireframes.
  • Testing as early as possible helps validate the weakest held assumptions and enables quick iteration.
  • Create tests that develop a scenario the user can embody, and ask open ended questions.
  • Documentation of the entire process, interviews, affinity maps, and competitive analysis is extremely important.