How does one volunteer in Africa?

In the world of volunteering, where success is measured by impact, how do organizations find qualified volunteers to build sustainable growth?  N-Vest Africa is a nonprofit organization that connects professional skills to local developments in Africa. Being committed to high impact, sustainable volunteering, N-Vest is focused on two audiences; academic institutions with fields of study that focus on Africa, and corporate social responsibility departments with skilled professionals that have backgrounds in alignment to African NGOs and organizations. N-Vest Africa came to Designation for a second round of developing user data to develop an onboarding flow for the platform that would systematically vet and select potential volunteers.

01     The Challenge

Our primary challenge within a 4 week timeframe was to:

1.    Understand Academic Institution and Corporate CSR needs
2.    Build an onboarding flow for each audience group

02     Defining the Problem

The first Designation team to develop N-Vest Africa’s user research discovered that most volunteers are only interested in local opportunities. This finding led to lower skilled volunteer opportunities being prioritized and the higher skilled more expensive African needs being shelved.

03     The Solution, Complete Walkthrough

Our final prototype, N-TRUST, is a welcoming and informative onboarding flow that provide transparency of information and documentation of experience that built trust and established a personal connection with users. Volunteers were given the ability to find skill-based opportunities that ignited a desire for them to get involved.

04     Research

We met with our client, Emiola, who was the founder of N-Vest Africa and our SME to get a better understanding of what her vision was for her product.  She emphasized on having a clear vetting process for both applicant pools as well as a way to track successes of ongoing initiatives.


Before defining the problem, I set out to understand and validate our target audience to set our focus. We began with the assumption: N-Vest’s target audiences are academic institutions and corporate entities with CSR departments.

In order to test this assumption, we interviewed 7 individual volunteers of varied careers and 2 volunteer organizers.  From the interviews we generated an affinity map of user insights.

Our synthesized findings from the user interviews revealed:
Our target audience was actually lifelong and or religious volunteers


Our new target audience were people who had volunteering instilled within them from childhood, and 5 out of 7 stated active religious influence. To better understand these people, we then did another round of affinity mapping to uncover common pain points and potential opportunities.

Common frustrations we heard were:

- Not being able to take extended amounts of time off work
- Being underutilized in comparison to their level of skill set
- Travel to Nigeria is expensive and at times unpredictable
- Communication barriers impact volunteer experiences and productivity

Potential opportunities we found were:

- Volunteers were intrigued by the prospect of virtual volunteering and saw its importance
- Many expected or would like some sort of training relevant to the volunteer experience
- Most organizations find volunteers to partner with via word of mouth


To synthesize these findings we created a our persona, Grace to find points of empathy between the data and users. This is Grace, a second generation Nigerian businesswoman in her mid-thirties committed to volunteering regularly. She is deeply rooted in her Christian faith which drives her to be generous with her time and resources. She has a big heart for her heritage and roots, which she hopes to reconnect with through a volunteer organization that makes a sustainable positive impact.

Lately, she has been feeling frustrated because she’s not able to use her professional skills in the right context or need. Ideally, she wants to find a reputable organization that will allow her to share her capabilities to empower people in Nigeria.


Before we began concepting, my team and came up with three main design principles to keep our team grounded moving forward.

05    Ideation

As we entered the ideation phase, I created a journey map for Grace to help uncover specific areas of opportunities within her journey.  I took to the whiteboard to sketch out the visuals as we discussed amongst ourselves each phase of the journey.

I translated the visuals into sketch and as a team we found several points of opportunity within each state of Grace’s journey.  In the beginning we saw that we could provide more information upfront to avoid long hours of research into a single project. We also saw that we could build trust with users like Grace through establishing a clear identity and mission of the organizations as well as setting up project expectations and requirments early.


I began with rough paper prototypes alongside my team, and together we rapidly collected various ideas. We mixed and matched some ideas, scrapping others and we iterated our ideas into concepts that we could begin testing with.

We each tackled different divergent concepts for onboarding. From easy intuitive application processes, guides, a skill matcher to a fact frontloader. We tested these concepts and forged Axure wireframes from the feedback we got from users.  We found that users actually do not like signing up and there was a key need to build more trust with the organizations before prompting users to sign up. In the next iteration, we focused more on the initial online trust-building concepts that would motivate users to go through the signup flow.


We had been consistently affinity mapping using the rose-bud-thorn technique, where the rose represented things that were working well, the bud was of things that had potential, and thorn were things that were not working well. However, I wanted to try a different form of synthesis so I developed a four quadrant grid of varying spectrums that came up through observation.

From this method of affinity mapping, I further synthesized user insights on the necessity of trust. The polarity highlighted a key insight of the two main ways our users build trust in the digital age. Users needed transparency of information or build a personal connection before moving forward to the signup process. Our assumption was once trust is established, users’ excitement for the opportunity will be the fuel that will get them through the application process.

Users built trust through hard factual information or through information provided by people’s experiences

06    Final Wireframes

Through usability tests, we found that users resonated very well with trust building techniques and personalization of their search experience. Moving forward to a final MVP (minimal viable product), our converged concept became:

A welcoming an informative website that provided transparency of information and documentation of experience that built trust and established a personal connection with users. Users were given the ability to find skill-based opportunities that ignited a desire for them to get involved.

Onboarding flow: Building trust through informative Home page

As the first trust building touch point, the mission  statement is the first thing users are able to see alongside a search bar for easy navigation. Scrolling through, users can find fast facts and key attributes of the legitimacy of the platform within a simple layout.

Onboarding flow: Building trust through informative About page

From the homepage, the "Our Story" section will take users to a more detailed overview of N-Vest. On the About page, users will have full access to all financials, board and team members as well as the founder's story.

07    Future Considerations

Initially, we thought the vetting process was solely for volunteers and organizations seeking to provide aid. Upon further discussion with our SME, we realized that organizations in Africa needing aid also needed to be onboarded. This went beyond the scope of the project so we kept our focus on volunteer applicants first. 

Another facet of the project was virtual volunteering, which was a new concept for our users, but many saw potential and value in it. One of the biggest constraints for volunteers was taking time off and preparing for overseas travel. With virtual volunteering, it would be possible to donate their time, skill and resources without physically being present.

08    Looking Back

Working in a brand new team revealed the reality of how I worked in the reflection of my teammates. It was a fascinating struggle to balance my idea of what was good and that of my teammates. Ultimately I learned that it is immensely difficult to get everyone on the same page, but clear communication comes in many forms. You have to be open and receptive to trial and error, whether it be visually explaining your thoughts or even the simple act of listening. The importance is when you are able to show the continual effort that you care about your team. Great teamwork isn’t about seamless productivity, but genuine trust and respect for one another.