This is my attempt to play matchmaker. Nonprofit Boards, I'd like you to introduce you to the user experience (UX) industry.

I came to Cooper, a leading UX design consultancy, after ten-plus years working in the philanthropy sector. Because of my background in fundraising, and interest in social justice, I have served on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Hispanic Health Council, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and currently Kristi Yamaguchi's Always Dream Foundation. I’ve also managed alumni association boards of directors at top universities, including UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and The George Washington University.

When there are vacancies, boards often default to recruiting individuals from a handful of professions: lawyers, fundraisers, marketers, accounting and finance types, and philanthropists. These are important backgrounds to have on a nonprofit board. However, one critically important perspective is missing from most boards: design professionals. 


I was drawn to UX design, and specifically Cooper, because I believed thoughtful, human-centric design leads to positive and disruptive change for organizations -- and industries. My first few months at Cooper have exceeded expectations. Our broad-minded, anthropological approach to problem-solving is revolutionary and high impact. Our clients are wildly appreciative. My colleagues are mission-driven, passionate, brilliant, and committed to improving the human condition. 

 As I’ve learned about the UX community, I’ve discovered the concept of "hackathons" or “jams,” where designers convene to address organizational problems in service to the social justice community. At Cooper we express our passion for social justice through our UX Boot Camp, which provides pro bono consulting to world-class social change organizations, like Change.org and GLIDE.  These project-based outreach efforts are terrific and highly effective. I hope they proliferate! 

Having served on numerous boards, our most inspiring meeting is always the annual strategic retreat. During this meeting, in its most effective incarnation, we hire a professional external facilitator to stimulate new ideas and ways of thinking. We leave the meeting inspired to implement these innovative programs and approaches. However, more often than not, after the retreat, the board loses momentum and sticks to comfortable patterns. Oftentimes, the exciting ideas that arise during the retreat are not explored again until the next year's retreat. 

Imagine if your board was infused with a user-centric, solutions-based approach to addressing its mission ALL. YEAR. LONG! I'd like to propose an easy (gasp!) way to make this a reality: proactively recruit an outstanding UX designer to join your nonprofit board. 

 Designers are made for nonprofit boards. Here’s why: 

  • Designers are, by nature, deeply goal-directed, compassionate, analytical, hard-working, and people-oriented. These are all qualities every board needs. 
  • Designers’ perspectives will help you think outside the box to revolutionize nonprofit programs and services. 
  • A design approach will sharpen your organization’s focus on the needs of its target constituencies, e.g. clients, volunteers, donors, and employees.
  • Designers can help your organization incorporate best practices in technology and service design. 
  • Designers are great communicators and understand the tech sector inside and out. They can teach you about, and translate, your organization's relevance to the ever-elusive "tech" philanthropy community.  

Matchmaker’s Plea: 

To Designers: Your skills and perspective are unique and indispensable. I encourage you to take your empathy and passion for helping people to the next level; consider investing more long-term in causes you are passionate about. Investigate nonprofits with missions that resonate with you, volunteer, and consider joining a board. Through this experience, you will meet wonderful friends, make valuable business connections, and effect great change. 

To Nonprofit Boards: Designers (i.e. user-centric problem solvers who humanize products and services) are remarkable professionals. Next time you are strategizing around who should fill your board vacancy, I encourage you to recruit for an essential skillset you are probably missing: UX design. If you want advice for how to identify a top designer, email me at andrew@cooper.com. 

I assure you that nonprofit boards and UX designers will make a perfect union. Please be in touch and let me know how it turns out.  

Photo credit: Associations Now (associationsnow.com)