Designing a Nationwide Volunteer Network

A national disaster relief organization and volunteer network is prototyping new ways of engaging and growing their volunteer network.




How do we expand Send Relief's large volunteer base? What if that network could serve other nonprofits around the country who need volunteers to run their day-to-day operations?


How can we create a platform that matches volunteers with opportunities and organizers with volunteers, while also involving the local community?

Send Relief partners with churches and individuals to respond to the needs of communities throughout North America. They tackle big issues like:

  • Poverty
  • Refugees
  • Foster care & adoption
  • Human trafficking
  • Disaster relief

In order to mobilizing the most volunteers possible and to align them with opportunities to serve, Send Relief wanted a mobile app that could strengthen coordination efforts with existing volunteers and introduce existing customers to new initiatives, while also using the new initiatives to find new customers.


Setting the Foundation

To start the exploration process, FiveStone led a discovery project to evaluate if the app was needed and, if so, to identify the goal and vision of the product.  

For that work we conducted a series of in-person interviews with key internal experts as well as a series of phone interviews with volunteer coordinators throughout the country. Once we had a basic understanding of their needs, we then surveyed hundreds of volunteers across the country to better understand their perspective and see what alignment existed between volunteer coordinators and volunteers.

This led the team to believe there was a clear need for an app that would support both the volunteer and Send Relief’s mission. We defined the product vision around serving users in four distinct areas:



Aligning volunteers around central themes of compassion.


Drawing attention to the Send Relief initiatives and showing the need.


Equipping through best practices and other practical resources and courses.


Providing direct opportunities to serve.


Sprinting our Way to an MVP Recommendation

With a product vision in place there were still three large, unanswered questions:

  • Who are our audiences for this app?
  • How do we serve these audiences?
  • How do we integrate the various audiences in a way that helps all of them?

To explore these questions, FiveStone conducted a series of interviews with key experts within the organization as well as conducting an external survey of potential users of the product. Out of this work we identified four stakeholder groups and dug into how the app would solve their problems, looking for themes across the groups. These themes not only shaped the app, but also the eventual marketing of the product.

To move quickly, we proposed a methodology developed by Google Ventures; a GV Sprint. The Send Relief team chose to have us lead them through a process created by the team at Google Ventures; a GV Sprint.

The Sprint process allowed us to define the problem we were solving, map out the customer journey, ideate on ways to solve that problem, build a prototype, and test the prototype in front of real-customers. All in a five day period.

At the end of each GV Sprint we not only gathered valuable insights that shaped how the team thought about the product, but we also saved countless hours in building ideas that customers wouldn’t resonate with. The combination of all four GV Sprints culminated with a set of working prototypes, recorded customer interviews, and documented insights that became the centerpiece of business intelligence for the organization.

FiveStone facilitated four of these GV Sprints with each one looking at the app from the perspective of a different stakeholder group. Early on in the process it became apparent that this product was bigger than Send Relief and could actually serve other volunteer agencies. This was a massive shift in thinking and a nod to the spirit of the organization, who cared more about serving people than building their own brand.


“We’ve built a handful of products over the years and have occasionally tested and talked to customers. But nothing has brought clarity so quickly as this. The process we went through with FiveStone was unlike anything we had tried before. I have no way of knowing how much money we saved in the long run; but we certainly avoided some very costly mistakes, while learning a great deal about our audience, their needs, and our own internal processes.”

David Melber

Vice-President, Send Relief

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