Nonprofits need creative solutions beyond fundraising to pursue their missions long-term.

At first glance banks and nonprofits may not appear to have much in common, but both spend great time and effort focusing on money. It’s true there’s no mission without the money. Over 50 percent of nonprofit organizations identify funding as the primary challenge to fulfill the organization’s vision, but it’s time for nonprofits to shift the fundraising lens to focus on developing wildly creative solutions for the long-term through empathy for people and depending less on funding as a Band-Aid.

Nonprofits are never short on passion. Where they tend to fall short is developing effective solutions to complex social issues. Producing creative solutions can be inspired and implemented by using a design-thinking approach. Distilled down, design thinking is a human-centered problem-solving method. The elements of design thinking (empathy, creativity and rationality) are a natural fit for lasting community impact. While philanthropic work is constantly met with new challenges, a design thinking case study from the banking industry can offer useful insight on problem solving.

Solving the Right Problem

Creating a problem statement is easy, but shifting perspective from business-focused to customer-focused is harder than it seems. A case from Bank of America is a prime example of how design thinking can be used to identify the right problem. In the early 2000s, the use of banking products and services were on a declining trend and Bank of America aimed to discover: How do we get more customers to open checking and savings accounts? Cleary, this is a business-focused, not customer-focused problem. Bank of America poured countless resources into releasing new, more attractive products in effort to stimulate business. Unable to move the dial, they turned to design thinking.

Using Empathy to Unveil User Needs

Bank of America used empathy to discover customer insights. In the discovery process, one woman shared her strategy for saving. When balancing her checkbook she would round up her transaction payments. It was an easy way to reconcile the account with the pleasant surprise of having a few extra dollars in the account at the end of the month. This customer-focused idea gave birth to their hit “Keep the Change” savings program, allowing customers to round up everyday purchases and deposit the extra change into a savings account. Shifting emphasis away from the business to the customer needs created a win-win for both parties.

Resource scarcity is a well-recognized challenge in the nonprofit world. Nonprofits are wasting precious resources when they deploy efforts in trying to solve the wrong problem. Design thinking helps define what communities need—not what we think it needs. Understanding motivation behind why people choose to give or not give financial support to a charity helps identify recipient needs and donor values. This generates the breakthrough solutions for sustainability that non-profits seek, rather than a hyper-focus on short-term dollar amounts.

Optimism is the cornerstone of design. Nonprofits must believe progress is possible to continue advancing charitable missions and prosocial efforts. Hope provides the creativity and energy to reach goals and transform communities. So go ahead, create real impact. Use the human-centered approach to design the solution you’ve been waiting for.

Stephanie Davis Wallace, PhD, is the Donor Relations Manager for the Columbus Symphony and co-chair of the American Cancer Society Columbus Cattle Baron’s Ball.