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Redesign Volunteer Experience

Part of

Redesigning volunteer programme that reshapes volunteering experience.

MA 2023
Volunteer, Non-Profit Organisation, Refugee, Ukraine, Empower

White Eagle Appeal, a non-profit organisation that has been active in volunteering to help Ukraine since the early days of the war, has a strong volunteer base that has helped many of these refugees. These volunteers have worked hard from the early stages of figuring out how to operate to the more stable system they have developed today. This time RCA and Hellon have joined to help WEA to provide better help to these refugees with their existing resources. In order to achieve this, our group hopes to achieve these aims without increasing the current workload by understanding volunteers characteristics from their perspective. Building a volunteering experience programme, which is redesigned to allow for more effective coordination of volunteer skills and efforts, enhanced motivation and engagement, improved communication and collaboration, and increased support and loyalty.


Research & INSIGHTS

Desk Research.

- There are 374 refugee organisations in the UK.

- Averagely one organisation needs to sponsor 245 refugees.

- The figure increases to 458 for the Greater London area.

We did research on volunteering. From a book, Community Fundraising, we learned that non-profit organisations are reliant on volunteers. However, many volunteers would stop volunteering for both controllable and uncontrollable factors, such as receiving an inadequate amount of orientation, training, support or supervision; or finding that volunteering is too time-consuming. To prevent and solve this problem, organisations should make their experience positive. For instance, organisations should have developmental and supportive management, giving volunteers space and autonomy within their roles and opportunities to take initiative; and organisations should give volunteers a sense of confidence that the organisation and work are worthwhile and deserving of feelings of pride.

Field Research.

After desk research, we visited the White Eagle Appeal for the first time on 16 October 2022. Ukraine refugees and local neighbours attended a Sunday fundraising event which was touching emotionally. During the event, we interviewed Stephen, the volunteer lead of White Eagle Appeal. We learned that the organisation was initiated by Magda, a businesswoman who has a trading company between Uk and Poland. She donated some space in the original Polish club for the organisation to hold refugee helping activities. There are volunteers sorting donations on the site and sending out lorries to refugees in Poland and Ukraine every week. Once a week, there is an English class for refugees to help them to get used to life in the UK. Besides, the organisation also provides other help to the refugees, for example, there is a boutique on the first floor of the site where refugees can take clothes and life basics for free.

Stephen then told us the challenges of the organisation. First, fundraising is hard because it is purely based on people’s will on giving, while the costs of sending out donations partly rely on cash donations. The organisation needs more donations to buy life basics and first aids as well. tax credits from tax deductions which is a big source of funds. Second, White Eagle Appeal is totally based on volunteer jobs. Sometimes volunteers would take on some tasks but would not commit to it, which means someone else needs to take over the tasks later. This results in a situation that most of the volunteering work is done by core volunteers who are mostly retired. The organisation wants to do more, but it needs more volunteers and energy.  Third, White Eagle Appeal does not know whether it should turn to a charity. Now the organisation is registered as a non- profit organisation but not a charity. As a non-profit organisation, White Eagle Appeal could operate with more freedom, but it cannot receive tax credits from tax deductions which is a big source of funds. We visited White Eagle Appeal for the second and third time with a question list for volunteers about their experience for being volunteers. Questions include: How did they join WEA, Their engagement frequency at WEA, Whether they talk about WEA with people around them, whether they engage with other volunteers, their previous experience in volunteering, and finally the level of awareness for the status of WEA at the moment. 

And here are some of the highlights from their answers: 

MARY: "I engage in many other organisations as well... I told my family and friends about White Eagle Appeal, and people are not hard to get engaged once they are being asked."

OLENA: "I’m Ukrainian and I came to White Eagle Appeal to help immediately since day three of the war. I started with bringing supplies and became a long-term volunteer afterwards... I talked to my friends back in Ukraine, and they told me that there is nothing in hospitals. Literally nothing. I think medical supplies are the most needed at the moment."

KATE: "I’m Ukrainian and work in London, and I’m one of the initiators of White Eagle Appeal. We already held some volunteer meetings to make us exchange information and talk about our own lives... I also volunteered in other NPOs before, and I found that White Eagle Appeal is different in communication channels and delivery system."

STEPHEN: "Getting medical supplies from local hospitals requires building a very good connection with them at the very beginning. Once it starts, the hospital will be able to refer us to other hospitals for more donations. It was not easy to find these connections at first."

BERNARD: "I learned White Eagle Appeal on TV and come here twice a week... WhatsApp is the only type of communication method I use, because it’s simple for me to use."

We have also set up an online survey for those volunteers who were unable to talk with us in person. Most of them would think that having more time would be the most important factor for them to be more engaged with WEA. And secondly if there are other types of volunteer jobs they are interested in, they would be more involved in WEA. 


1. Volunteers are willing to do something but don’t know how. 

2. An organisation receives less official resources when it is hard to build authoritative networks without a charity status. 

3. Volunteering is more than physical and on-site work.

Target Groups.

From our observations and interviews, we have classified the volunteers into three groups according to their involvement. We found that the core volunteers carry out most of the workload. And within core volunteers, there are proactive volunteers that are well-informed and assertive when they want to bring any help to the organisation. We compare them to the core of the earth which contributes most of the energy. Occasional volunteers participate in volunteering activities once or twice a month, and would contribute a big amount of their effort and time whenever they come. Their enthusiasm for the activities has not completely diminished. However, as they have other concerns in their daily lives, they are not able to spend a lot of time keeping up with WEA

’s information releases. Over time, they have missed out on many opportunities to participate in activities and have become confused and disconnected from the WEA and the current needs of the refugees. Inactive volunteers were those interested in volunteering in the early days of the war, but as events developed, they gradually became marginalised within the volunteer community.


Ideation Process.

We started ideation process with putting down each our ideas on the board. We also used the journey of a volunteer as a guide to make sure we are aware of every possible touch points along the way. Each member in our team then imagined oneselves to be a specific type of volunteer under an extreme situation so that we were able to push the boundaries of the service we were about to design. 


We printed the prototype and took it to the WEA to interview a number of volunteers in the field, but the results we got were not quite what we expected, as most of the volunteers were retired elderly people who were not very receptive to online collaboration tools. So we decided to complement Trello with a newsletter and a paper bulletin. This can help WEA to share news and updates with volunteers, donors and other stakeholders.


How might we: make more information interchange between WEA and volunteers,

So that: volunteers can have a clear vision of WEA and be stimulated to initiate tasks,

Through: building a volunteering experience programme,

Therefore: more benefits including donations and intangible resources will be delivered.

our service

Part 1.

The first part is getting to know the volunteers. WEA could firstly prioritise their real demands and the consequent tasks. Based on those, WEA could come up with a question list to get a preliminary understanding of all volunteers’ backgrounds, experience and strengths. Specifically, White Eagle Appeal could assign specialist volunteers to use both telephone interviews and online questionnaires to collect relevant information for preparing the next step, match-making. Backstage volunteers could introduce the most suitable tasks to corresponding volunteers. By doing this, WEA could balance the demands of completing tasks and the supplies of volunteering efforts. This part could also be applied to just joined volunteers for quicker onboarding. 

Part 2.

The second part is the synchronisation and interchange of information. We are building a bridge between White Eagle Appeal and volunteers through any online collaboration platform such as Trello or Notion, which enables WEA to synchronise their needs and status. Specifically, taking Trello as an example, there could be a notice board showing the up-to-date demands of refugees so that volunteers would clearly know what they can offer to initiate a task like Reg.

On the other hand, volunteers can see their schedules, to-do lists and something already done, as well as posting questions and giving feedback. For example, once WEA needs someone to resell the valuable donations, volunteers could respond to the task with their skills and interests. When a volunteer comes up with a suggestion, they could directly share their thoughts with WEA and other volunteers. We also designed a newsletter as a complement for those who are not comfortable using online platforms such as Trello or Notion.

Therefore, volunteers could have a clear vision of the WEA. In contrast, the WEA would also have a clear overall picture of their volunteers.



Theory of Change.

WEA’s original plan for 2022’s Christmas was to prepare a singing party and provide refugees with free food. Encouraged by our design concept, Joe feels that he could do more to help the Ukrainians, and remembering that he missed his family and the food back home during the festive season, he posted the idea on Trello, where Kate, who works for a social tech company who can help refugees in London to FaceTime with their families back in Ukraine, and Jake, who runs his own Ukraine restaurant in London and is really good at cooking a drink named Uzvar, which is a traditional Ukrainian Christmas drink. Both of them commented on the panel saying they could help.

Business Model.

To understand the process of the design in a commercial way, WEA needs to assign 2 to 3 specialist volunteers to operate the service. Meanwhile, WEA has to pay a reasonable price for the online platform. Taking Trello as an example, It is free to use the fundamental functionality which will cover most needs. And WEA, as a non-profit organisation can enjoy 75% off if unlocking full features.

According to the data we have learned from James, the manager of the Volunteero, which is a volunteer management software, WEA can benefit from using a design. In the case of Age UK Gateshead, matching volunteers to tasks helps 75% increase in the number of monthly active volunteers. And in the case of Racing Welfare, the online platform helps to cut the time spent to onboard a single volunteer by over 40%. Such optimistic returns, on the basis of the not so high costs, make the whole service design process highly commercially viable. Such optimistic returns, on the basis of the not so high costs, make the whole service design process highly commercially viable.

Our Vision.

There is a universal issue for most non-profit organisations: most volunteers would join at the beginning of the appeal, but only a small group of them could make long-term commitments. Most of the existing volunteer organisations usually underestimate the value of the volunteers’ energy.

People consider volunteering as a profession but there is mostly no labour contract. It is very important to be diplomatic to communicate with volunteers, so sometimes organisations might be afraid to ask for something from them. Special positioning of volunteering. Volunteer structure of non-profit organisations is usually top-down. Volunteers would be assigned tasks by a ‘manager role’, which could reduce the autonomy of volunteers and restrict volunteers from initiating tasks that could benefit on a new level.

The energy of volunteers is much stronger than we thought. For example, once volunteers are actively engaged they will also be able to make many suggestions and even implement democratic decision-making votes such as the organisation’s qualification issues to help it grow together.

Human Behavior.

1. People go to volunteer activities not only for doing the work assigned to them by the organisation, but also for the emotional and experiential exchange. The See Progress(in trello) process allows volunteers to quantify the effort they have previously put in, allowing them to see the rewards and knock-on effects of their efforts, thus providing them with positive feedback on their volunteering experience and recognising the value of the work they have put in.

2. Volunteering is a non-profit-seeking activity without one’s absolute commitment. It is more about focusing on the relatively disadvantaged who need help and showing them support and assistance in volunteers’ own way. In the process, volunteers who share the same support and goals will have more common ground and more passionate creativity. As a result, their communal effect will bring a lot of energy to the voluntary organisation.

3. In volunteering, there is in fact a lot of self-willed projection reflected on the group being assisted.This subconscious presentation is actually the elimination of insecurities and the practice of yearning for good in people’s minds. Therefore, we encourage each volunteer to speak their mind during the activity in the form of Feedback. It seems that we are asking them to make suggestions for the planning of the event, but in reality we hope that they can use it as a medium to express their inner feelings and release their emotions in a reasonable way. After all, “unexpressed emotions never die.” These warm-heart volunteers deserve to be encouraged and treated better.


The service would be very useful, especially for small charities, which often have limited resources and staff. So they can improve their communication, collaboration, and coordination, which can help them work more effectively. In the end, technology is just a tool to help people better understand each other, our design mainly focuses on the whole process of the service. It starts from arousing the awareness of both the organisations and the volunteers to help them no longer trapped into the confusion of what they could do next, and then helping them with the methods and tools to interchange information and engage into the community, lastly sustaining the whole process to make it cycle and long run. So we believe that this service design process can be flexibly applied to any organisation.


As every human being with humanitarian concerns, we have always stood with freedom, equality and fraternity. 

In this,

Thank you to Kam, who has used her kindness and enthusiasm to connect RCA and WEA with so many people who would otherwise be less aware of helping Ukraine.

Thank you to Magda, who devoted her business resources in a completely unprofitable promise to turn the hopelessness of so many refugees into hope.

Thank you Stephen for making WEA more than just a non-profit organisation, but also caring for all the volunteers who come to help and working with us with passion.

Thank you Richard for making us think more deeply about the nature of design, seeing the emotional and spiritual needs of people, rather than just dealing with events and solving problems.

Thank you Andy for offering the weekly suggestions to guide us in a more experienced perspective.

Thank you to all the second year service design students who worked with us on this project, for sharing information, passing on resources and inspiring us.

Although this project has come to an end, our concerns for refugee aid and WEA activities for Ukraine will not stop there. We sincerely wish that all those involved in this project will continue their own quest with the power of hope, and that we will always stand together with love, no matter what. Because love always wins.

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