Williamsburg Community Foundation

Role:

User Research

The Williamsburg Community Foundation enhances the quality of life in greater Williamsburg, Virginia by connecting people with causes that matter, managing charitable funds, and providing grants and scholarships for the community’s most pressing needs and promising opportunities. 

Overview

Williamsburg Community Foundation is celebrating its 20th Anniversary.  As they look ahead, they are analyzing the entire organization - including their website - to make sure they're meeting the needs of their community.  I evaluated their site to determine if they were meeting their goals.  

In order to make that determination and make recommendations, I employed multiple methodologies to understand how people are currently using the site, if it is meeting industry best practices, how current users use the site, and looked at competitors to see if there were any features other foundations provide that they are not.  

Google Analytics
Heuristic Evaluation
User Interviews
Competitive Analysis

They are supporting the goals of the foundation but there is work to be done.  They are providing visitors with the resources necessary to donate, apply for a grant, or apply for a scholarship.  They also do an excellent job of keeping the website updated with current information and resources about the community and the foundation.  However, there are steps that they can take that will help make the site easier to use and provide a smoother path to accomplishing these tasks.  By making these changes they can provide a better experience to their users. 

 

 

Major Recommendations:

  1. Use a consistent design for similar pages

  2. ​Make information more scannable

  3. ​Ensure pages have calls to action

  4. Clearly note opportunities to get assistance

  5. Consolidate pages and evaluate menus

  6. Bring as much functionality onto the site as possible

Research Plan

Before diving into research I needed to have a solid understanding of their business.  How could I decide if they were supporting their goals if I didn’t first understand what their goals were? 

 

Through multiple conversations with their leadership team, I learned their goals as a foundation and what they were hoping to gain from this review.  

My goal is to understand…

  • Does the site do enough to solicit donations?

  • Are they doing enough to get more donors?

  • Are they communicating with non-profits to help fulfill their needs?

  • Is it easy to use?

  • Would someone unfamiliar with the site be able to find what they need?

Armed with an understanding of their goals and business, I developed a research plan.  

A mixed-methods approach would allow me to triangulate findings and validate insights across multiple methods.  They had recently started tracking their traffic through Google Analytics so they were particularly eager to see what I was able to find.  I was also interested in looking at their analytics as it would provide me an opportunity to expand upon my knowledge of the platform.  I also thought this would be a good way to uncover how their site is being used to pair with qualitative methods to try and explain why it was being used in this way. 

Google Analytics

Williamsburg Community Foundation only had six weeks worth of traffic data.  This information was helpful to gain a general understanding of how the site is being utilized, but it is too small of a sample size to draw any hard conclusions. 

Audience Overview & Acquisition

I was not surprised to see that two-thirds of their traffic is coming from desktop.  Applications and donations are both actions that users tend to be more comfortable doing on desktops because they involve longer forms and personal information.  

The most visited pages on the site aligned closely with the stated core functions of the foundation: allow users to donate money, apply for grants, or apply for scholarships. 

 

"Student Spotlight: Finn Hulse" ranking as a Top 10 most visited page is an example of why I encouraged the client to not put too much stock into these numbers.  If he shared the link with friends and family it could easily boost its rank over the span of only a few weeks.  Over the course of a few months or a year, they will likely start to see different patterns emerge.  

Page Views & Bounce Rate

In addition, I looked at the bounce rate and exit percentage to understand where people are leaving from. These are good metrics to understand but may not necessarily tell the whole story.  In the case of the Williamsburg Community Foundation, many pages - including Donate. Grant and Scholarship applications are located on pages outside of WCF.  Therefore, users could be completing the actions they came to the site for while still showing high Bounce or Exit % rates. 

Google Analytics provided a great base layer of knowledge o have about the website but only told part of the story.  In order to gain a stronger understanding of the foundation and try to explain some of the behavior I was seeing, qualitative methods were employed.  

Heuristic Evaluation

The heuristic evaluation was an opportunity to start to explain the behaviors uncovered through Google Analytics.  In the evaluation, I looked at the pages associated with the key functions of the foundation.  

These pages were among the most visited according to Google Analytics and I assumed that by focusing on these core pages, I would be able to make inferences about the website as a whole and deliver the most return on my recommendations.  

I focused on the following 4 pages:

  1. Homepage

  2. Donate

  3. Apply for a Grant

  4. Apply for a Scholarship

Overall, Williamsburg Community Foundations website is valuable to its users.  I found that key information was available and would be valuable to anyone looking to make a contribution to the foundation.  However, I discovered issues in how the information is presented in terms of consistency and clarity.  This applies within pages and across similar pages. 

Inconsistent Layout

 

Inconsistent layout led to issues around the "Learnability" heuristic.  Pages were formatted differently, making it more difficult to understand where to find information and how to perform certain actions.  The three pages below represent their "Donate", "Apply for a Scholarship", and "Apply for a Grant" pages which I consider to be similar actions, however, they are all formatted differently.  They use different color buttons, different ways to call out links and information, and usage of line breaks to mark different sections.  Additionally, their hierarchy changes across pages with no consistency of font size, color, and weight.  

Screenshot of Donate page

Screenshot of Apply for a Scholarship page

Screenshot of Apply for a Grant page

Heuristic's Takeaways
 

The heuristic evaluation corroborated a lot of what I heard in interviews.  A common refrain during interviews (discuss in more detail later) was that "once you have a lay of the land, it's easy to find what you need."  This is now how sites should operate and the evaluation here served to confirm those feelings.  A summary of the findings are below.  It is clear that there are many areas for improvement when it comes to best practices, with many of them requiring an emphasis on clarity and consistency.  

Screen Shot 2020-10-23 at 1.29.07 PM.png

Heuristic Evaluation Summary (Click for full report)

User Interviews

User interviews were an opportunity for me to build on my understanding of how people use the site and uncover challenges faced when interacting with it.  

Trustee & Donor
Board Member
Donor
Parent, Donor, & Committee Member
Grant Partner

A quick note about the participants:

All participants were recruited directly by the leadership at Williamsburg Community Foundation.  The team was not present for any of the interviews and I do not think that participants were influenced at all by members of the foundation, however, it was something that I was mindful of as I conducted these interviews. 

Since everyone was referred to me by WCF it was especially important that I explain my role and relationship to the organization, build rapport with the individuals, and dig into some of their responses in order to fight through any potential biases.  Additionally, everyone I spoke with had gone onto the website leading up to our conversation in an attempt to re-familiarize themselves with the site.  I think there are some advantages to this as it can provide talking points, however, I think this familiarity can lead to people downplaying or forgetting some of their previous interactions with the website.  

User Types​

Based on everyone I interviewed, I found their usage habits put them into two categories:

Browsers

  • Want to know what is currently going on with the foundation (any upcoming initiatives or events)

  • Tends to be those directly associated with WCF as they prepare for meetings or aim to stay informed or get involved

Doers

  • Coming to accomplish a task (apply for a grant, make a donation, apply for a scholarship)

  • Stick to their goals and do not look at other parts of the website.  Clear information is key

  • Tend to be unassociated with the foundation   

Interview Takeaways

Everyone I interviewed expressed respect and appreciation for the Foundation's work but I think this led to some clouded judgment during our conversations.  Everyone I spoke with mentioned that there was a lot of information (text) on the website that sometimes made it difficult to find information.  

“Getting to that was a little bit of a journey”

This quote is exactly what I was worried about heading into the interviews.  The participants initially expressed that they thought the site was easy to use but after continuing to ask open-ended questions and have them perform different tasks, I was able to pull out some more telling responses.  It turns out, many people only thought the site was easy because they have been on it several times (including before our conversation) so they now knew where things were.  Resolving this difficulty would form the basis for many of my recommended changes.  

Competitive Analysis

The Competitive Analysis was initially conducted to compare different features and information presented on community foundation websites.  However, this exercise ultimately served a different purpose as it became a great reference to show the Williamsburg Community Foundation alternative ways to display information.  

Early on while I was conducting the analysis, it started to shift - I was looking more at process and how the different sites handled flows.  This proved to be a little challenging since many of the features/processes were related to applying for something or donating which required either logins or donations.  Upon completing the analysis under this lens of feature comparison, all of the sites more or less had the same functionality, which I did not think would be super helpful information for Williamsburg Community Foundation to have. 

Rather, as I was presenting my findings and recommended changes, I found the competitive analysis to be incredibly helpful in demonstrating what I was talking about.  I found it useful (and WCF did too) to be able to show how another community foundation displayed their grant priorities or scholarship winners.  

Recommendations

After completing the various research methodologies, I was comfortable making recommendations to the Williamsburg Community Foundation team.  

Ultimately, I found that the foundation is highly regarded in their area and they are doing a lot of good work to help benefit their constituents.  To their initial question of "Are we doing enough to support the goals of the foundation?" I would say no.  I went back and forth with how to answer this question, because when it comes down to it, the information necessary is all there, however, there are steps that can be taken to ease the use of the website, make processes clearer, and deliver a better user experience.  By making the following changes, the Williamsburg Community Foundation can better serve the area and support the foundation.

Major Recommendations:

  1. Use a consistent design for similar pages

  2. Improve hierarchy through font and spacing

  3. ​Make information more scannable (Bulleted lists​, tables, cards)

  4. ​Ensure pages have calls to action

  5. Clearly note opportunities to get assistance​​

  6. Add pre-recorded videos from in-person info sessions​

  7. Consolidate pages and evaluate menus

  8. Bring as much functionality onto the site as possible

With these changes, the foundation will be able to provide residents of the area and users of the website with a better user experience and ease their ability to accomplish their intended goals.  Many of the changes center around making information easier to find, read, and understand.  Additional changes to offer more assistance to those using the website will help to alleviate roadblocks. 

 

All of this will hopefully lead to more donations and allow the Williamsburg Community Foundation to enhance the quality of life in greater Williamsburg, Virginia by connecting people with causes that matter, managing charitable funds, and providing grants and scholarships for the community’s most pressing needs and promising opportunities. 

Takeaways & Final Thoughts

I entered the UX field to be able to make an impact in people's lives.  While this sounds like a grandiose vision, projects like this help me feel that fulfillment.  I loved having an opportunity to work with an organization that helps charities and students in their community.  Conducting this website review and making recommendations will hopefully lead to noticeable differences in how they operate and what they can do for the community.  

Methodologically, I feel confident in what I did, but I am torn on whether or not I should have conducted a card sort as part of the process.  Through other research methods, I think their site can be simplified and many pages combined (and eliminated).  With this recommendation in mind, it would have made a card sort of their current layout irrelevant.  I believe the best course of action would be to have the foundation take my feedback and re-evaluate what pages are important to them and how they want to restructure their IA.  Once those decisions have been made, a card sort and a deeper look at this part of their website could prove beneficial.  

I am excited to see what the Williamsburg Community Foundation does with my recommendations and am eager to hear if they see an increase in donations.  I think beyond the recommendations made to them, I have provided them with knowledge and a lens with which they can now continue to view and evaluate their website on their own.