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Rewarding millennials to invest in Non-Profits via microdonations

Groundswell gives users a prepaid debit card that takes the institutional fee and gives back to the NPO. The challenge is to create an experience without having the full functionality of a banking application.


In a world where millennials are the emerging market demographic, non-profit organizations must find novel ways to raise funds to sustain their mission. The GroundSwell Card program allows non-profit organizations to appeal to donors with and without disposable income, crowd-sourcing microdonations that otherwise would have been absorbed by bank fees.

GroundSwell is a client that had to take a unique pivot to save the fidelity of their product. Through clever analysis of altruistic behaviors, we were able to create an engaging experience that turns a banking application into a do-good feel-good application.

The Challenge

A requirement to be a financial application is access to real-time banking data (via API endpoints). After the initial design, our team was informed that we would not have real-time access to metrics and would only be given a data dump one every 24 hours.

The new challenge was to redesign a financial application that taps into altruism and uses gamification rewards to encourage behavior.

My Role: UX Designer

My role as a UX Designer was to create an experience of delight for a user and move away from the traditional banking experience. I worked in defining the "delightful" experience, along with the creation of requirements and wireframes. My role required me to interact directly with clients and manage an offshore development team.

Project Goals:

  • Create a financial app without the robust functionality of a financial app
  • Design a delightful experience to encourage users to make a difference
  • Utilize offshore resources to develop a responsive web application

What problem does this solve?

By moving the focus of a financial application to a community focused experience, we will fulfill the requirements of limited functionality and give delight to users by showing that they are making a difference.

Why is this project worth doing?

Giving back to society is a noble cause. Enabling people to make altruistic contributions without having to change behavior gives a feeling of satisfaction knowing that they are making a difference.

Is this better than the alternative?

There are many financial applications on the market, and the idea of diverting institutional fees from prepaid debit cards isn't a new feature. The competitive advantage is taking those institutional fees and giving back to Non-Profit Orgs. This satisfies a painless, altruistic need to make a difference in the world while not changing any pre-existing behavior.

Change in Requirements

The largest obstacle to overcome was the lack of support from the payment vendor - meaning GroundSwell would have restricted access to the financial information of the user. That creates a problem of a banking application doesn’t have access to any financial information.

With that change in requirement, our team explored opportunities to double-down on the purpose of the application - allowing users to make micro donations to support the non-profit of their choice.

The team a workshop to understand who the user is and what motives they might have for using the application. Whiteboarding ideals, motives, and hesitations gave us a clear direction in which to create a community experience where users would be invested into their own avatar.

Defining Delight

With the centerpiece of this project moving away from financial information and creating a delightful experience. Our idea is to have a gamified element which changes based on activity with the application.

The next step was to involve the stakeholders to define the vision. Our team presented a variety of styles and animations, and together we defined “delight” in the context of GroundSwell.

The purpose of this presentation was to change the vision of the stakeholders and to let the imagination wander. The outcome allowed us to make a decision on how to approach delight and what theme to use going forward. The concept is a flourishing garden which invites visitors, who appear based on spending performance. This reinforces positive behavior and helps GroundSwell work towards their business objectives.

Animation and Logic

After exploring the concept of delight, our team needed to focus our efforts on a tangible product. Our solution is the creation of a landscape that grows and attracts visitors through positive reinforcement.

Animation Sample
The sample of the animation blocked out. Click for the full demo.

The image above is a sample animation that we built to add gamification to the application. The second part of the animation was determining the logic for the items to be called.

Our task was to create programming logic for showing specific sequences of animations. Once a user reaches a milestone, the guest creature would visit the farm. Working with development, we developed a fixed variable reinforcement schedule which rewards users who completed a task recently, or continuously. This reinforcement schedule encourages the user to stay engaged with the application and using the card for purchases.

A compromise for the MVP was that we were not able to include a robust reinforcement model, but instead went with a "once complete, always complete" model. The advantage is that the user will clearly understand what behavior gave this result and is less intimidating to early-adopting users.

Managing Offshore Resources

One of my responsibilities was managing an offshore team. Our resources matched me with a technical project manager and four developers.

Communicating design decisions to remote developers was another challenging task. The offshore development team was not included in design conversations and did not have a breadth of context for the project.

The first hurdle was explaining the logic for the delight module of the application. The best method of communicating design came from a html prototype articulating the decision.

Providing documentation, like the sheet above, aided in the understanding of the design of the offshore team. The benefits of preparation outweigh the time that would have been spent explaining and clarifying to that team. These efforts reduced the number of meetings needed to implement this concept, saving billable hours for the client.

Wireframes and Visual Designs

Realigning from a banking application into something more personal also means that the original design must be revised. The amount of information relating towards banking is deliberately reduced.

The focus of the new design gives more emphasis towards the delight and community reach of the application, while including simplified financial metrics.

Early Wires into Visual Design
The evolution of design from early concept wireframes into visual design.

Our solution was to integrate NPO content into the design. Non-profit organizations have another channel to spread their message, and the design encourages NPOs to be more involved with content generation. The end user will see their contributions in action and understand where their money is going and the impact it makes.

The Impact

Completing the MVP brought many benefits to our team and our stakeholders. GroundSwell, as a company, is starting to get a larger user base and generating revenue from the service. Users are providing valuable feedback which will guide the next iterations of the product.

Users are now able to contribute to a Non-Profit Organization with minimal disruption from their day-to-day life, thanks to the GroundSwell card.

NPOs are given a new revenue stream and media outreach platform. With wide-spread adoption of the GroundSwell app, organizations will have more resources to make the world a better place.

Finalized Animation - Bees
Delight animation for the bees.

Want to find out more about GroundSwell and how you can make a difference? Visit the official GroundSwell website.

Reflections and Lessons

Overall, this was a challenging project that gave an opportunity for creative problem solving to shine. The "no financial data" constraint forced a pivot in the direction of the application. The adaptive thinking that our team did truly saved this product from being "just another banking application" and turned into a community experience.

An area where our team could use work is the production of animation. This ended up taking most of our time, since this is an area where we do not have as much experience. A solution would have been the contracting of a dedicated animator or allowing more time in sprint planning.

This was my first team completely managing offshore resources for development and production. My experience has been positive, and our interactions were productive. In previous teams that I've worked with (but not led), there was general disorganization about what tasks were being worked on and lack of communication for project status. This time it was the opposite, the team followed the sprint plan and only needed minimal guidance.

Final Design
Promotional material for GroundSwell.