Embracing human-centered design principles can enhance nonprofits’ ability to make informed decisions, amplify their impact, and create positive change in the communities they serve. In today’s podcast, Sheryl Cababa from Substantial and Stephen Halasnik from Financing Solutions discuss human-centered design: a creative approach to nonprofit decisions. 

Human-Centered Design: A Creative Approach to Decisions For Nonprofits

In the world of nonprofits, making impactful decisions is crucial for achieving their missions and creating meaningful change. However, decision-making in nonprofit organizations often involves complex challenges, limited resources, and diverse stakeholder needs.  And this is where human-centered design (HCD) comes into play as a creative and empathetic approach that can guide nonprofits in making informed and effective choices. 

By placing the needs and experiences of people at the center of the decision-making process, HCD offers a way to optimize solutions and enhance the overall effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.

In this article, we will explore the principles and benefits of human-centered design and discuss how it can be applied to decision-making within a nonprofit organization.

What is Human-Centered Design for Nonprofit

Human-centered design is an iterative process that prioritizes understanding and meeting the needs of people for whom a product, service, or system is designed. It involves gathering deep insights into the target audience, empathizing with their experiences, and designing solutions that address their specific challenges. HCD encourages collaboration, creativity, and a focus on outcomes that align with the organization’s goals.

Principles of Human-Centered Design:

  • Empathy: HCD starts with understanding the needs, desires, and constraints of the people the nonprofit aims to serve. It involves engaging directly with the target audience through interviews, observations, and other research methods to gain valuable insights.
  • Iteration: The HCD process is iterative, meaning that it involves continuous cycles of prototyping, testing, and refining solutions based on user feedback. This allows nonprofits to adapt and improve their interventions based on real-world experiences.
  • Co-creation: Involving stakeholders and end-users throughout the design process is crucial. By collaborating with those directly affected by the nonprofit’s work, nonprofits can gain diverse perspectives and co-create solutions that are more likely to meet the actual needs of their beneficiaries.
  • Multidisciplinary collaboration: HCD encourages collaboration between individuals from different disciplines, such as designers, program managers, and community members. This diverse collaboration brings unique insights and expertise to the decision-making process.

Applying Human-Centered Design to Nonprofits

Problem Identification: 

Nonprofits should begin by identifying the key challenges or issues their target audience faces. This involves conducting research, engaging with the community, and listening to the voices of those affected by the problem.

Empathetic Research

 Human-centered design relies heavily on qualitative research methods such as interviews, observations, and focus groups. Nonprofits can employ these methods to gain a deeper understanding of their beneficiaries’ needs, motivations, and experiences.Human centered Design for Nonprofits

Ideation and Prototyping

Once nonprofits have gathered insights, brainstorming and ideation sessions can be held to generate potential solutions. These ideas can be quickly prototyped and tested with the target audience to gather feedback and refine the interventions.

User Testing and Feedback

Through user testing, nonprofits can evaluate the usability, desirability, and effectiveness of their prototypes. Feedback from the target audience allows for necessary adjustments and improvements to be made before implementing the final solution.

Implementation and Evaluation

After refining the solution based on user feedback, nonprofits can implement the intervention with a clear plan for monitoring and evaluation. This helps assess the impact of the intervention and provides insights for further improvements.

Benefits of Human-Centered Design for Nonprofits

Increased Relevance and Impact

By placing the needs of beneficiaries at the core of decision-making, nonprofits can ensure that their interventions are relevant, effective, and impactful. This approach helps align the organization’s work with the real-world challenges the target audience faces.

Enhanced Stakeholder Engagement

Human-centered design involves stakeholders, including beneficiaries, volunteers, and staff members. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and engagement, creating a stronger connection between the nonprofit and its community.

Innovative Solutions

 HCD encourages creative thinking and the exploration of new ideas. By considering various perspectives and involving individuals from diverse backgrounds, nonprofits can develop innovative solutions that uniquely address complex challenges.

Cost-Efficient Decision Making

Prototyping and testing ideas before full-scale implementation can save nonprofits valuable resources. By identifying potential flaws and gathering user feedback early in the process, organizations can avoid costly mistakes and invest their resources wisely.


The human-centered design offers a powerful approach to decision-making for nonprofits. By focusing on the needs and experiences of people, nonprofits can develop more relevant, impactful, and sustainable solutions. Through empathy, iteration, and multidisciplinary collaboration, organizations can create interventions that better address the complex challenges faced by their target population. Embracing human-centered design principles can enhance nonprofits’ ability to make informed decisions, amplify their impact, and create positive change in the communities they serve.

Learn About Our Guest 

Sheryl Cababa is the Chief Design Officer at the Insights, Design + Development Studio, Substantial,

and a multi-disciplinary design strategist with more than two decades of experience. She is

focused on reinventing the approaches of learning and collaboration in today’s educational environment

to help equity-centered research affirm and advances relationships between institutions, educators,

and students. Her recent work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation includes leading student voice research to inform the K-12 Balance The Equation Grand Challenge. Her book, Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers, was released in early 2023.

Learn About Stephen Halasnik

Stephen Halasnik co-founded Financing Solutions, the leading provider of lines of credit for nonprofits and church financing. The credit line program for nonprofits & churches is fast, easy, inexpensive, and costs nothing to set up, making it a great backup plan when cash flow is temporarily down. Mr. Halasnik is also the host of the popular, Nonprofit MBA Podcast. The podcast brings experts to discuss fundraising, nonprofit grants, executive director leadership, nonprofit boards, and other important topics. You can learn more about the nonprofit line of credit program here or call 862-207-4118.