Monday, July 14, 2014

Non-Profit Stock Exchange: User Experience - 1

First of several "User Experience" (UX) brainstorms.

Today I'm going to try dipping my toes lightly but concretely into what it might be like to try a stock exchange for non-profits. A technical term for this is called the "user experience", sometimes abbreviated by "UX".

User experience design can be very formal, with professionals spending their full-time thinking about it, designing things visually, testing it out, and getting people to test it out.

To help get some forward momentum, I'm going to pretend I'm in a sleeping bag, looking up at the stars, and brainstorming with some friends about user experience -- verbally. Try to imagine it. I guess if you're reading then you're at the campfire too. There are no mosquitoes, but there are crickets chirping nearby, and the temperature is just right.

It would be nice to have an experience that was familiar to people who have invested in the stock market, or who have a retirement account of some kind. But it would also be nice to be simpler, maybe a bit more friendly, less intimidating. Informational, but not too "cutesy".

I think walking in the door, it might be nice to have some simple options at the top, such as: 

How It Works

There would likely be more categories, but that is a start I suppose.

I think it might also be nice to have some kind of 1-2-3 "Wizard" on the front page, so that when you visit, without even having to click on anything, it gives you a simple overview of how things work.

At the time of writing, there seem to be a lot of sites out there that are putting just about everything on a single page, that you can just scroll through, without having to click on anything. That might be something to consider too; I think it's partly because of many people are visiting websites on mobile devices, where it might just be simpler to "scroll down" if you want to read more.

I want to keep this post short - so I'll get right into a potential "1-2-3"

Welcome to NPOEx, a stock exchange for non-profit organizations. Here's how to get started. (with a nice spiffy graphic of some kind, based on other similer 1-2-3 approaches)

1. Claim your free currency.
2. Choose an organization to invest it in.
3. Sign-up to complete the process.

How does that sound? You can comment at the bottom of this post, or at - you don't need to have any technical expertise -- just imagine whether that would be friendly, if it would make sense.

Part of the reason step 1 might be free currency is to encourage people to try it. Then perhaps once you try, you might invest money of your own in a non-profit organization. And there probably would be some kind of simple paragraph explanation at the top of the screen, as well as "take a tour" links, and "learn more about NPOEx" for people who wanted to learn more.

But as a starting point, as the "front lobby" of a user experience, that's what I'm thinking.

How's that?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dream: Color-coded Portfolios

In this post I wanted to daydream a bit, about what it would be like to have a color-coded portfolio of investments. In this case, it would be investing to have impact, to change the world, with an expectation of ongoing feedback, knowing what happens, how things unfold.

One of the influences on starting to think about color-coding investments was volunteering for One Laptop Per Child during my PhD research, a project that developed laptops for children around the world, to help with education. And though there was a great deal of support for the project, I was struck by the question that was sometimes raised, about going into an area of the developing world, and helping with education, when there wasn't necessarily even all the other "basics", such as drinking water, sanitation, etc.

And it felt to me at the time that the answer was "Yes". Not only to education, but also to health, also the environment. Not one exclusively - but seeking a balanced approach. And when I started thinking more in terms of color, particularly the "green" of environment, it felt like there could be more colors, and that colors could be a way to simplify things, a way to suggest to people that they could support the world holistically, in a balanced way, by thinking about having a set of causes to support.

This grew into thinking about how people will invest in a portfolio of companies, when they are investing in the stock market. Most people spread their investments out over a number of different companies, or invest in a mutual fund, which spreads the investment out for you.

So that's the for-profit stock market, in a nutshell. Invest, hope for the best, celebrate success.

So why not invite people to have a portfolio of non-profit investments?

Some people already do this - they respond to individual appeals on television, or email, or the Internet. Maybe they regularly send a check or digital donation to more than one organization. But chances are that in the modern world of being buried in a flood of information, the messages from non-profits can get buried too. Or there might be a good feeling of knowing you're supporting an organization, in spirit or financially, when you see the magnet on the refrigerator - but the relationship is about as far as that goes. There might be positive intent, but not a very deep relationship.

It would be fair to say that one thing that drives people to be actively engaged in their stock portfolios, or retirement portfolios, is the natural, avid interest in how much it is worth, especially the more you rely on the portfolio for future income or survival. And there's nothing wrong with that.

With donating in a cause, it does seem like there's enough people out there who already are open to supporting causes, but who might find it satisfying to have a simpler way of supporting those causes, and an integrated way of keeping track of the ongoing impact. And the hope, the daydream, the prayer, the aspiration is, that the same dynamics that fuel the stock market could help fuel a non-profit one. That people would gain a clear, focused sense of the impact their donation is having, through the paradigm of a portfolio.

Even the for-profit stock market can be overwhelming to many - witness the success and assistance that financial providers provide. There's so many options out there, it can be overwhelming. And seasoned veterans will tell you that it's hard to "beat the market" -- meaning you can be more successful than others some of the time, but there's always surprises. So a lot of effort can come to naught, you can lose your wealth, significant amounts of it.

And that might be one bright distinction of a  non-profit stock exchange - there may be risk, but there's much less risk of total loss. That is, if you invest wisely, most likely there will be a cumulative impact, and cumulative gain over time. And when you invest in an organization, that sends a signal to other investors -- and that could end up drawing more resources confidently into areas where they're needed, where they are being effectively used.

And maybe, just maybe, the same dynamic of the portfolio could help simplify things, and make them less overwhelming. And maybe, just maybe, color coding could help simplify the issue.

Imagine having a set of cards that represented the causes you're supporting, color-coded for organizations that impact health, the environment, community.

It could be a means of self-expression, and it could be beautiful.

"I'm going to go for a mix of green, red and blue".

"I'm going to go for a mix of red and pink".

The beauty comes from responding to that question about supporting one cause while neglecting others. A color coded portfolio could help people develop a balanced approach towards changing the world, to help holistically - in health, in education, in the environment, not just for the present world, but for future generations. And that's what the idea is really about - investing for the future.

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