Funeral Donations from concept to go live: five product learnings for your organisation


Online funeral donations can help your charity make more money

Last week we launched Funeral Donations – a new JustGiving web service aimed at helping funeral directors create memorial fundraising pages for the families and individuals they serve.

Encouraging online donations means that funeral directors don’t have to deal with cash and cheques, which can be an extremely time-consuming process, taking an average of two hours per funeral. It also means the reclaim of GiftAid becomes as simple as ticking a box, reducing the estimated £25 million each year that the charity sector loses through unclaimed GiftAid.

One of the challenges of product management is building for different audiences and their different needs. So short of radicalising our homepage for a new user type, we took the approach that it would be more effective to offer funeral directors a new and alternative route to creating online memorial pages. Let’s offer them a bespoke journey that caters to their needs, their familiarity with JustGiving and their expertise, we said.

That’s quite a departure from the norm for us at JustGiving, so here’s five key learnings we made along the way.

1. Understand your audience

Anecdotally, we’ve known that a small number of UK funeral directors have been using JustGiving for some time. And that’s great. We’re thrilled that different types of businesses are able to make use of our product offering. But it was clear that the standard process of setting up and managing a memorial fundraising page wasn’t tailored to this unique audience. And why would it be? That’s not our bread and butter. And so we asked ourselves, as a a funeral director visiting our homepage for the first time, is it truly obvious what I need to do or what I need to click on?

Over the past few months we’ve learnt more about the industry than we would ever have imagined – how they operate, the roles and responsibilities, the data they collect, their technical set up (Internet Explorer 7 is rife!), and their understanding of memorial fundraising. In short, who are they and what are their needs.

2. Build it fast – keep it lean

Through rounds of meetings, phone interviews and simple testing of early wireframes, we were able to better slip into the shoes of our audience. And how was that helpful? We removed loads of features that we thought we needed to include. We reined in our ambition and amended copy that we’ve historically defaulted to. In short, we designed a product that funeral directors needed, rather than one which we thought they needed.

Build it fast and keep it lean is one of our product learnings from Funeral Donations

3. Go on, try your own dog food!

To build the new product we needed to act like an outside agency and consume the JustGiving APIs. And that’s great as they are relatively easy to develop against and they offer all the constituent actions that we wanted to replicate in the final product, such as the ability to register a new account or to create a memorial fundraising page.

Commonly referred to in tech parlance as eating your own dog food, leveraging and relying upon our own public APIs kept us honest. It forced us to only consider features that were possible with the current set of consumer methods and it meant that like any of our hundreds of API developers, we were reliant on the same code stack. In short, if our APIs fall over, our product would fail, and that keeps you focused on delivering a reliable platform that third parties can trust.

4. Release early and often

The more traditional method of compiling a detailed business requirements document is not the way we tend to work at JustGiving. We’ve found it’s better to build and test, build and test, releasing as often as you can so that the product is forced to quickly stand on its own two feet. Our initial sketches quickly became wireframes that we walked funeral directors through and in turn, within one sprint of work (normally two weeks), we had a live version of the site that we could work with from end to end. It didn’t look pretty – quite the opposite – but the point was to stress test the technologies and to learn from a living breathing product what works and what can be binned.

We were able to maintain this approach throughout the project as we built and hosted the application on the Windows Azure platform. That meant that we could leverage our existing tools to create and deploy the application without having to worry about the relationship with our standard, now 10- year-old infrastructure.

5. Ensure it does exactly what it says on the tin

Crikey, choosing a brand name is not that easy. The name that you’re going to give to the product is obviously important for its intended audience. It needs to resonate. It needs to make sense. And in this case we strongly felt it had to be functional and had to utilise JustGiving’s brand equity. But even internally, it helps cement a project in our experience if you get the name of it right early on. The name can help shape and inform the product, but it also gives people confidence as it gives your product a sense of being from a very early stage.

How useful did you find these tips? Have you got any more to share? Tell us below.

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Jamie Parkins is the API product manager at JustGiving. He specialises in developing the services and technologies that enable charities, agencies and a growing community of developers to build applications that utilise JustGiving's technologies.