Getting started with user experience Part 2: how to recruit the best people to test your charity website or app

Liz Blog

Yesterday my colleague Huu wrote a blog about how to get started with lean user research. Now that you’ve figured out what you want to do, and how you want to measure it, let’s talk about how to get people in the door to provide that meaningful feedback you need.

I’ve been running product testing and feedback sessions for over 10 years at JustGiving now and I can honestly say I’ve met every type of user possible. In the early days we went with what seemed like the easiest option for recruiting people to join sessions in the lab – calling up a market research agency and getting them do the hard work of finding people.

It didn’t always work. And the last straw was the time I used an agency to recruit a man in his forties and he showed up reeking of booze. Technically, the agency hadn’t gotten it wrong – but it wasn’t right either. I knew then that something needed to change. After all, how could I deliver useful results to my team without the right people looking at our work?

I’ve run countless usability tests since then. And the lesson I learned that day is still valid: if you want to run meaningful user-research sessions you must first prioritise recruitment and get the right people in the lab. Here are some tips based on how we do it at JustGiving.

Recruit your supporters first

I bet your database of supporters would be thrilled to join you for a testing session. After all, they are already supporting your cause, and this is another way they can pitch in (without having to hand over any cash). They probably already have ideas about where you can improve, and they’ll be interested in your charity’s next steps. So get them in! The fastest way to do this would be to add a link to a survey to any email communications you send out to your supporters. Get them to fill in their details, what they can help you with, and where they are located. This group is great for remote testing too – even if they can’t physically come into the lab, they are more likely to want to help you remotely if needed.

 Be local

Where’s your headquarters? I’d hazard a guess that you might be in a building with other organisations or at least close to other office buildings. We’ve had great success recruiting users from our building – we offer lots of lunchtime slots for user testing so it’s easy for people to pop down for an hour, give us some feedback and make a little bit of cash for the weekend. We have a building-wide email newsletter, and we add an invitation to help us with research every time it goes out. I also know people who have had success recruiting in local lunch spots by chatting and giving out cards. And even if your HQ is a coffee shop, I bet you can convince a few other patrons to give you some feedback for a bit of cash.

Get your invite right

When you email your supporter base to invite them to sessions, forget about the benefits to your charity. Instead, make it clear that this is about you, not them. For example, you may want to use something like this as a subject line: Could our new website help you? Make sure that they also know that the sessions are at their convenience, and be clear about any rewards or incentives they are offering.

If you must go to an agency, make your brief watertight

After my incident with the drunk user I put a lot of time into making sure my screeners would deliver the best possible people for the test.

I ramped up the demographic and employment requirements and added some more questions around:

– what websites and devices they use

– what sort of things they do online

– how comfortable they feel in group discussions

And we did get better results. But I realised soon enough that the time we spent briefing an agency could be better used inviting our own users or local users. We now only use agencies when we are looking for a very specific type of person that we can’t reach ourselves.

If you do need to use an agency, don’t be scared to push them – if your target market is mothers who have children under five and are concerned about meningitis, make sure your brief to the agency is very specific about this. After all, this is where agencies can shine and add value. And if the agency isn’t better at finding people than you are, drop them.

Get the right people in to test your website, app, service, or concept and you’ll find that you’ll get not only the feedback you’re after, but also buy-in from decision-makers.

And how do you know when you’re doing it right? That’s easy: when your Director of Fundraising who has seen your lab sessions alludes to the users you recruited by name. “Don’t forget, Ella – the redhead – she had problems understanding the search results.”

Good luck with your recruitment – if you have any questions about how we do it, feel free to drop me a line.


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Elizabeth helped transform JustGiving from a tiny start-up in 2001 into becoming the world's largest online fundraising community. As head of insight she’s responsible for understanding the behaviour and needs of JustGiving’s 13 million + users.