Goal: Envisioning the future of responsible philanthropy for The Pittsburgh Foundation

In this research and design project, I worked with a team for The Pittsburgh Foundation to research the philanthropic space and design a forward-thinking technology to better connect The Pittsburgh Foundation with its donor and grantee constituents.

My roles in the project were User Researcher and Technology Lead. As a User Researcher, I facilitated or took notes for many interviews and tests, recruited participants for external community foundation research, created interview guides for external community foundations and industry experts, and reviewed and edited interview guides across the project. As Technology Lead, I led discussions with The Foundation's IT department, wrote the implementation guide that we handed off to our clients, and designed and wrote pseudocode for our system's recommender algorithm.

Understanding Philanthropy: Secondary Research, Contextual Inquiry, and Observe & Intercept

At the onset of this project, I had never heard of community foundations before, let alone how they worked. To better understand the problem space, my team and I conducted secondary research, contextual inquiry sessions with The Pittsburgh Foundation employees, and guerrilla interviews with Pittsburgh locals.

The first step was to gain a broad understanding of our clients and philanthropy in general by reading countless pages of reports and brochures from The Pittsburgh Foundation in addition to 100 pages of a textbook about the psychology and economics of philanthropy. Seeking to uncover the Pittsburgh community’s views on giving, I led interviews or recorded notes for 5 Pittsburgh locals in downtown Pittsburgh. I personally spearheaded the team in semi-structured interviews with subject-matter experts, designing interview guides for the two participants and leading the interviews with them.

Through this step of the research process, my team and I were able to develop a solid understanding of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s internal processes, their position in the community, and the philanthropic space as a whole -- an endeavor that The Pittsburgh Foundation employees typically complete successfully in two years -- within two months.

affinity gif

Narrowing on a Problem: Affinity Diagramming, Storyboard Speed-Dating, Semi-Structured Interview, and Remote Work

With much of our background research complete, my team and I moved forward with defining a scope for our project. We synthesized our research through several affinity diagramming sessions and distilled our findings to a handful of ideas that we tested through storyboard speed-dating with donors. Meanwhile, we filled in any gaps in our understanding of The Pittsburgh Foundation internal processes by interviewing employees.

Hours and hours of affinity diagramming led us to one of our first insights: collaboration leads to responsible giving. At this point, we understood this “collaboration” as collaboration between donors. Thus, we created 3 sets of 3 storyboards, with each set exploring methods for donor collaboration in varying degrees.

Through these tests and revisiting our previous research, we developed new insights that pointed us in the direction of designing an internal tool to allow The Pittsburgh Foundation to better serve their donors and connect those donors to under-supported community needs.

During this phase of research, it grew apparent that we knew very little about The Pittsburgh Foundation’s backend. I led the team in learning more about the technology our clients used, creating guides and running 5 interviews with The Pittsburgh Foundation’s IT department and personally exploring The Pittsburgh Foundation’s databases.


Testing Solutions and Validating: Concept Testing and Think-Alouds

With a narrowed focus, we tested low-fidelity sketches of concepts with employees of The Pittsburgh Foundation and other community foundations, then iterated through our designs and tested again and again. As we reached higher fidelity prototypes, we switched to testing our designs through think-alouds for usability.

We identified our audience as the team at The Pittsburgh Foundation responsible for working with donors -- a team of 4 employees. With this small but mighty team, we tested a total of 6 low-fidelity concepts and 11 mid-fidelity concepts.

Although we were able to test with our entire target userbase, my team and I wanted to collect data from additional participants from external community foundations to inform how our designs might scale to other populations. I took ownership of this part of the research, identifying and reaching out to many possible participants, then creating guides and running tests or taking notes for 4 external community foundations.

algorithm diagram

Ensuring Feasibility and Algorithm Design

One of my primary goals in this project was to ensure the feasibility of our designs for The Pittsburgh Foundation, and to provide our clients with a detailed implementation guide. One way that I addressed this goal was through leading discussions with members of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s IT department, as mentioned. In addition, I also led interviews with two technical experts. Thanks to their input, I was able to further research and recommend technology for The Pittsburgh Foundation to use when implementing our product, and I was able to provide our clients with an estimated time and cost for implementation.

As part of our implementation guide, I also designed and wrote pseudocode for the rule-based recommender algorithm that serves as the backbone of our solution. My team and I decided that this would be an essential part of the implementation guide, since the recommender algorithm, when implemented, could serve as an MVP, sufficiently recommending donor-to-grant matches.

result design


We designed high-fidelity interactive screens for an internal web-based tool and provided this to our clients along with a technical implementation guide, algorithm pseudocode, style guide, and functional annotation document, research report, and final project report. In addition, we delivered a midpoint presentation and final presentation on our work and created a project website.

Our tool, dubbed ReMatch, serves to consolidate information about donors and grants in a single place and give The Pittsburgh Foundation employees recommended matches between donors and grants, thus helping those employees to engage with their donors while also fulfilling community needs.


This project was massively influential for me, not only providing me with practical experience in a variety of areas but also illuminating many of my preferences in terms of research and projects. I really appreciated the opportunity to work with a team in which everyone conducted some research and synthesis. The work felt truly meaningful and substantive, as it allowed me to reach and support those in need and populations who often go unheard in research and design. It has inspired me to do similar work in the future!

Find out more!

To read about our process in more depth, check out our Medium posts here! Or, to learn more about the final product, visit our website here!