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Nonprofit Heroes: Jonathan Waddingham, Product Manager at JustGiving

Welcome to our “Nonprofit heroes” series, where the Donorfy team interviews industry experts, successful proven fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better.

Today we're featuring Jonathan Waddingham, product manager at JustGiving. We asked Jon a few questions about how he got into the charity tech sector, and what insight he has for fundraisers going forward.

First, a little about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jonathan Waddingham and I’m a senior product manager at JustGiving. I work on our crowdfunding website, as well as managing our iOS and Android apps.

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What was your first job?

I worked the checkout at Sainsbury’s.

How did you get into the charity sector?

I didn’t have a clear idea of what sort of career I wanted to get into after leaving university. Doing a degree in French and Philosophy didn’t exactly help point me in a direction either, but I knew that I wanted to do something that made a difference. I wanted to do something that had some greater impact than just a job paying a salary. At the time, one of my friends worked for a charity and pointed me in the direction of a job at JustGiving, having recently met one of the founders. So I joined JustGiving, working on the charity helpdesk, and 11 years later, I’m still here. 

Given the number of donations that flow through your systems, you must have some fascinating insights into our giving habits. Got any up-to-the-minute nuggets of information (or just some stats) that you can share with us?

Well, I guess the most obvious area is concerning is the continuing dominance of mobile. It’s not exactly new – we’ve had many ‘X is the year of mobile’ years already – but [charities need to know that] it’s not stopping.

For example, 88% of traffic to JustGiving on the day of the London Marathon was from mobile. Whilst that is an extreme day, it’s not atypical – 72% of all traffic in May has come from mobile devices.

And yet, still many charity websites aren’t mobile optimised. Whilst [designing a whole new mobile or responsive website]  isn’t necessarily easy, setting up a mobile optimised donation process is easy – there are plenty of options available to charities to set that up.

I see JustGiving as a startup in terms of what I understand of your culture and entrepreneurial spirit. However, you’ve been going for a quite a long time now. How do you (as a company) stay so young?

Good question. As we’ve grown over the years, some aspects of our culture have definitely changed. You didn’t really need to worry about internal comms for example, when you’re only 20 odd people in one office. But other things that we hold dear – like innovation and taking responsibility – haven’t changed, but we exhibit them in different ways or try and foster them in new ways.

When we started work on our crowdfunding product, we locked the team in a room for 12 weeks to build an MVP (minimal viable product), and once we had built it, a team of just three of us were tasked with growing it. And to make it feel like a new startup, we moved to an office next door to the main JG office – encouraging us to do things ourselves and take responsibility for our numbers and actions.

We take a lot of inspiration from the startup tech world, so using agile development practices and following lean startup principles helps keep us nimble and able to move fast. Plus, having small cross-functional teams empowers each team to make decisions and take responsibility for their areas of work.

We’ve always had a relatively flat structure from an HR perspective, and devolving responsibility to dedicated teams allows them to try out new ways of working and find more ways to deliver great products, quickly.

As a product manager, you’re probably not short of suggestions from people about how your products can be improved. As a fellow PM myself, as well as an occasional JustGiving user, I’d be interested to know how you develop stuff and what part customer feedback plays in that.

Yes, you should see my backlog, it’s pretty long! Our product planning process is something we’ve worked on a lot and has evolved a lot over the years. At the moment, it’s a process that is being improved every quarter.

We start with a goal, or set of goals, and work back from them to think of ways we can hit those goals. This is an inclusive process, so brings in customer success people, as well as user experience, design, marketing and development teams.

Once we have a bunch of ideas, we go away and score them on effort vs reward to help us prioritise what to do.

Once we have a good idea of how long it will take us to do the ideas and how they’ll impact the numbers, we then present back to everyone who took part so everyone has a stake in the roadmap.

Every week, our customer success team will tell us what types of queries are the most frequent, which also gives us an idea of the top features to build. In addition, we get real time customer feedback that is integrated with Slack (our chat tool) – and that’s shared with the whole team to make it totally transparent what our users think.

And as well as this, when we build a new feature, we usually run some user testing sessions ahead of the build to get some qualitative feedback.

All in all, it’s a very customer-centric process. Because, well, if you don’t build things for your customers, who are you building them for?

It seems to me that as fundraising becomes democratised so that anyone with a smartphone can do it by setting up a crowdfunding page, the definition of a legitimate cause is becoming blurred - it’s no longer necessarily a registered charity. Do you agree? And if so what implications do you think that has for the sector?

As I’ve worked on our crowdfunding site for the last 4 years, I’m inclined to agree. JG was built on the premise of helping people do good – and not all good things are related to registered charities.

Our CMO Charlie recently said that he thinks crowdfunding will be bigger than any single charity by 2019, and this is both a threat and an opportunity.

Mostly it relies on speed of action and agility. Anyone with a smartphone can create a crowdfunding page in 5 mins, but how long does it take a charity to set up an appeal in a crisis?

For example, the recent Manchester attack took place at night. By 9.30 am the next day, the MEN crowdfunding page was live and accepting donations. It has since joined up with the We <3 Manchester campaign, but there was a time difference between the two launches.

At times of disaster, speed is of the essence, especially when news breaks on Twitter before any mainstream media can cover it.

One of the things that make user led crowdfunding campaigns great is the authenticity of the storytelling. There is no jargon, no brand guidelines, on a page where someone is asking for money for medical treatment for a family member. Can that be always said of a charity appeal?

Often there is one specific beneficiary to a crowdfunding page too. Charities have known about this and used this for years  - the identifiable victim effect – and so a focus on telling a single person’s story, and telling it well, may help their campaigns be more successful.

From what we’ve seen so far, though, it doesn’t look like donations to crowdfunding pages are affecting donations to charities. In fact, we’ve seen more of the opposite – new people coming to the site for crowdfunding, and then giving to charities in the future. This behaviour, in particular, is encouraging and is something we’re looking to enable even more.

Charities and their supply chain are under pressure like never before. If there was one thing you could do to change the public’s perception of fundraising what would it be?

That there are costs involved. The public expect charities to work in a world of zero costs, where all staff are volunteers and they spend 100% of what they raise and any ‘admin’ is a waste.

This a wider issue than just tools like JustGiving costing money to use. It’s ok for ‘it costs money to make money’ to apply in the corporate world, but not in the charity world.

That’s especially annoying in the technology space, where things move so quickly that you have to run to stand still, and you have to spend a lot of money just to keep up.

Will AI affect how we give? If so, how?

I don’t think it will necessarily change how we give, but it may change who we give to. Algorithms that recommend what shoes, music or content you might like have been around for ages. It’s a logical progression for the same process to recommend charities too – and we’ve been working on that for a few years now. When I work with the data science team here, we think about things in a completely different way, as the possibilities they afford us are on another level.

But even at JG, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with machine learning and AI in respect of charities – and we have a unique data set on which these models can learn – so the possibilities are limitless. Plus the barrier to entry is lowering all the time too. If you want to create a chatbot, for example, there are platforms that enable you to do so without needing any technical knowledge.

AI and ‘machine learning as a platform’ will continue to grow and could afford charities the ability to make much smarter decisions about what content to show a supporter, or how much to ask for an example. It’s an exciting space and it is sure to be an ever bigger part of our lives as the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook plough their resources into it.

A few quickfire questions:

  • If you could save one record/ cassette / CD / MP3 / stream to take to the desert island with you, what would it be and why?

Can I cheat and take Spotify? If not, then it would have to be the playlist my wife and I put together for our wedding. I won’t share it – it’s too personal – but it was awesome, trust me.

  • PC or Mac?

Mac. Once you’ve tried it, you can never go back.

  • Is your smartphone an iPhone, Android or other?

iPhone. And never more than a metre away, I’m not ashamed to admit.

  • What’s your current favourite app?

I’m a relatively recent convert to Netflix, so I’m spending a lot of time catching up on the shows that everyone else has already seen -  so no breaking bad spoilers please.

Thanks Jonathan for being our nonprofit hero!

If you’d like to nominate an industry expert or nonprofit hero, contact us or tweet us @Donorfy. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter so you don’t miss the next interview.