How might we give teachers opportunities to better tell their stories?

Research, Ideation, Workshopping, Prototyping
10 weeks


For this project, I collaborated with Donors Choose, a non-profit “that makes it easy for anyone to help a classroom in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America create classroom project requests, and you can give any amount to the project that inspires you.”

After researching, ideating, and prototyping, I envisioned a podcasting platform that would allow teachers to create podcasts to enhance their storytelling experiences, and give donors an opportunity to listen to podcasts on existing platforms to donate internally.

Secondary Research 

I started with secondary research, learning primarily about those that donate their income and what percentage of their income they donate. I found some interesting statistics: significant research has shown “that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans.” (NYT, 2010) On average, the wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. (The Atlantic, 2013)

In a study done by Paul K. Piff, a Ph.D candidate in social psychology at UC Berkeley, it was found that the “lower class” subjects in his experiments tested were more “attuned to the needs of other and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism,” in comparison to the “upper class” subjects that prioritized their own needs.

With that information, I asked the questions ‘How might we influence upper-income Americans to be more generous? How might we engage upper-income Americans in greater generosity?’

Secondary Research Sprint

Sander van der Linden, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, found recently that in these sorts of emotionally driven videos, “instead of relying on abstract statistics, effective campaigns ask people to identify with someone who will benefit from our collective goodwill. That empathy can be contagious, especially when paired with emotional imagery.” (Mashable, 2017)

Content that is personal, emotional, and story-driven can be particularly addicting- so much so, that “In 2013, when Facebook decided that the curiousity-gap headlines and clickbait articles offered by viral websites like Upworthy (“the fastest growing media site of all time”) and ViralNova were wearing thin, it changed the algorithm for News Feed, the main river of content for Facebook users.”

However, engagement in content does not necessarily mean donation or action. Slacktivism as it’s been coined, was highlighted by Unicef during a 2013 campaign: “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio”. (The Guardian)

This is where Facebook’s “Donate Now” button comes in. The tappable button provides an opportunity for easy and integrated action, where users can click on ‘Donate Now’ and select suggested donation amounts.

With all of this information in mind, I started to think about the intersections in emotionally engaging (and sometimes manipulative) content and donation.

Sprint into Quick Ideation

In my brainstorming phase, I quickly ideated on solutions revolving around emotionally engaging content and charity donation.

As I looked through my brainstorms, I began to notice something: while the intention of charity engagement might often be positive and well-meaning, the usage of tools based in emotionally engaging and manipulative content could easily be negatively consequential.

This is something that, in my own life, I constantly notice. It seems as though the virtual attention economy we see on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram sometimes lends itself to the creation of and engagement in cute, fun videos of puppies getting along and random acts of kindness- but sometimes, this content can suck us into hours of time we might not have planned to spend online. This problem can also be explained in great detail by Tristan Harris’ Time Well Spent, so I’ll leave that here for more discovery.

Although factors like transparency (of finances and resources) and impact largely appear to be important factors for gaining donations, they are not. Charities that are entirely lacking transparency or deceitful, of course, will garner less donations, but, in general, the most important thing a charity can do to generate donations is tell meaningful stories.

Primary Research

Going into Donors Choose, I wanted to involve the employees, from both product and not in product, in the experience.

I started by interviewing employees at the company of various backgrounds and disciplines, asking them about what they do, problems they encounter, what they feel Donors Choose currently excels at doing, and more.

From these interviews, I learned some key insights from these interviews, a few being:

A big secret sauce for Donors Choose was the ‘thank you’ given post donation

Donors Choose has figured out the right length and format of teacher asks

Donors Choose considers the site a vehicle for storytelling; you can come to Donors Choose and get a sense of what teachers are doing in classrooms

Highlighting the stories on the public facing side helps give context to individual stories

With all of these insights in mind, I had three universal keywords I had pulled out of my conversations, being:




I then went to Donors Choose and held a collective design workshop with employees of different backgrounds, including volunteers. I asked them to brainstorm on the keywords while I wrote all of the brainstormed words down on sticky notes. We then voted (via sticky dot exercise) on a few more that felt representative of Donors Choose’s values, being:




Workshopping with Donors Choose

From here, I asked the employees at Donors Choose to spend ten minutes drawing out at least five ideas from one of the key words and what that might manifest itself as— as in, ideate on the word transparency and imagine what sort of things Donors Choose could work on with transparency as a leading value.

I asked them then to present their ideas to all of us, and then to get in pairs and continue this keyword ideation. 

I found that nearly all of the solutions the employees came up with fell within the category of storytelling; how Donors Choose could tell stories to potential donors, how teachers could tell their stories in new ways, how potential donors could see or imagine what their impact would tangibly look like, etc.

Low Fidelity Prototyping

With this in mind, and with the context that my secondary and preliminary research provided, I knew I wanted to venture into the space of storytelling.

My question then became: How might Donors Choose further give teachers opportunities to tell stories?

So much of what the workshop provided were employee ideas on what Donors Choose could do for storytelling in the future: augmented reality understanding of classrooms, video thank you notes- and got me thinking; how can we create storytelling opportunities that also respect child and classroom privacy?

Delivering a Final Solution

In my final solution, there were two sides 

Solution: Teacher Facing

The teacher facing side allows teachers to make content in the first place, and edit it in a way in which they feel they have the creative control. It is critical in these stages that the teachers are given the power to shape these stories in ways that feel personal and meaningful.

How It Works: Teacher Facing Side

Below is a small timeline of how teachers would record content and send it to Donors Choose employees.

First Creating A Podcast

The teacher here first creates a podcast by selecting a new card and creating a new recording. The notion here is that Natural Language Processing would allow for instant transcription services, so that teachers are able to listen to and/or read over their audio content. This element, of immediate transcription relating to exact second, allows teachers to be in unlikely ‘creative’ environments- on their commute, in the classroom, etc., they could be reviewing and editing this content. 

Editing the Podcast

The teacher here is able to edit their podcast, potentially shortening it in length and seeing exactly what works fall at what time period. The intention here is that teachers have the opportunity to edit out whatever they want to, making their stories more personal and giving them the feeling of creative control over these narratives. Similarly to the above transcription description, allowing teachers to not have to listen to their podcasts to understand how to edit them (teachers would be able to see the text while editing) allows them to be anywhere- on their commute, in the classroom, during a five minute break- when editing and does not require advanced listening or editing skills.

Solution: Donor Facing

The consumer facing side allows potential donors to listen to podcasts made up of teacher proposals and success stories and donate to classrooms internally in existing platforms.  

How It Works: Consumer Facing Side

Below is a small timeline of how potential donors would find audio content, listen, and then donate.

Filtering Personal Content

The listener is able to then filter podcasts and classroom proposals and success stories based on location, subject material, and type of proposals (most recent, most urgent, etc). Once these filters have been applied within Spotify’s existing filtering system, the platform would be able to generate a randomized, filter-reliant podcast with a mixture of asks and success stories ranging for about 30-45 minutes. These podcasts are intentially not individual classroom asks, but are instead similar to how one might currently listen to a podcast; in a long-form story style, much like podcasts like This American Life, Radiolab, etc. If the listener likes the format of filters they’ve applied, they can ‘follow’ this filtering format and have podcasts with the same algorithm appear in their own libraries.

Donating to the Classroom

Finally, once the potential donor can listen to the podcast (filtered by their choices), they are able to make donations to specific classrooms. Once the listener happens upon a classroom proposal (and not an intro, success story, middle bit, etc.), the donate button will brighten and specify what classroom they’d be donating to (the classroom proposal they are currently listening to). At this point, they are able to click the ‘donate’ button, an a pop up appears with information about the classroom, the amount needed, and specific amounts to donate to the classroom, with the choice of other. The users would already have their financial account information linked into the system, so donating to the classroom via Donors Choose would automatically happen through the in-app opportunity.