core Programs


Define how Net Impact can build on its funder-driven program portfolio to engage its global network of 100,000 in critical issues at the cutting edge of impact.


A Core Programs portfolio to compliment Client Programs - rooted in user needs, interests, and behaviors - that has an articulated vision and a starter pack of pilot programs.


Design strategy


Social sector / education


2 years


Liz Maw, Rebecca Wolfe, Natalia Vasquez

My role:

Lead design researcher, co-synthesizer, co-recommender, ongoing advocate of user needs


Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Photography, Excel, Adobe Id Pr Ai Ps

please use a computer for best viewing and complete portfolio

key results


Key results

Year 1


Defined the purpose + vision statement, and design criteria for Core Programs

Recommended digital framing of offerings

Set KPIs and measurement systems

Initiated design of programs tackling climate change and racial equity

Year 2


Topical pivots

Responses to pain points

Cross portfolio consistency

Customization to meet needs of special groups




Net Impact


Net Impact is a nonprofit that inspires and equips university students and early-career professionals to make a real impact using their skills. It does this through a membership organized into Chapters on campuses and in major cities worldwide.

I joined their team full-time to launch the ImpactXDesign program and over time became their lead human centered designer - conducting user research, translating insights into strategies, prototyping and testing programs and digital features, and designing programs.

why core programs?

At its inception 25 years ago, Net Impact didn't have any programs. Instead members gathered to meet like-minded peers. Over time, these Chapters developed an event or regularly occurring initiative that was worth putting into a PDF toolkit and sharing with other Chapters. Then, in 2010, Net Impact began working with corporate partners to create and manage programs that engaged members in a topic important to the funder - often CSR related. 

At the 25th anniversary, the CEO, Liz Maw, wanted to develop a portfolio of programs that didn't come from external interests but rather helped Net Impact take an active position on issues.

But what issues and how?




Since this was a fairly blue sky project, we started with some big exploratory questions: Who are we designing for? What do they want? Where could we add value in the world?

ethnography + card sorting


I was already on a trip to the East Coast to facilitate a series of design sprints for the Toyota Mobility Foundation, and decided to use the trip to do some field research. I visited campuses in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia to check out campus event boards, see how impact activities were being offered, and talk to students.


When I approached students, I asked them questions like these, watching for moments their eyes lit up or their body language expressed discomfort, trying to understand what their values were:

  • What's the coolest club on campus?

  • What have you done outside schoolwork in the last year?

  • How can students make a difference in this challenging time?

  • What do you wish you could offer or hear people asking for?

  • Can you sort these cards for me in any way that makes sense to you?

Having an impact is not a priority because at 21, I believes my impact is small. I don't go into things thinking I’ll drastically change the world, I go in trying to figure out how to be a better agent of change - get experience to prepare, and to check my career direction, like is this really my path?

Initial learnings


Students get involved to have fun, meet cool people, get experience, learn skills, and make an impact

Hottest topics are climate change, immigration, LGBTQ, local issues

How something makes you feel is a significant part of why you do what you do.

Campuses have vastly different levels of impact offerings + student engagement

Students rise to meet and conform to the opportunities offeredm, but don't have a strong sens of what their place in impact is 

target-user research methods

With exploratory snooping on under my belt, I was curious to dig into data on our own members.


survey responses

I analyzed three kinds of data sets, noting trends:

  • Annual survey we send to our entire network of  100,000+ Chapter Leaders and Members, with 57% response rate

  • Program surveys from 2 existing client programs

  • Survey I posted on Net Impact's Facebook page on topics of interest



group discussions

I moderated group discussions with Net Impact members and Chapter Leaders by video conference, asking about:

  • Here is Net Impact's stated value prop. What is or isn't ringing true for you?

  • What is most challenging about running your own programs or ours?

  • What would you need from us to make your programs wildly successful?

  • If given a list of 2017-18 programs by Net Impact central, how would you decide which ones you’d want your chapter to engage in? How important is topic vs duration vs engagement numbers vs ease of execution?


1:1 conversations

I also wanted to know what front-line staff had observed about member needs and programs that had run to date. I spoke to:

  • Outreach / sales team on how we might develop programs that help them better attract Chapter Leaders

  • Marketing team on how we could design programs to support their storytelling

  • Fundraising team on how we might design programs that blow away potential funders

Topical interest

Programmatic interests


Level of Chapters in network




As I went, I noted recurring, interesting, or extreme insights onto post-its and added them to a posterboard. Once these research initiatives were complete, I sorted them into groups and walked my project lead, Rebecca, through my findings.

Design criteria synthesis

Design criteria

Make it easy

  • Finalize schedule of programs before semester starts, if possible

  • Provide generic, modular toolkits that make it easy to do recurring parts of program hosting (marketing, finding speakers, booking a space)

  • Keep the program concept simple

  • Provide $

  • Provide mostly lower lift one-day or one-time-submission offerings

Make it engaging


  • Design for member engagement and the Chapter Leaders will be happy

  • Create more hands-on opportunities, as this boosts NPS

Provide a clear ROI


  • What you get has to be greater than what you do via internship opportunities, resume boosts, leadership opportunity, networking with industry leaders, meeting like-minded peers, making a local impact

  • Offer some advanced engagements for people with topical knowledge or skills

  • Give a taste of what its like being in a work environment

Make it impactful

  • Show direct impact, instead of no tangible outcomes or poorly communicated outcomes 

  • Go beyond idea generation

  • Every program plan for user-generated content and an infographic


  • Topic interest in order: Climate change, food

  • Skill interest in order: Design thinking, social entrepreneurship

"More fuss than action, not sure I see the direct impact of your work, or at least it's poorly communicated "
"There is so much focus on environmental issues which is super important but I think social issues get left behind. "
"Give us a taste of what it's like being in a work environment "
"Most of your programs aren't useful for me and my friends who are past the entry level "

impacting people


I created this visual to help our executive team understand the personal journey someone goes through who is interested in social impact work and to help them understand where we currently were adding value and what would be possible vs mission creep.

dealing with scale


I created this visual to help the team understand where our resources added the most value, where we were currently stretching unsuccessfully, and what would be most effective if we thought about scaling programs to hundreds of thousands with the same staff.

gaps in portfolio


The project lead and I mapped the programs we knew were already in the pipeline and the ones we wanted to do against the four pillars of Net Impact's value proposition.




We brought the CEO in at this point to brainstorm with us within the constraints defined in synthesis.

Purpose statement + 5 year vision

serious impact


We brainstormed a lot of program concepts that could deliver on user desires for real impact beyond the ideation format many of our client programs had.

showcasing offerings


We played with different ways to organize, tag, sort, and display programs. This helped us to imagine new programs that would fit various buckets in the future. 




Core Programs always evolve with member interests and current events to represent cutting edge impact issues. They cover a variety of formats and lengths of engagement, and are strongly aligned with NI mission. They are simple to do and easy to communicate. They make participants feel like there is a strong ROI for them, and strive to go beyond awareness to implementation and action, while developing leadership skills. They start with the issue, then partner with funders.

Core Programs Vision

Showcasing offerings

A mission statement heads the programs page, and programs are color coded by topic with our input, thanks to the digital team.

Cross program standards

I collaborated with team on new standard program exit survey with KPIs, including on leadership skills, topical knowledge, etc.

I designed a toolkit template for all programs eases the mental effort of switching between programs.

I piloted crating program trailer videos and building in user-generated content into programs.

New programs

I designed NI's first global climate change program

I designed a new program tackling UN SDGs with entrepreneurship

My colleague designed a racial equity program




We executed against this strategy for a year, gathering data and stories. A few highlights:



Year two research

After running these programs for a year, we were ready to learn and iterate. Once again I took the lead on design research. I was less interested in exploratory research this time, and much more curious about getting deeper on who we were serving, whether their needs had changed, and how we could refine delivery.



topics and formats



Just for fun

Light and local



Venture competitions



I also read through hundreds of qualitative survey responses to pick up trends in what programs and activities Chapters were organizing on their own.







Youth mentoring

kpi performance

I pulled key metrics from Survey Monkey program feedback forms such as participation, NPS, leadership skill development, and expanded knowledge of topics, to compare across programs.

I also pulled and compared information from across programs related to activation, structure, topic, impact on the world, and qualitative feedback quotes from individual program surveys.




I synthesized my research into insights for my team, thinking about how trends had evolved from the previous year.



I created personas to help bring different kinds of Chapters with specific needs to life for our executive team.

  • Business majors still are a majority, but there is a growing STEM contingency that does not have sufficient offerings

  • Big increase in global south Chapter participation

  • Community college chapters require more virtual options


  • Climate change overtook food as the #1 topic of interest

  • Impact investing and careers were high unmet interests for a second year

  • Slight increase in interest in civic engagement


  • There was no obvious preference for format of programs


  • Last minute program development and rollout left Chapter Leaders scrambling

  • With frequent Leadership transitions, folks needed clearer checklists for program execution

  • Programs required more effort than execution

  • Leaders wanted case studies of previous events

ROI, engagement + impact

  • Complaints about having enough impact vanished

  • NPS increased, but still complaints about effort outweighing rewards

  • New interest in connecting with other people working on similar initiatives worldwide

  • With more user generated content built in, marketing was doing better at showing impact, but there was still room for more, especially around video



year 2 recommendations

Finally, I turned my ingishts into recommendations for the second year of Core Programs. We are in the midst of reviewing them with stakeholders and will have finalized plans for rollout in the next month.

A number of portfolio programs, including the ones tackling Climate Change and Racial Equity, have high flexibility for tweaks in the upcoming year.  These should be designed with custom solutions for specialty segments. In particular, these programs should have prompts for makers to meet STEM needs, and a way to participate virtually for community colleges.

Use flexible programs to meet needs of Special Chapters

We need to decide if our mission would like to expand to intentionally activating international chapters. There is certainly impact opportunity in serving this demographic, and we could adapt offerings.

For our Racial Equity program, which tackles domestic racial issues and whose theory of change depends on domestic participation yet saw high international participation, increase marketing within US.

Respond to high international participation

Better tell the story of impact on leadership skill + career development + world

We're already doing a great job delivering on career exploration and leadership skills, but need to make this clear to constituents. We can do this through modular tagging online and in toolkits.

Further, we should standardize a storytelling checklist across the portfolio, including video trailers, wrap-up videos, built-in user-generated multimedia

All programs should have consistent template-based:

  • FAQ sheet

  • Webform

  • Surveys

  • Toolkits

  • Leader's journey through pipeline

Where possible

  • Virtual component

  • Deadlines

  • Active connection of participants

Build for consistency across portfolio