RezDawg Rescue User Research

UX Research

Final Deliverables

RezDawg Rescue is a nonprofit that is volunteer run and has leadership that oversees operations for transporting animals from New Mexico to shelters in the Denver area. Their resources are dedicated to assisting the Navajo Nation through animal support and spay/neuter clinics. They collaborate with several rescues in NM, AZ and CO to ensure safe and comfortable transport of unwanted animals to rescues, shelters and fosters where they will have a chance at a forever home.

In addition to COVID, the org has seen huge growth in the past few years and believes its priority is in getting more dedicated “rockstar” volunteers as this seems to be related to the bulk of their organization’s operational overload. We were initially hired to conduct research and give recommendations that fulfill this goal.


I led the design of journey map while with the team conducting user interviews and data synthesis


Generative research, user interviews, personas, journey mapping, Agile


Mar-Apr 2021


Toni Rosati, Aylee Neff, Brad Cisar, Elmarie Gonzales, Emily Zhang, Jen Yao

My lovely team of researchers in a (very candid) Zoom meeting screenshot

The Client Brief

The client is a nonprofit that is volunteer run and has leadership that oversees operations for transporting animals from New Mexico to shelters in the Denver area. In addition to COVID, the org has seen huge growth but believes its priority is in getting more dedicated “rockstar” volunteers as this seems to be related to the bulk of their organization’s operational overload. The core of their work requires them to:

  • Transport animals from New Mexico to the Denver area
  • House, care for, and rehabilitate animals in foster homes
  • Manage all paperwork, medical, accounting, and public information about each animal
  • Be vigilant about finding and collecting donations of food and supplies as well as keeping two large storage units stocked and organized for any foster to get needed supplies
  • Adopt out cats and dogs, including review of all applications, conducting meet and greets, performing home inspections, coordinating adoption fee payment, and following up on the adopted pet
  • Collaborate with other organizations who assist with adoptions

My team and I wanted to make sure our high-level goals for the client and our work were to:

  • Find differences between highly involved volunteers and less engaged volunteers
  • Document and map out these differences using journey mapping techniques
  • Help Rezdawg better understand the ultimate desires and pains of their volunteer community and make suggestions accordingly, especially if they involve:
  • engaging the community to give their time/effort and/or
  • recruiting more engaged volunteers

We met with our client weekly and, in our first meeting, we prepared questions as a team. In the questions we asked, we wanted to make sure they ultimately gave us information on: 1) What do members get out of volunteering? (why? What are their motivations for being in the org) and 2) Why haven’t they done certain activities that leadership says is lacking?

The specific questions asked were as follows:

  • What are the challenges/constraints/worries you are facing now?
  • What’s the communication process between volunteers and RezDawg look like?
  • What does the onboarding process for volunteers look like?
  • Can you specify the types of activities that active volunteers are not offering?
  • What is typically expected from your organization?
  • How can volunteers meet these expectations?
  • What are the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to you and how do you think it’s affecting your volunteers’ time?
  • What is your perception of the work culture amongst the volunteers?
  • What do you like about the experience on the RezDawg Rescue Community Facebook group and what do you dislike?
  • Which geographical regions are you lacking in active volunteers if any?
  • Who are the board directors and committee leaders? What are their responsibilities?

In addition to learning more about the core tasks in their work, we also got an overview of the possible touchpoints and the importance they could have to our project. While answering our questions, we learned that they and other volunteers mainly communicate through their Facebook group posts and individual messages. Their website is hosted through WordPress. Separate from a basic website, volunteers usually engage in a central activity on Facebook called "transport" where they can claim to foster an animal on a first come first serve basis through commenting on the group's posts. Volunteers care for an animal until they get applications from possible adopters and vet out a forever home for their foster pet.

With the information from the brief and after talking to our clients, our project was scoped to include: user interviews of various volunteers, personas, journey maps, and jobs to be done.

Across each stage, we wanted to make sure we identify what users are thinking, feeling, and doing; use jobs to be done to understand the motivations and the how of the volunteers; and use journey mapping to see any gaps in the user experience over the volunteering process and how that may affect volunteer retention.

Attached is one of our documents showing off the questions we drafted and categorized for coding after the interview. We labeled which questions fulfill which type of information we were seeking (what is the user thinking, feeling, doing?; touchpoints or resources they use; etc.)

In a first round of analysis, each team member was to code each of the 3 interviews they conducted and highlight certain insights when they seemed important to the volunteer journey.

In the second round, we did an affinity mapping session together as a team and took individual notes from our first analysis and grouped them based on similarity of behavior or sentiment.

The insights are as follows:

  • People seemed to usually have issues in accounting for completion of tasks and, at its roots, communication
  • Facebook’s Groups posts were the main way people were updated and can get involved in the ongoing needs of the organization
  • Someone has to claim who they want to foster once transport is completed, where this is done by tagging on the post
  • Due to varying levels of engagement or tech savvy, not everyone is able to see posts to help in transporting or claiming to foster an animal
  • Posts get lost and people say they never see posts sometimes due to Facebook’s sorting algorithm
  • Fostering is generally an emotional experience; people deal with medical issues or having to say no to people who apply to adopt
  • Asking in our client meetings, stakeholders close to Angela (basically the CEO) say she keeps a pretty close circle and only talks to those she knows can help her run the org
  • And she mostly does this, along with others, through prior relationships/text (so excluding everything that goes on is on Facebook group)
  • Less trust: Angela in general doesn’t want to hand off things to people due to how things were run in past leadership
  • She’s essentially transitioning from a founder role to a more complex CEO-like role
  • This is something she has been anecdotally considered her baby. (feels very strongly about org from being around since the beginning)
  • The Facebook group posts can range from lighthearted discussions to threads asking for help on how to deal with a medically challenging foster, in addition to the important posts about transport/fostering
  • Questions being asked about foster care: there is no "standard pet" or perfect way to go about it; there is a regional mentor but not everyone uses or knows the mentor they’re assigned and ask the group at large instead

During our affinity mapping session, we also made sure to put our insights in a chronological order to set our team up for journey mapping.

Personas, journey maps and design

Click through the journey map and personas here

During and after the affinity diagramming sessions, I would mediate any discussions on design and organization of our notes to set myself up to design the journey map. Specifically, I wanted to discuss the chronology and emotions of the patterns we saw from the affinity map so that this would reflect the content on the journey map line. I also worked with my teammates who were leading data analysis sessions and designing the personas to make sure we were on the same page in content and visual design.

Specifically, I met with my teammates to decide on what content from our synthesized insights is worth putting on the persona and journey map. I would also meet to talk about branding and colors of the deliverables themselves.

We defined our personas affectionately as being a "Regular Rita" and a "Rockstar Remy".

For the users we categorized as "Regular Rita", we found them to be someone who:

  • is going through a change in lifestyle and in response to that:
  • wants to keep busy and feel rewarded and experience personal growth through their volunteering
  • desires community and structure
  • wishes there was a standardized process or more resources on how to foster
  • uses Facebook group posts to communicate and ask questions about fostering or establish relationships
  • can sometimes feel left out due to the behind the scenes work of the rest of leadership

For the users we categorized as "Rockstar Remy", we found them to be someone who:

  • was generally more technical and came into the org with a skillset useful to leadership
  • establishes relationships with Angela and other leadership and eventually gets noticed and onboarded
  • was in a state of needing constant support but can't always get some
  • constantly texting Angela for advice, to update her on the completion of or issues with their duties
  • Essentially: may be involved in larger breadth of activities, spend more time, more seniority

Between both personas we found that:

  • the aforementioned issues with Facebook tagging were frustrating and frequently mentioned, either as someone tagging (Regular) or someone handling the logistics of transport and its posts (Remy)
  • both expressed impassioned responses to their emotional reasons for wanting to care for foster pets
  • both mention some flavor of feeling like they are "constantly putting out fires" in response to the lack of structured communication
  • e.g. users felt frustrated by experiences such as: volunteering to pick up a donation, going to the location and finding out it was a different one; volunteers are paired with a mentor within their region, but sometimes they never get to receiving a first message or are never paired to begin with; only being able to have relationships to handful of people at a time due to leadership overload
  • the org overall has an implicit and tolerated culture of doing and learning things as you go
remy journey map line
remy journey map table info
rita journey map line
rita journey map table info

Final meeting and presentation to client with suggestions

See the full slides here

We planned one final meeting with our stakeholders to present our findings, along with 2 journey maps I designed, 2 personas, and a slide deck. After we opened ourselves up to discussion and our suggestions in an innovation workshop.

In our suggestions, we wanted to make evident that Angela’s limited inner circle is what is leading to the busy schedules of her and her team. Although we were documenting the possible solutions together, the ultimate goal of the workshop was to make our findings understandable to them so that they can make an informed decision that their community cares about.

Being a nonprofit, our team wanted to take into account financial and technical restraints and our graph illustrated them in a format that prioritized long and short term goals (level of effort on the x-axis to amount of benefit on the y-axis).

Impact and reflection

With the future of their organization looking to change and grow, our clients were excited having their ideas involved and documented. Leadership revamped their Facebook group page settings and made a format for posting. They also started using Facebook Live as a relatively low effort way of giving people another way to connect and push updates. These changes led to a 15% increase in "rockstars" or more active, consistent members, some who had favorable skills in grant writing and mentoring.

Looking back, I found it really interesting how the interview data changed our hypothesis on volunteering. Although we were tasked with attracting more active volunteers, it became clear there were overall issues in communication that were being overlooked by the members. There was obviously the issues with Facebook posts, being an often-mentioned topic in the backlog from interviews, but there seemed to also be an important, undocumented part of leadership and the larger operations of the organization that needed reworking.

As we defined our personas, it became clear that the depth of volunteering was due to underlying relationships that negatively affected the development of more active volunteers. Understanding this specific type of volunteer helped us uncover larger more nuanced communication issues and other long- and short-term solutions that they can implement in response to the issues their volunteers cared about. (e.g. texts between leadership, onboarding/lack of mentors, lack of knowing what work can be done and when/wehre) and overall lack of communication)