Staying Focused on Your Small Charity Project with Lean Canvas

I’m a huge fan of the Lean Canvas.

Lean Canvas is a simple tool that can help you to quickly structure your thoughts for a product or business concept.

I use it all the time as a Product Manager to flesh out potential product ideas. It also comes in handy when a new business idea pops into my head. But Lean Canvas isn’t just for investigating products that make money.

Staying Focused on Your Small Charity Project with Lean Canvas
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I recently helped my boyfriend re-think his small charity project by using the Lean Canvas.

Read on to find out how this happened, but first… have you heard of the Lean Canvas before?

What is the Lean Canvas?

I won’t go into too much detail about what a Lean Canvas is, since there are plenty of information out there when you Google it.

If you really want a starting point, I’d suggest checking out the Lean Canvas in Lean Stack. It’s a free online tool that lets you create your own Lean Canvas with guide videos.

Essentially, this is the Lean Canvas:

Image credit: http://bmtoolbox.net/tools/lean-canvas/

It contains nine different sections that will probe at your ‘cool idea’ and challenge at whether it’s a viable product or not.

The canvas format helps to contain everything into a single page. But at its core, the Lean Canvas is essentially a structured document template to investigate your idea.

Lean Canvas acts as your little business-savvy Jiminy Cricket that sits on your shoulder and whispers sensible questions into your ear.

Lean Canvas is your business-savvy Jiminy Cricket

Using Lean Canvas for charities and non-profits

It’s easy to lose focus in projects. Even for small charity projects such as creating information sheets for prospective rabbit owners.

Yes, that was a very specific example, because that’s exactly what my boyfriend and his volunteer team set out to do at Wellington Rabbit Rescue (WRR).

Although everyone’s hearts were in the right place, he felt that they were starting to lose focus on why they were creating these information sheets in the first place.

He’d heard of the Lean Canvas from one of my Agile jabbers before, and wanted me to help him use it to get the WRR team back on track.

Start with the problem, not the solution

It’s a rookie mistake and we’ve all done it before: we get excited about an idea and jump straight into building it, before checking whether anyone needs it. The bunny information sheets were no exception.

The volunteer team had almost finished designing eight different information sheets by the time my boyfriend filled out the Lean Canvas. The information sheets were impressive, but not much thought had gone into what would happen to these information sheets afterwards.

So, we went through the first two steps of the Lean Canvas.

Our conversation started off like this:

Me: First question, who is your target audience [for the information sheets]?
BF: Bunny owners, prospective bunny owners, spur-of-the-moment [bunny] owners, and pet stores.
Me: Hang on, your target audience is a pet store? Who are you creating these information sheets for?
BF: We want the staff at pet stores to use the information sheet to explain to prospective buyers about what it’s really like to own bunnies.
Me: OK, so your target audience is still the prospective bunny owners, but the pet store may be one of your ‘channels’ to get to these people.
BF: Ohh yep.
[We deleted “Pet stores” from Customer Segments and added it to Channel]

Lean Canvas for Wellington Rabbit Rescue’s project

We continued with Customer Segment

Me: Who are your ‘early adopters’?
BF: What do you mean ‘early adopters’?
Me: Out of the target audience groups that you’ve mentioned, who do you think you’d have the most success with [for your information sheets]?
BF: The prospective bunny owners.
Me: Why is that?
BF: Because it’s the prospective bunny owners who are always asking us questions about how to care for bunnies through the Wellington Rabbit Rescue Facebook group.
Me: Fair enough.

Then we moved onto elaborating the problems that WRR was trying to solve. This was easy because one of the volunteers had already defined the problem statements — woop!

After clarifying the target audience and their problems, it was clear what the WRR team was trying to achieve:

  1. WRR wanted to intercept and educate people about the reality of owning a bunny before they bought/adopted any.
  2. They wanted to achieve this through a one-page leaflet or poster that was distributed in pet stores.
  3. This would help WRR achieve their ultimate goal of reducing abandonment and abuse of rabbits.

Is your solution a good idea?

Once we defined the target audience and the problems, we quickly realised that only one of the eight information sheets that the team created were going to match their goal.

This would painfully teach the WRR team in the value of defining the problem first before jumping into solutions.

I also realised that their solution had a significant flaw.

The solution assumed that most pet stores would agree to distribute the information sheets, which would be encouraging people to reconsider buying their rabbits.

Would any pet stores support an initiative that would negatively impact their sales revenue? Probably not.

My advice to my boyfriend was for his team to stop whatever they’re doing with the information sheets, and start talking to pet stores instead.

I also suggested that they don’t limit their channels to just pet stores. If their goal is to educate prospective bunny owners, they should consider other local rabbit adoption centres such as SPCA and HUHA as well.

‘How do I tell my team that the hard work we’ve done so far has potentially been a waste?’, my boyfriend wondered.

Well, that’s for another post, another day…!


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