IPS Hero Laptop

Envisioning and Empowering the New Normal in Nonprofit Fundraising

Illinois Partnered Solutions

We brought disconnected stakeholders together to collaborate on shared goals.

When disaster strikes, nonprofit organizations provide critical links that get help and resources to communities in need. Disasters also can expose cracks and frailties in the status quo, and when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, many philanthropists grew frustrated by how difficult it was to help.

IPS helping kids

The nonprofit sector is a fractured and fragmented landscape of funders and nonprofits, all feeling pressure from different sides. After several decades of digital transformations, state and federal policy changes, and capitalist market pressures, nonprofits and their funders now navigate layers of complexity that make it hard to actually work together.

A coalition of long-time leaders in the Chicagoland philanthropic community came together to see how they might build connections that live up to the urgency of the moment. As 8th Light’s designers and product specialists learned more, we saw an opportunity to uncover the underlying challenges in the nonprofit funding landscape, and collaboratively craft a solution that is systemic and sustainable to stand the test of time.

What if we support the nonprofit community to …

  • Respond to emergent needs?

  • Impact communities more equitably?

  • Build future-focused and growing partnerships?

IPS community support

Uncovering the root issues with design thinking.

8th Light led a human-centered design research process to explore the problem directly with intended end users. The process included 14 hour-long interviews with professionals working at six nonprofits and seven funding organizations. Interviews were optimized for learning and inspiration, speaking directly with stakeholders and potential users to gain a full context of their world — from personal, professional, psychological, and physiological circumstances.

IPS Affinity mapping IPS Affinity mapping 2

Insights from interviews and analogous research were mapped across common themes, revealing shared frustrations and opportunities for a simpler, more human-centered approach.

As we learned, we began organizing recurring themes and concentrating on shared challenges. We aspire to do more than simply recreate existing systems with nicer tools, but to unpack the users’ goals and intentions. To do this, we need to think outside of existing solutions. Using the Jobs To Be Done technique, we challenged our own assumptions, ensuring we understood users’ underlying motivations and needs.

IPS Jobs to be done

The Jobs To Be Done technique allows us to think outside of the box about solutions that are not just accommodating, but actually driven by user needs and behaviors.

Mapping the problem space.

The current nonprofit funding landscape is a patchwork of disconnected and redundant application forms and data requirements. After synthesizing these challenges into themes, we collectively converged on a product vision for a matchmaking platform and community-building tool.

Challenges For Funders

  • Covering and coordinating over geographic distance

  • Discovery of new and innovative opportunities

  • Easier response to relevant and ongoing needs

  • Measuring and showing impact

  • Providing equitable funding

Challenges For Providers

  • In-person networking drives most fundraising efforts, limiting access to connections

  • Increasing visibility and awareness

  • Lack of resources

  • Funders often do not fund overhead, including the cost to apply for and manage grants

IPS delivery

Envisioning a new future together.

Just like the fragile ecosystem of nonprofit funding, software systems present a complexity that requires thoughtful consideration and planning.

8th Light’s Executive Consultant consulted throughout this engagement to provide perspective on technical challenges and opportunities, and to monitor the scope of our ambition. The goal is to connect people with resources, and the team aspired to the simplest software solution that could bring them together without introducing new challenges or frustrations.

IPS Geo screen IPS Search screen IPS Profile screen

The IPS solution includes new ways of finding and connecting funders and providers across Illinois. With a centralized database, grant applications and reporting requirements are dramatically streamlined, and providers don’t get lost in the cracks.

Together, we developed a product roadmap that breaks down the project into phases — bringing funders and providers together sooner — while providing the team with vital feedback on how this product should evolve.

Now equipped with the right solution based on user needs, 8th Light’s leadership team is working with the product stakeholders to gain additional interest and secure funding so that funders, nonprofits, and the communities they support can all build a brighter future together.

It is nearly impossible to get a clear picture of the resource needs and available resources across the state so they can be efficiently matched to meet as many needs as possible.

Heather Higgins Alderman
President and CEO
Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation



  • Human-centered Design
  • Implementation Roadmap
  • UX Research


  • Figma