🤝 A problem worth solving
I have been working on digital products my whole life: in my job, in hackathons or just as hobby projects. However, when the war broke out in Ukraine, my life quickly turned around, as I found myself in the middle of humanitarian activities. My hometown, Budapest, is one of the easily reachable, safe destinations from Ukraine where hundreds of thousands refugees seeked shelter and many of them remained here even until today. Since March I have volunteered at refugee shelters; packaged and distributed supplies; and took part in the coordinated work of multiple agencies.
During this time, I closely monitored the operation of various organisations, primarily from a digitalisation perspective. I was not surprised, but still a bit worried when I saw that majority of the work still happened on paper, with an enormous overhead for the volunteers and employees. Using an Excel sheet is already considered to be the advanced level, and with a shared Google Sheet you definitely belong to the top 5%. Seeing digital immaturity at this scale is frustrating, especially in a segment where efficiency is the key to support as many people as possible. My understanding is that as a result, both financial and human resources are often wasted, significantly damaging the potentially achievable impact .
This is why we decided that with the power of Square we create a solution to support the operation of humanitarian and charitable organisations. As a first step, we developed a fully-functional proof-of-concept that is tested in a live environment to determine its viability.
🖤 What’s Squareity?
Squareity is a completely digital platform that helps to manage humanitarian and charitable projects, including fundraising, inventory management, donations and customer relationships. It takes the most common activities and offers an end-to-end digital alternative to improve the efficiency of such organisations. Therefore it’s capable of scaling up the impact and increasing the number of clients supported.
Although Square’s main target group is obviously for-profit companies, let’s not forget that charitable organisations receive close to half trillion dollars every year, only in the US. This means that there have to be systems ready, where these transactions happen and can be managed end-to-end. This is why we believe that Square and Squareity could be an ideal solution for thousands of charitable organisations.
Taking into account the digital competency of Squareity’s potential user base, it was designed to be as simple as possible, automating a lot of labour-intensive activities, thus freeing up resources that can be focused on their core values.
🧐 What’s included in Squareity?
Our mindset is that an early-stage software should include a small set of key features, able to effectively solve the users’ biggest problems. From there, it could be continuously improved according to their feedback. Therefore we designed and developed a prototype that is already fully functional and aims to satisfy the most common user needs.
Setting up your own Squareity site
After registering to Squareity it’s super easy to set up a new site. The application walks the user through the process, which includes connecting the user’s Square account and creating some resources that are needed by Squareity. Immediately, the Squareity site is up and running.
There are many ways to collect donations, but in most situations a Charity Shop is the best alternative and that’s exactly what Squareity offers. Donors can simply select what goals they would like to donate towards and in what amount. They can put together their own cart (just like in any other webshop) and pay via Square Checkout. There is only one difference: they are purchasing “virtual” donation items that will be delivered not to them, but people in need.
Track donations and inventory
The organisation receives the donated amount in cash, which is far more convenient than collecting physical items from the donors. From this money, organisations usually purchase supplies in bulk and then organise them into donation packages (e.g. one week worth of food). With Squareity, they are easily able to exchange the monetary donations into items that are counted in the inventory.
To deliver this experience, Squareity uses a little trick, and stores all catalogue items twice: one that is purchasable in the Charity Shop but is never delivered, and one that is tracked but is free to order. These two items are connected, and when the organisation is ready with preparing the tangible donation packages, they can turn one into the other.
Apply for support
Managing clients is also a big challenge for organisations. It’s important to share all required information between employees and volunteers, but data privacy has to be taken into account seriously. With Squareity the management of personal data happens completely digitally and it helps to say goodbye to the folders with thousands of paper sheets.
The organisation can distribute its public Squareity site to their target group, where clients are able to sign up on their own, removing the long manual administration from the process. After the sign up, the organisation can review the applications and get in touch with the clients if further clarification is required. As different clients are in need of different support, it’s also possible to categorise and prioritise clients in order to find the suitable help for them.
Assign donation to client with appointments
When the appropriate donation type is found for the client, it’s finally time to start handing them over. In Squareity, the organisation can assign a new order (collection of donation packages) to a client. In such a helping environment, the handover of the donation usually happens in-person and it’s supplemented with some kind of social care services (e.g. talking about the client’s current situation and development). Therefore, when a donation is assigned to a client, it will be connected to an in-person appointment, where the offered social care service can be selected by the organisation.
Clients receive an email about the newly available donation, and they can instantly book a suitable time slot on Squareity for picking up their package, powered by the Square checkout API.
Meet with clients and deliver the donation
When the day of the pick-up arrives, the organisation’s employee can list all upcoming appointments and select the upcoming client. Squareity shows an overview of all aspects of the meeting, including information on the client, the offered social care service and the assigned donation package.
After the meeting, the donation is handed over to the client, and marked as completed in Squareity. With this, the generous help from the donors arrives smoothly at its final destination.
Saying thank you to the donors
As a final touch, Squareity sends a short e-mail notification to the donors, shortly after their donation was picked up by a client. This is not only a kind gesture, but also a way to enhance traceability and transparency towards donors and. This will help to build trust and create the foundation for long-term collaboration.
🛠 How was Squareity built?
The frontend of Squareity is a React application that uses the Ant Design System for UI components, Redux for state management and Apollo for data fetching. The backend was developed with AWS Amplify therefore the data is stored in DynamoDB, endpoints are served through Lambda endpoints, authentication happens with Cognito, emails are sent via Simple Email Service and the storage uses S3 buckets. Data shared between the backend and frontend with GraphQl queries and mutations.
Although the application is a serverles SPA we designed the architecture to be modular and easy to further develop in the future.
We paid close attention to the user experience of the application. We developed every feature to cover the complete user journey including empty states, error states, help messages and other additional scenarios. These features have been tested with real-world users and improved according to their feedback.
🚀 The future of Squareity
As the crisis is still going on in Hungary, our plan is to run a small pilot project and give Squareity a live test run. This will provide us valuable feedback about the most pressing needs and high priority features. Currently our first goal is to improve the onboarding process and to bring over every feature that currently has to be carried out in the Square dashboard.
As always after a hackathon, the application has to be reviewed and refactored where needed to enhance the code quality. At the same time we have to find out if there are potential vulnerabilities in our codebase.
We are also planning to help non-profits in other areas as well, for example in recruiting and managing volunteers. Thankfully, with the Square Teams API this will be also easily achievable.
We believe that all this future work will pay off in the way of impact on the non-profit organisations. 🙌
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