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Flevy Management Insights Case Study
Online Learning Strategy for Non-Profit Education Initiative

There are countless scenarios that require Design Thinking. Fortune 500 companies typically bring on global consulting firms, like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, and Accenture, or boutique consulting firms specializing in Design Thinking to thoroughly analyze their unique business challenges and competitive situations. These firms provide strategic recommendations based on consulting frameworks, subject matter expertise, benchmark data, KPIs, best practices, and other tools developed from past client work. We followed this management consulting approach for this case study.

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Consider this scenario: A non-profit organization focused on providing online learning solutions to underprivileged communities is facing a strategic challenge incorporating Design Thinking into its program development and delivery.

Internally, the organization struggles with a 20% decrease in volunteer engagement and a lack of technical infrastructure to support modern online learning methods. Externally, it faces increasing competition from for-profit online education platforms, which have reduced its user base by 15% in the past year. The primary strategic objective of the organization is to enhance its online learning platform's effectiveness and accessibility, thereby increasing its reach and impact within target communities.

The organization in question, a non-profit dedicated to democratizing education through online platforms, is confronting significant barriers to achieving its mission. A closer examination might reveal that these challenges stem from a failure to fully integrate Design Thinking into product and curriculum development, limiting user engagement and instructional effectiveness. Additionally, an outdated technical infrastructure could be impairing the organization's ability to deliver a competitive and impactful learning experience.

Industry Analysis

The online education sector is experiencing rapid growth, driven by technological advancements and increasing global demand for accessible learning. However, this growth comes with heightened competition and evolving user expectations.

Exploring the competitive landscape reveals:

  • Internal Rivalry: Intense, due to a surge in both non-profit and for-profit entities entering the online education space.
  • Supplier Power: Moderate, with a wide range of content delivery platforms available, but few specializing in non-profit educational needs.
  • Buyer Power: High, as users have a vast choice of online learning resources, leading to low switching costs.
  • Threat of New Entrants: High, given the low barriers to entry for digital platforms.
  • Threat of Substitutes: High, with traditional educational institutions and informal learning platforms competing for user attention.

Emergent trends indicate:

  • Shift towards personalized learning experiences, offering both opportunities and risks related to customizing content for diverse user needs.
  • Increasing reliance on mobile learning, highlighting the need for mobile-friendly platforms but also the challenge of developing such interfaces.
  • Rising demand for professional development courses, representing an opportunity to expand offerings but also the risk of diluting focus on foundational education.

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Internal Assessment

The organization possesses strong expertise in curriculum development and a passionate volunteer base, yet is hampered by outdated technology and insufficient processes for incorporating user feedback.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths include a dedicated volunteer network and a reputation for quality educational content. Opportunities lie in leveraging emerging technologies to enhance learning delivery and expanding into professional development areas. Weaknesses encompass technological infrastructure and a lack of systematic Design Thinking application. Threats stem from increasing competition and rapidly changing technology standards in online education.

VRIO Analysis

The organization's committed volunteer base and educational content are valuable and rare but not fully exploited due to inadequate technological support and innovation processes. Enhancing these areas could transform existing resources into a sustained competitive advantage.

Capability Analysis

Success in the online education market requires competencies in digital platform management, content innovation, and user engagement. The organization's current capabilities in content development are strong but need to be augmented with technological and Design Thinking capabilities to meet market demands.

Learn more about Design Thinking Competitive Advantage

Strategic Initiatives

Identifying strategic initiatives is crucial for aligning the organization’s capabilities with its strategic objectives. Over the next 18 months , the following initiatives have been prioritized:

  • Digital Infrastructure Overhaul: This initiative aims to update and expand the technical infrastructure to support advanced online learning tools and mobile accessibility. The intended impact is increased user engagement and expanded access. The value creation lies in leveraging technology to meet modern educational demands, expected to drive user growth and volunteer retention. Resource requirements include technology investments and expertise in digital platform development.
  • Design Thinking Integration: Incorporating Design Thinking into all aspects of program development and delivery to enhance user experience and educational outcomes. The initiative seeks to foster innovation and responsiveness to user needs, creating value through improved content relevance and engagement. Resources needed encompass training in Design Thinking methodologies for staff and volunteers.
  • Professional Development Programs: Developing and launching online courses aimed at professional skills development to attract a broader user base and meet emerging market demands. This initiative is expected to diversify revenue streams and increase the organization's impact. It will require resources for market research, curriculum development, and marketing.

Learn more about Market Research Value Creation User Experience

Implementation KPIs

KPIS are crucial throughout the implementation process. They provide quantifiable checkpoints to validate the alignment of operational activities with our strategic goals, ensuring that execution is not just activity-driven, but results-oriented. Further, these KPIs act as early indicators of progress or deviation, enabling agile decision-making and course correction if needed.

A stand can be made against invasion by an army. No stand can be made against invasion by an idea.
     – Victor Hugo

  • User Engagement Rate: Essential for measuring the success of the digital platform overhaul and Design Thinking efforts.
  • Course Completion Rates: A key metric to assess the effectiveness and relevance of educational content, including new professional development programs.
  • Volunteer Retention Rate: Vital for monitoring the impact of internal improvements and technological investments on volunteer satisfaction and engagement.

These KPIs offer insights into the strategic initiatives' effectiveness, guiding adjustments to ensure alignment with organizational objectives and market needs.

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Design Thinking Best Practices

To improve the effectiveness of implementation, we can leverage best practice documents in Design Thinking. These resources below were developed by management consulting firms and Design Thinking subject matter experts.


  • Strategic Plan Presentation (PPT)
  • Technology Upgrade Roadmap (Document)
  • Design Thinking Workshop Curriculum (PDF)
  • Professional Development Course Catalog (PDF)
  • Implementation Progress Report Template (Excel)

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Digital Infrastructure Overhaul

The team applied the Balanced Scorecard approach to guide the digital infrastructure overhaul. The Balanced Scorecard, a strategic planning and management system, is effective for organizations seeking to align business activities with the vision and strategy of the organization, improve internal and external communications, and monitor organization performance against strategic goals. This framework was particularly useful for this strategic initiative because it allowed for a holistic view of the organization's objectives beyond financial performance, incorporating user engagement and technological advancement.

The organization implemented the Balanced Scorecard framework through the following steps:

  • Developed specific objectives related to the digital infrastructure overhaul within the four Balanced Scorecard perspectives: Financial, Customer, Internal Process, and Learning & Growth.
  • Identified key performance indicators (KPIs) for each objective, such as user engagement rate for the Customer perspective and system uptime for the Internal Process perspective.
  • Implemented regular review meetings to assess progress against these KPIs and adjust strategies as necessary.

The overhaul of the digital infrastructure, guided by the Balanced Scorecard, resulted in a more engaged user base and improved operational efficiency. This strategic initiative not only enhanced the technological capabilities of the organization but also aligned its operations more closely with its strategic vision, leading to a significant increase in the effectiveness of online learning delivery.

Learn more about Strategic Planning Balanced Scorecard Key Performance Indicators

Design Thinking Integration

For the integration of Design Thinking into program development and delivery, the organization utilized the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) framework. The VPC is a tool that helps organizations ensure that their products or services are positioned around what the customer values and needs. It was particularly relevant for this strategic initiative as it facilitated a deeper understanding of the target communities' needs and how the organization's online learning solutions could meet these needs more effectively.

The organization followed these steps to implement the Value Proposition Canvas:

  • Mapped out the customer profile for their target communities, identifying their jobs, pains, and gains.
  • Outlined the value propositions of their online learning solutions, focusing on how they alleviate pains and create gains for their target communities.
  • Used insights from the VPC to redesign program offerings and communication strategies to better align with the needs of the target communities.

The implementation of the Value Proposition Canvas enabled the organization to more effectively integrate Design Thinking into its operations. As a result, the organization saw an increase in user satisfaction and engagement, as the redesigned programs more accurately reflected the needs and preferences of the target communities.

Learn more about Value Proposition

Professional Development Programs

In developing and launching online courses aimed at professional skills development, the organization employed the Blue Ocean Strategy framework. The Blue Ocean Strategy encourages organizations to create new market space or "Blue Ocean" rather than competing in an existing market. This approach was instrumental for this strategic initiative as it guided the organization in identifying untapped opportunities within the online education market for professional development.

The organization executed the Blue Ocean Strategy by:

  • Conducting a market analysis to identify overcrowded areas of online education and areas of unmet needs.
  • Developing unique course offerings that combined professional skills development with their existing educational content, creating a new niche in the market.
  • Launching a targeted marketing campaign to raise awareness of these new offerings among potential users.

The application of the Blue Ocean Strategy to the development of professional development programs led to the successful creation of a new market niche for the organization. This not only diversified the organization's portfolio of online learning solutions but also attracted a broader user base, resulting in increased enrollment and enhanced organizational growth.

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Key Findings and Results

Here is a summary of the key results of this case study:

  • Enhanced user engagement rate by 25% following the digital infrastructure overhaul.
  • Increased course completion rates by 15% with the integration of Design Thinking into program development.
  • Improved volunteer retention rate by 10% due to better technological support and involvement in innovation processes.
  • Attracted a broader user base, leading to a 20% increase in enrollment for new professional development programs.
  • Identified and successfully entered a new market niche with the launch of professional development courses, differentiating from competitors.

The strategic initiatives undertaken by the organization have yielded significant positive outcomes, notably in user engagement, course completion rates, volunteer retention, and market expansion. The digital infrastructure overhaul, guided by the Balanced Scorecard, directly contributed to a more engaged user base and operational efficiency, showcasing the importance of aligning technological capabilities with strategic vision. The integration of Design Thinking, through the Value Proposition Canvas, led to increased user satisfaction by more accurately meeting the needs of target communities. However, while the professional development programs successfully attracted a broader user base, the focus on professional skills development may risk diluting the organization's foundational educational mission. Additionally, the 10% improvement in volunteer retention, though positive, suggests there is room for further enhancement in volunteer engagement and support.

Given the results, the organization should continue to refine its digital infrastructure and Design Thinking processes to further increase user engagement and satisfaction. It is recommended to conduct a deeper analysis of volunteer needs and develop targeted initiatives to boost volunteer retention and engagement beyond the current 10% improvement. Additionally, while exploring new market niches, the organization must ensure that its core mission of providing foundational education to underprivileged communities remains central to its strategy. Expanding partnerships with technology providers could also enhance the organization's technological capabilities and support its strategic objectives more effectively.

Source: Online Learning Strategy for Non-Profit Education Initiative, Flevy Management Insights, 2024

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