Do You Have an App for That?

by Florence Broder

It doesn’t take a lot of searching these days to find someone using his or her smart phone to access and share information. The profile of today’s mobile device user has, indeed, expanded. The way people use mobile devices is also evolving. In addition to using smart phones for calling, texting, and checking email, mobile devices are also becoming the primary way in which individuals access content and conduct online business. The amount of time users spend socializing on their mobile device has also grown significantly.

Nonprofits are by no means any less impacted by the mobile revolution than the business world, and this was very much in evidence at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTEN).

Last year, NTEN emphasized the value in nonprofits making their websites mobile ready and perhaps acquiring text-to-give capabilities. There was some discussion about developing mobile applications, but that was far from the priority. This year was an entirely different ballgame. Given the just released report from Microsoft tag demonstrating that mobile devices will outnumber desktops by 2014, organizations are more willing to take the leap and invest in mobile application development.

The “Mobile Invasion” session at NTEN presented two case studies of mobile applications, one mission driven from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the other fundraising driven from the Salvation Army. The NPCA launched its field guide application in October 2010 and provides users with information about 50 of the 300 national parks in the United States. They felt that as part of its mission it was important to make the information more accessible to the public and to connect to a younger generation. Many would ask help with fundraising or building relationships? However, they smartly introduced an interface so that after every 20 screens a user is invited to sign up for their newsletter. Since the launch over 11,000 people have downloaded the application and 25% of them have subscribed to the NPCA e-newsletters. The NPCA is now able to maintain the relationship with these users, which will eventually lead to an email solicitation. All of this success is before the NPCA launched an official campaign about the app. What has driven the success are positive reviews of the app.

Unlike the NPCA, the Salvation Army chose to create an application to facilitate fundraising for their long-time Red Kettle campaign that occurs during the winter holiday season. The application leverages friendraising campaigns and provides them with the convenience of accessing the dashboard from their mobile phone. Participants are able to track their fundraising progress and to email their friends instantly to give them a bit of a nudge. In essence, it’s “peer-to-peer” fundraising on the go. However, the dollars from the mobile campaign only comprised a small percentage of the overall Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign. But that is what they expected.

What was very clear from both case studies is that they outlined their goals from the start. And, despite mixed results both organizations plan to invest in mobile applications next year, but for the Droid, which is now overtaking the iPhone in the United States (click here for more info). Most organizations probably consider mobile applications as a vehicle for fundraising, but these examples demonstrate that there are other ways to leverage technology to facilitate mobile relationship-building.

Before jumping on the mobile application bandwagon, here are some tips that were offered in the session:

  • Have clear goals outlined (is it to grow your email list, fundraise, or connect to the younger generation?);
  • Assign a staff person the task of being the project manager to work with the app developer;
  • Create an internal staff team who use smart phones and can test the app while its in different phases;
  • Review and test other apps by other organizations so you are not re-inventing the wheel and you can add new features to your own application.

You should also be asking yourself questions like “How are my donors using mobile devices?” or “Do my website visitors need mobile friendly pages served to them?” or “Do my volunteers need the ability to interact with our organization via their mobile phone?”.

Remember, the consistent spread of mobile devices, and the time the average user spends on mobile internet use should have you thinking long and hard about how your organization must adjust to the mobile world.

Florence Broder manages social media for the Jewish Agency for Israel.