The Jewish Nonprofit World needs to Join the “Move to Mobile”

move to mobileBy Rachel Moore

Smart Insights statistics in early 2015 cited that “Mobile digital media time in the US is now significantly higher at 51% compared to desktop (42%).” And that “The trend in mobile device usage (‘vertical screens’) compared to all screen use again shows that we’re well past the tipping point.” As we enter 2016, the number is already getting closer to 70%.

Most of us don’t need trade publications or surveys to tell us the world is “going mobile”; we simply need to look around our own living room any day of the week. There are hundreds of blog posts, articles, and comments about mobilizing your organization and coming up with a mobile strategy.

The real question is how it impacts nonprofit organizations in general, and your Jewish nonprofit organization in particular. Mobile programs allow for a unique kind of engagement. It’s different than exposing people to a commercial, or even going out and trying to connect in person. Users feel as if they have more control over their experience, and may even be more inclined to donate to a nonprofit in need.

Many nonprofits that explore mobile look into fundraising opportunities first. Finding more ways to make it easier for people to support and fund you is always a priority. However, mobile apps have the potential to do so much more for nonprofits than fundraising, and many nonprofits don’t realize that – yet. We know that in the Jewish world, engagement is the name of the game. Finding potential members, attracting them to what we are doing and keeping them involved is virtually our universal challenge.

At a recent Rabbinic Conference in Europe, where community engagement is a real challenge, Rabbi Doctor Dov Maimon, Sr. Fellow at JPPI, expressed it this way: “Every Jewish organization, community, shul and group is like a shopfront. We have to ask ourselves if they are coming into our shop or going to someone else’s, and if they aren’t coming in the front door, what do we need to change so that they will.”

“Being able to connect with your supporters through their personal mobile devices is probably the most powerful argument for creating a mobile app,” stated Fundraising IP contributor Marita Meegan. “When you take advantage of the fact that a smartphone is usually no more than a few feet from its user and your app takes advantage of all the capabilities of a mobile device, no PC or laptop can even come close to replicating the connectivity of a smartphone or tablet.”

So how does one begin?

We hope that the following information will help you and your organization wade through the information that is out there on mobile implementation in membership and nonprofit organizations.

Part 1: What are the results of “being mobile” in your organization?

Andrew Olsen, Vice President of ad agency Russ Reid and contributing writer to The Non-Profit Times, reveals new research that 50% of all mobile users have completely abandoned a brand based on a poor mobile experience.

There are many statistics to show that this is where our users are today, but we all know it because we are those users. We know how much we have moved over to using our mobile phones as a source of information and engagement and we know how much we rely on them to handle our schedule and stay connected.

“Going mobile” means a whole slew of things. The bottom line is that it’s about reaching and engaging with your members where they are, and making information so accessible and fun, that they want to get and stay involved with you. A website may provide information, but as a NFP, you also want to have a way to get your members talking to each otherthus building community.

For your nonprofit organization, being mobile could include any of the following five things:

  • Mobile Web: Optimizing your website, making sure it is “mobile friendly”;
  • Mobile messaging: Sending text messages to your members, co-workers, and donors. This may include Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS), which means sending multimedia via text, such as photos or video;
  • Online donations/text-to-give: Providing a way for your members to donate through their mobile devices via a mobile optimized online donation form or website, or by texting a donation directly to your organization
  • QR codes: Enabling members to use the camera on their mobile device to snap a picture of a special bar code that then directs them to a mobile landing page or phone number
  • Mobile Apps: Creating your own customized application for your members to download to their smartphones or tablets for easy access.

Part 2: The Pros and Cons of your organization “going mobile.”

There are many benefits, as already alluded to, for your organization to adapt to mobile use. However, it also comes with challenges.

The Pros: This section can be summed up as “increased engagement,” but we are going to flush it out anyway.

  1. Communication
    Going mobile means you can access your members at any time and at any place – this enables more frequent and open communication between you and your members, and between your members themselves.
  2. Fundraising/donations
    When your donors only have to click a few buttons on their phone in order to make a donation, giving becomes easier, and in turn will encourage more people to give. According to fundraising technology and services provider Artez Interactive, nonprofits that offer mobile web sites, apps or both for taking donations generate up to 123% more individual donations per campaign than organizations that don’t.
  3. Provide more volunteer opportunities and support for charities
    Being mobile means that you have more outlets in general for posting volunteer opportunities and promoting certain charities, and people will see them more frequently, as they can sign up for alerts for volunteer opportunities and browse through them on the go.
  4. Engagement, engagement, engagement
    The “unique user experience” of mobile gives your users a greater sense of control over their experience and increases their ongoing participation with a brand, company or organization through shared photos and stories, questions, comments and simply being part of a “conversation.” So a strong, achievable mobile strategy can truly help propel a member-based organization to a powerful new level of personal connection.

The Cons:

Since the trend is clear and the benefits are clear, why aren’t we all there yet? The requirements to adapt tap into the three things that most NFP’s are traditionally short on: extra time, extra funds and extra manpower to manage the changes once they have been made.

1. Time: When NFP’s had to adapt and build website, so many were bogged down in the difficult architecture process, creating a strategy building team, building the strategy, searching for the web developer to do the work, then training the administrator that it took years… sound familiar?

Today it is easier, as the market has found what web site configurations work and they are fairly easy to replicate. But the app world isn’t there yet. Understanding the optimal “user experience” layout of an app specifically for your nonprofit is still at an early stage. Figuring out what we want, what we need and how to create it can be an extremely time-consuming process that NFP’s just can’t seem to face.

2. Funds: The cost of modifying your website, creating mobile donation options and/or creating an app can simply be prohibitive, especially to community-based organizations. While today many organizations feel that they “can’t afford to do it,” as in the case of web development several years ago, the time is approaching when you can’t afford not to do it. There is a huge range of options in the app-creation world, which we will detail below. DIY options exist, and work for some as a more affordable choice. However, they come with limitations as you would expect.

3. Manpower: Just as we experienced when NFPs had to train staff on how to use Windows/Office or how to manage a website, managing an app, learning how to change it, and most of all coordinating it with the other platforms you use is an added time strain on your current Community Manager, or Administrator. This training should be a part of your mobile strategy.

For many nonprofits, the “con” is a combination of all of these reasons. The Israel Forever Foundation, focuses entirely on inspiring unaffiliated Jews around the world about Israel. Executive Director Elana Heideman explains: “We are interested in an app to make our content more easily accessible for people on the go, giving them direct opportunities to engage with Israel from wherever in the world they might be. The cost as well as staffing and maintenance needs are the primary reasons this remains unrealistic for us.”

This next section hopes to offer you some choices that will hopefully achieve the pros and work around the cons.

Part 3: How do you “go mobile”?

Create a nonprofit mobile strategy

Every nonprofit needs a mobile strategy to get the results that they really want.

1. Make realistic plans that are suited to your organization specifically – first look closely at your constituents, communications strategies, and your budget.

Include every different audience that you speak with – donors, clients, members, if it applies. Figure out what their needs from you are online and how best to meet them. How each of these groups receives information can vary. Figure out who is accessing you most on mobile – it means tracking your communication, which can take some time – and then deciding how to tailor your mobile strategy accordingly.

2. Start writing copy that can be easily accessed on mobile devices
Think about how your written content going forward can be viewed from a phone. Can someone read your newsletter from their email on their phone, or do they have to click through to a browser and wait for it to upload? If they do, and they are a mobile user, you have lost them. Thinking about how your content will be received and matching it to that is important for getting the results that you want.

Questions to ask when developing a mobile strategy:

  • What resources do I have to commit to mobile?
  • How will mobile fit into my other methods of outreach?
  • How will I measure and track my efforts?
  • What are my members like?

There are many tools that can help you to develop mobile apps for your nonprofit and/or create a mobile website for your organization as well. How much will it cost? The answer can vary greatly, and depends on what of many options you choose.

Optimizing your website for mobile is one process, and is best handled by starting with your web developer (or a new one) on what changes need to be made and how best to implement them.

“Most web sites developed in the last few years can be made mobile-friendly relatively easily,” shares Marc Gottlieb, owner of Marc Gottlieb Creative Solutions, “while older systems would require a complete overhaul.” Mobile-friendly web development requires usability testing across more screen sizes and resolutions than desktop development ever did, and your designer and developer needs to understand flexible visual development best practices.

Create Mobile Content/Apps

diy-titleDeveloping your own Mobile App can be done in several ways; build from scratch, a DIY solution, or a customizable app that falls somewhere in between. The cost will vary greatly depending on which of these options you choose.

These are some DIY app building options in the general market. Here are just a few:

  • (formerly Tiggzi) – is a cloud-based HTML5, jQuery Mobile, and hybrid app builder for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone (with Apache Cordova/PhoneGap). It is a mobile drag-and-drop platform, and provides interactive online tutorials on how to create an app, and also has customer support and blogs for more resources. There are also advanced options available for the creation of custom apps.buzztouch
  • Buzztouch – Buzztouch is web-based software that allows you to host your apps on their site or on a cloud storage service like Dropbox. They are an open source “app engine” for iPhone, iPad and Android applications, and used together with the iOS and Android software developer kits.
  • EachScape – EachScape is a drag-and-drop platform that can build and manage custom apps for iOS, Android, and HTML5. It is ideal for large associations and nonprofits, and is also used by the Girl Scouts of America. Enterprise versions start at around $2,500/month.

Jewish Community Specialization

While only a burgeoning market, there are a couple of options designed specifically for the Jewish world:

App Makr is a global DIY app maker platform that has a specialized section especially with synagogues in mind. They have a free plan which will allow you to make a mobile-friendly version of your website as an app. This doesn’t allow you the full features of an app, but will make it easier for participants to view your website. Their plans are inexpensive; for approximately $7 a month, they will build you an app. They have other pricing options with more/fewer features. The platform converts your existing website into an app, but does not offer many more features.

Guidebook specializes in building customizable apps for venues that hold lots of events, which is why it may work for your community center or shul. They do make it easy for people to find out what is going on in their area, and allow for features that enable a 2-way conversation. Their “campus” model may be the one that translates best for your Jewish organization. Their plans range from a minimum of $2000/year to more than $7000/year.

Communer is a new platform on the market, which was designed specifically with Jewish communities in mind. Information put into Communer by a Community Manager or Administrator can be automatically synced with all of your other social platforms (web, Facebook, etc.) and is primarily focused on one goal: better, cheaper, easier, faster, more qualitative community engagement. The platform has an additional feature – a “community search” with information provided by the community. If your participants are visiting another town and want to find kosher food, a Jewish community event or a minyan, other “Communers” will have entered that information.

communerThe level of push and pull integration is designed to make the app cheaper and faster to implement. A user can have more than one organization’s Communer app appear bundled on one’s phone, toggling between them to access information. A “white label” version of the Communer app is also available as a standalone, feature your organization’s brand and logo, for a different price point. Plans range from $250/year to $1200/year.

Bonus: Resources for Membership Organizations

Want to learn more? Here are some guides that you can refer to whenever you need more information. Perhaps the day will come when there is an online guide (more expansive than this post) specifically for Jewish NFPs. :


Mobile Websites – A Guide for Nonprofits by EthicalStudios
Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits by Heather Mansfield
Your Guide to Going Mobile: A Look at Mobile Content Strategies

Rachel Moore has been working in Communications with nonprofits in Israel and the US for 20 years. She is the Director of PR & Communications at Blue Thread Marketing, Co-owner of Hub Etzion and blogger at Times of Israel, “ima2eight”.