Why aren’t nonprofits going mobile?

Jared Sheehan
Nov 2, 2019 · 5 min read

The case for branded mobility and what to do about it

Editor’s note: This is an article from 2013 that I am re-posting for reference in a new article.

With the rise of the smartphone and tablet era, an increasing segment of the population relies on mobile browsing and apps to interact with the rest of the world. There was an astounding 120% rise in total time spent using mobile apps over the year-long period from July 2011 to July 2012. However, nonprofits consistently rank mobile app solutions as a low priority.

Why aren’t nonprofits thinking about mobility?

Based on conversations with hundreds of nonprofits, we have heard that many organizations are hesitant for the following reasons:

· Organizations are not sure their supporters know enough about the mobile space

· Mobile apps are still a new and different technology that is difficult to manage

· Mobile technology is expensive and time consuming

· Nonprofits think their donor base is older and don’t use smart phones

While some of these hesitations may be true for some organizations, the majority are false. For instance, there are over 165 million active iPhone and Android users in the United States alone. On top of that, 68% of individuals living in households earning over $75,000 per year own smartphones (PayPal report). Additionally, there are organizations that are specifically focused on helping nonprofits learn the technology and/or provide low cost solutions. These trends point to important shifts in the mobile nonprofit space including:

· Supporters are more in touch with the mobile space than nonprofits realize across all age groups. PayPal noted that partner nonprofits mobile site visits reached as high 36% across all age groups

· Implementing mobile apps can be easy to manage. New technology existing today is continually improving the speed and ease of implementation

· Mobile technology can be cost effective. Solutions start as low as $200

While these may seem like bold statements, they are true. Mobile strategies have come a long way and are only getting better.

What are the benefits of going mobile?

To fully understand the benefits of mobile solutions, some current trends in nonprofits need to be discussed. We have heard from nonprofits that they are worried about insufficient funds, lack of staffing resources and a need for improved technical capabilities. Each of the trends are supported by research, shown here:

· [We are going to turn this into a graphic] Only 43% of causes in the US saw an increase in donations in 2010 (USA Giving report)

· 48% of nonprofits lack time and resources to produce quality content (NPS Communication report)

· According to Boston Foundation research, noted that most grants only provide 20% funding to operating costs (including technology) and a study from Groundwork Group noted that most nonprofits felt they had numerous technology “challenges.”

While mobile certainly isn’t a panacea to all of these problems, it can increase community outreach, build a broader and more diverse base of donors, drive donations, increase interactions with new types of supporters and help to establish a brand. How is this possible? Branded mobile technology.

I’m interested in branded mobile technology, what’s next?

While mobile technology can be very helpful to an organization, it is important to understand how to correctly implement a mobile strategy. As figure 1 demonstrates, there is a five-step approach to mobile implementation.

Figure 1. Nonprofit approach to mobile implementation

[See “Picture Healing_Cut Away #4]

Step 1: Identify mobile appetite

The first step is to identify the use and appetite of mobile technology as it pertains to your organization. Ask yourself:

· How does mobile connect with your mission?

· What ways can a mobile presence help you reach your goals?

· What are the potential challenges of implementing mobile technology for your nonprofit?

· How do we create a mobile solution that is engaging (not just an app that no one uses)

Step 2: Set expectations

After these questions have been answered, you can move on to the second step, setting expectations for app implementation. Ask yourself:

· What are the things you need in a mobile solution?

· What are the things you want, and consequently don’t want, in the app?

· As multi-faceted as technology is, you must also ask how a mobile app will fit with your other technology (website, email, etc.) after implementation

Step 3: Choose the right solution

Once you have the needs and wants of your app figured out, the next step is choosing which mobile option best fits for your organization. There are two such to choose from, both with inherent benefits and challenges.

· Do-It-Yourself option: you use a company’s app “skeleton,” and add your specific information, social media accounts, and other communications tools. Because it does not require much manual lifting, it is a very low cost app, while still having the core functionality your organization needs. With that savings does come a couple of drawbacks: there is less flexibility, for visual aesthetics, user interface, etc; being a newer market segment, there are also fewer options for providers.

· Fully customized option: This is a far more expensive path, as the amount of time and work to develop and app from idea to fruition is still quite large (approximately 18 weeks). Additionally, your organization may not have the capabilities to build and manage such an undertaking, meaning you would have to use an outside contractor.

Step 4: Develop a marketing strategy

After you’ve chosen your organization’s preferred app option, the next step is determining a marketing strategy. Ask yourself:

· How can you gain support internally?

· Most important of all, what will be your method of distributing the app to your organization’s supporters?

Step 5: Rollout the mobile app

The final step is the most exciting! Rollout the app to the various distribution channels, including the Android store and the Apple App store. A full discussion of the rollout process will be the subject of another paper.

Regardless of your organization’s focus, any nonprofit can produce tangible good in the world. One tool to help your organization produce positive impact is through mobile technology. As the for-profit world continues to trend toward full mobilization, the nonprofit community needs to figure out how to follow suit. Yes, there will be difficulties and trepidations, but the rewards can be great. Ask yourself, is there a better way to consolidate information and reach vast amounts of supporters than through the device already sitting in their pockets? The answer should be simple. Let’s get moving.

Jared Sheehan

Written by

Jared Sheehan is the CEO at PwrdBy, an organization partnering with leading nonprofits to drive social innovation through mobile technology.

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