Why Oxfam’s new mobile app could just work…

I think it’s fair to say that Oxfam’s new mobile app, My Oxfam has met with a fair amount of “why?” from those within the non-profit marketing space.

But could Oxfam be onto something? Let’s explore some things which I haven’t seen mentioned yet…

What does success look like?

One of the most common negative comments about Oxfam’s new app is “does Oxfam really think that people will use their app every day?”. This is because we all love stats like “25% of apps only get looked at once after they get downloaded…

To which my response is – “why does that matter?” Is that the KPI that makes it worth doing? Supporters may not visit Oxfam’s website every day either but it’s still worth them having one.

Not all returns can be measured directly

Let me offer a few ways that the My Oxfam app could produce returns for Oxfam that can’t be tracked through direct income.

Brand awareness — Oxfam have driven a significant amount of media attention both within and outside of the charity sector. That’s all awareness that can be valued by the cost it takes to generate it through advertising (it’s actually more powerful because it’s not advertising and therefore has more credibility). Also — don’t forget if supporter’s download the app, their logo is now on the device people spend their lives on, which they may see up to 654 times a day!

Brand positioning — At a time in the UK when charities are being accused of all sorts of issues, Oxfam are stepping up and doing something about it in a relevant, modern way. In short — it makes them look good to both their existing donors (of all levels) and potential new ones.

Some returns can be measured directly

Some things can be tracked directly.

Mobile web call to action — most of the downloads will come through the smart app banner on Oxfam’s mobile website. This will generate significant downloads, engagements and hopefully donations. With Oxfam’s standing in the UK market and their (presumably) large level of regular, committed donors, I think they’ll drive a significant amount of downloads that over time will start to drive significant value.

Smart App banner for My Oxfam app

Data opt-in — if Oxfam can drive significant downloads then they will have a great platform to use in order to opt-in supporters into long term communications. With the changes in regulations coming into play in the UK, this point alone could be worth the effort of launching the app. They will easily be able to email supporters to manage their preferences in the app, which could increase the opt-in rate their get from their regular supporters.

Easier to donate (improved conversion rates) —in theory you should be able to take a donation quicker and make easier for donors through an app. But right now, Apple do not allow charities to take donations in app, but instead take donations within a web browser inside the app. This means Oxfam still have to ask for all my information when I make a donation (it’s a shame the app doesn’t use the neat iOS auto-fill feature). That being said, there is a time coming when this could change and Oxfam would be perfectly positioned to capitalise. This could be very effective in a sudden onset emergency.

Emergency notifications —when a sudden onset emergency hits, Oxfam should be able to use notifications to drive donations through the app (again, this will take using native features)

Email is now mobile — When Oxfam email their supporters, they will now be able to link those supporters direct to content in mobile app, improving the donor experience.

Search is now mobile — Check out a service called Quora. If you have their mobile app installed and click on their search result (either paid or organic search). And it’s not just Google. Spotlight, Apple’s OS based search engine is generating more and more hits. Now if I search for Oxfam on my phone (e.g. during a TV ad) I will go straight to the app.

Searching ‘Oxfam’ in iOS (Apple’s Spotlight search)

Online advertising is now mobile and social — the app could get better performance out of paid social advertising Twitter and Facebook ads into play. This is especially important in emergencies.

Facebook apps drive app downloads

Taking an entrepreneurial approach

I’m definitely not saying that an app is right for every charity. I’m just making the point that as a sector we need to be taking a more entrepreneurial approach (hat tip: @millbry). Surely if the return significantly outweighs the investment (more than doing other things you could do) you should do it!

So what about asking the following?

  1. How much will it cost over 3 years?
  2. What are the direct returns over 5 years?
  3. What are the indirect returns over 5 years?

If (2 + 3) -1 looks good, then I’d say it was worth doing.

Only time will tell if Oxfam are onto something, but I can definitely see more large UK charities following suit.

Quick note about me — I worked with the National Trust on their first iPhone app back in 2008 and it quickly got to 1 million downloads. I also worked with Meningitis Now on their app in back in 2011 — which directly saved lives and generated much positive press for the organisation. I now work mainly with iNGOs on digital marketing and fundraising. You can follow me on Twitter @nickburne.