Wednesday, 16 March 2016 17:06

7 Non-Profits Leveraging Mobile Apps

In 2010, Apple enraged nonprofits and charities (which isn’t easy to do considering the philanthropic, humanitarian nature of these organizations) when they put a ban on making donations through iPhone apps.

The ban means that an iPhone user looking to donate through their favorite nonprofit’s mobile app has to be redirected to the organization’s website. This means the user has to make several clicks and traverse different pages and forms just to make one donation. The dream of a one-click donation button was struck down.

The move was met with a lot of backlash, as it seemed Apple was intentionally making it harder for people to donate to their favorite charities via their mobile devices. With no real explanation given and Apple’s PR reps declining to answer any questions on the topic, a lot of nonprofit leaders began to go viral with illustrations and Internet memes depicting Apple’s then CEO, the late Steve Jobs, as Dr. Seuss’ Grinch.

Management or Money?

There are two leading issues with regards to handling mobile donations that breathe some insight into the rationale behind Apple’s ban. First, donations would likely go through the App Store’s payment processing system, which means Apple would assume the responsibilities of ensuring the funds were distributed and allocated properly.  It puts the onus on Apple for verifying the authenticity of charities. Simply put, it presents a lot of new challenges that Apple would have to manage and expend resources on.

The other possible reason for Apple’s decision to eliminate donation-based apps is a little more Grinch-esque: the money. Apple’s current policy on App Store purchases is that they take a 30% cut. So, everytime you make a purchase on your favorite mobile game, Apple gets a sizeable share. They would have to adjust this policy or create exceptions for charities and nonprofits because no one would appreciate 30% of their donation going to Apple’s coffers.

Far from the End of Nonprofits and Mobile

Despite Apple’s restrictions on donations, non-profit organizations are still utilizing mobile apps effectively, especially to drive engagement and donations from the 80 million millennials who are tied to their phones and looking to support a good cause.

Aside from fundraising, many nonprofit and charity groups have found the mobile environment to be incredibly helpful to attracting new supporters and creating a more unified, connected community of existing contributors.

From a fundraising aspect, many nonprofits have found success using mobile-oriented platforms, such as text-to-give campaigns, mobile donation portals and other strategies. These allow a nonprofit to target existing and potential supporters on their mobile device, without expending the resources necessary to actually develop a functioning mobile app. Other companies, like MyPocket Apps, offer enterprise publishing programs whereby iOS apps can bypass the App Store altogether, with apps living in what is essentially a private version of the App Store with fewer regulations. Other alternative means of fundraising include…

Text-to-Give Fundraising

Non-profit organizations are some of the best at reaching target audiences through text-based messages and campaigns. With 6 billion people estimated to own a cellphone (more people have access to a cellphone than a toilet with running water), almost anyone in the world has the ability to donate via text message.

Plus, text-based messages are almost always opened; about 98% of all messages are sent and users are three times more likely to respond or perform a desired action than with email-based messages. These campaigns have been especially successful during natural disasters because these events are so widely covered by global media that people from all over become engaged and want to donate to help however they can.

Friend-to-Friend Fundraising

One of the biggest advantages to mobile apps, with regards to fundraising, is that they are easy to integrate with social media sites enabling sharing with users on other mobile devices. Some nonprofit groups have used this social aspect of the mobile world to their advantage, by creating programs built around sharing.

These fundraising campaigns empowers existing supporters of the charity or cause to get their friends involved, whether that is through donating, participating in an awareness movement (think of the popular ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ for ALS), downloading an app, or attending an event.

But, What About a True Nonprofit Mobile App?

On the surface, all of the above strategies appear to be ways to get around needing a mobile app. However, each of these tactics can be used within or alongside a mobile app. Aside from donation collections, mobile has done quite a bit to further many causes.  Apps areresponsible for:

  • 272,000 meals donated to hungry people in the US
  • 74,000 trees saved
  • 27 million liters of clean drinking water

And the list goes on and on.

To understand how these types of fundraising work on a mobile app platform and get some creative ideas for your own organization’s future mobile app, here are some examples of innovative nonprofit mobile apps.

It is worth noting that not all of these organizations are large, well-known nonprofits. Instead, some represent small causes and charities, which goes to show you that successful mobile apps aren’t just available to large companies, but are within reach of smaller organizations.

1.) Salvation Army Canada & Bermuda

Around Christmas time, we are used to seeing the Salvation Army Santa Clauses outside major shopping centers and stores, ringing their bells next to the iconic red kettle. The Salvation Army chapters in Canada and Bermuda decided to take this experience mobile, with their app ‘iKettle.’

Users that downloaded the app were afforded the opportunity to design their own virtual version of the red kettle and then share it with their friends. Each user’s unique iKettle had its own button for visitors to click to donate. Even though the button sent them on the circuitous route of opening a web browser page, the app was a success and a continuing example of what friend-to-friend fundraising on a mobile app can look like.

2.) United Nations 

To help increase awareness and even action regarding important political, social, cultural or humanitarian issues, the United Nations Calendar of Observances has detailed information about events and observances. If you want to learn more or get involved, each observance has a number of links associated with it, so you can obtain more info or find a movement near you to take a more active role.

Thanks to the app’s social media integration, events are easily shareable on Facebook, Twitter, etc., which further helps spread awareness of the issues. It can also be integrated with the existing calendar application on your mobile device for ease-of-use.

The UN Calendar of Observances app doesn’t directly do any fundraising or have a donations button, but by promoting these events, they not only stimulate awareness, but also indirectly raise money for these various issues.

3.) American Red Cross

Most of us have attended a blood drive at one time, but did you know there’s an app for that? Not the blood-donating part, of course, but the Blood Donor app, by American Red Cross does just about everything else.

At its simplest function, the app lets you schedule, reschedule and receive reminders about appointments. Beyond scheduling, it allows a user to see how their individual donations have helped, in the form of how many lives they have saved.

The app will also use push notifications to alert donors if their blood type is needed in their area, which has been especially effective during crises or blood shortages. Socially, the app also hits high marks.

While the Red Cross could have stopped at simple social media integration, they took it a step further by creating a team feature, which allows a family, sports team, office, etc. to band together and see how much they can donate compared to other teams. High performing teams receive special incentives through participating businesses.

4.) Movember – Mo’s on the Go

If you have ever heard of, or participated in, ‘Movember,’ the time where men refuse to shave their upper-lip hair for a month, you may be interested to know that the November phenomenon gained traction all because of an app.

While the movement started thanks to the Australian charity Movember, which aims to bring awareness to male health issues like prostate and testicular cancer, it wasn’t until Mashable, the popular digital media website, covered Movember’s app, Mo’s on the Go, that the November holiday (if you will) became a global and viral sensation.

What allowed Movember to achieve this viral success was its playful attitude and brand image, which fit nicely with the millennial generation. It also leveraged the social side of friend-to-friend fundraising by pitting male friends against one another to see who could grow the most ridiculous mustache over the course of the month.

People can donate through a friend’s page, whom they feel has the best facial hair. Again, thanks to the Apple ban, this meant being taken outside the app, but regardless Mo’s on the Go was a huge success.

5.) Capital Area Food Bank of Texas

The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) had a clear goal for their app; they wanted it to help them achieve their goal of reducing hunger by 25% in the next four years in their area. To accomplish this, they realized their app needed to be two things: engaging and informative.

The informative side of the app shares details about local fundraising events and updates about the current status of hunger in the area. For engagement, the CAFB got creative and created “Catch the Can,” a simple mobile game that lets a user stock their own virtual pantry with healthy, non-perishables.

In-game purchases, in the form of appliances for the virtual kitchen, support the CAFB and incentivize donations, while simultaneously getting around the Apple ban. The game is not only engaging, but it also helps teach about the cause and the ways people can make a difference.

6.) American Hiking Society

Going for hikes and taking picturesque photographs of nature pretty much go hand-in-hand. So, when it came time for the American Hiking Society to develop a mobile app, someone had the epiphany to combine the two.

Aside from providing maps and locations for parks, forests, campgrounds and more, HIKE allows users to track their own hike with the ‘adventure’ feature. During the hike, any photos the user takes are marked on their map with geo-tagging, which allows them to go back and “replay” the journey from beginning to end.

Adventures can be easily shared on social media platforms. While the HIKE app doesn’t openly generate funds or spread awareness, it imparts value to hikers because the American Hiking Society knows that they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for maintaining trails and parks.

7.) VolunteerMatch

Fundraising and acquiring donations are constantly on the minds of most non-profit organizations. Yet, managing fundraising events and accomplishing the many tasks associated with running a non-profit takes a lot of manpower in the form of volunteers. The web-based company VolunteerMatch, and their mobile app, pairs app using volunteers with organizations in need of help.

With over 100,000 organizations available, the VolunteerMatch app allows you to pick your favorites. It saves your preferences to offer you future opportunities in your area that fit your general interests. Thus, VolunteerMatch is helpful for both non-profits themselves as well as users looking to find volunteer opportunities with their favorite non-profits.

Final Takeaways

There are a few common threads in these standout examples of nonprofit mobile apps. First, nothing spreads awareness quite like social media, so a non-profit app needs to be integrated with these networks and ideally have some sort of shareable content (that users want to share with their friends). Social media also encourages others to take part and helps stimulate friend-to-friend fundraising.

Second, the app should present some sort of value to the users, whether that is a mobile game or a feature like HIKE’s Adventures. Without this, your app won’t be engaging enough to be part of any user’s daily routine. Remember,80-90% of apps are downloaded once and never used again.

And finally, if your nonprofit is very fundraising driven, find a unique and creative way to encourage mobile donations in a way that is not too cumbersome to the user while circumventing the App Store. An engaging, functional mobile app is out there waiting and as we move towards a more mobile-focused world, these apps are becoming the best way to target audiences when we need them the most.