Should Your Non-Profit Have a Mobile App?
With more people using smartphones and tablets to access the web, you might be wondering if your non-profit should invest in a mobile app. The answer to that depends on what you think the mobile app should accomplish for you.
– If you’d like make a specific function available to your visitors that might even be more useful on a mobile device than a PC (Like the Red Cross’ apps for First Aid, Tornados, Hurricanes and Earthquakes etc.), or create a paid app which will help your revenue stream, yes, a mobile app might make sense.
– If you’re considering an app simply because you’d like to make your site more accessible or more efficient for mobile devices, you don’t need an app: you can simply have your current site ‘styled’ so it will look and work great on a mobile device. (Read Is your Site Optimized for Mobile Devices?)
1. Cons: Consider the costs of having a mobile app
– As mentioned before, a mobile app might make sense for special content that’s ideal for mobile devices. However, once you have your app it will keep incurring costs for your non-profit: an app is a piece of software which means that every time something changes on a smartphone platform’s operating system, your app needs to accommodate it, which means you’ll have to periodically update your app which could cost a lot.
– On top of that consider any security risks: maintaining software will create a constant battle to keep any sensitive information save. If it wasn’t enough to keep data save just on your website! This means more costs and constant updates to your software.
– You’ll also have to pay for bug fixes as they show up and updates and upgrades – no good software stops stops at version 1.0. If you can offset the cost and even make it profitable by charging for your app and offer superior functionality and content it might be worth it. (To find developers and graphic artists, try sites like freelancer.com.)
– If these considerations weren’t enough, which platform should you build your app for? iPhone and iPad, Android, Blackberry, and Windows 7 phones? Only one or all of them? If you’re not sure, you’ll have to do demographic research to see what group uses what type of operating system the most and pick the one your supporters will most likely use. However, it’s highly likely that in the future you will need to plan to have your app available on more than one platform.
– And one more: you’ll also have to keep track of analytics for your app. Analyzing analytics data for your website is already a pretty big job, now you’ll need someone to also track them for your app.
2. Pros: Connecting to your audience with a mobile app
– Distributing a mobile app also means that you have to get people to actually use it. Just because you got hundreds or thousands of people to download your app to their mobile device doesn’t mean they will actually open it and use it on a regular basis.
– However, through your mobile app you can send push notifications for special events or deals that land right on the user’s smartphone or tablet screen – if the user has them turned on for your app.
This is a powerful feature because you know the user will most likely see it within a short time of you sending the notification. An app will also let you take advantage of the GPS, camera and video capabilities of a mobile device.
– Being able to connect with your supporters through their personal mobile devices is probably the most powerful argument for creating a mobile app. When you take advantage of the fact that a smartphone is usual 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.
Having said that, you still need a very good reason why connecting to your supporters in that way is worth all the cost.
– One reason might be if you periodically hold events: you’d be able to add all the event’s information to your ‘event app’ which your supporters can then refer to on their smartphones: directions, parking info, activities, accommodations, food and so on.
– And with an app you don’t just connect with your group of supporters: an app opens up a whole new world of marketing opportunities! Think of all the places your app will show up on the web: on all the free or paid app websites (there are hundreds), on blogs that review your app, any news sources that report on technical developments.
3. Outside the box: Have others build their own apps based on your data
One more option to consider: third party apps.
For example, the non-profit Kiva makes their API (application programming interface) available through their website, so third party developers can use it and make their own (unendorsed apps) based on Kiva’s data and code. Get the API and see what others have built around Kiva’s data here.
For example, the iKiva app works well and has most of the functionality of Kiva’s website. It is not endorsed by Kiva, but helps spread Kiva’s message in the mobile world and also directs all its users to the Kiva website for donations.
So why would someone make an app like this for free? Perhaps because they’d like to contribute to your organization instead of a financial donation. Or because they’d like to showcase their skill with an app for a non-profit as part of their portfolio. Or perhaps a combination thereof?
In any case, building an app like this is a lot of work, and if you can figure out a potential symbiosis with a developer, go for it! Everyone likes a win-win situation.
– For another example of a third party app through which supporters can donate to a handful of large non-profits: CharityMiles mobile app.
Update: Take a look at these fantastic apps created by nonprofits. All are available for iPhone but they may also be available for Android and Windows based phones:
– Charity Navigator: Charity Navigator is the most-utilized charity evaluator in America. This app helps guide intelligent giving by providing ratings for nearly 7,800 charities based on their financial health, accountability and transparency. You can also find basic information for the rest of the 1.4 million U.S. nonprofits.
– Safe Night: People who want to help those in need of safe shelter download the SafeNight app (Created by TechSoup division Caravan)and set up a profile. They receive an alert when someone needs a safe place to stay and there is no available space in a shelter. The app lets them make an immediate donation to pay for a hotel room for the person in need.
– Food Scores: Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores houses information on tens of thousands of foods in a simple, searchable online format designed to guide consumers to healthy, affordable food that’s good for people and the planet.
– American Red Cross Blood Donor: The American Red Cross Blood Donor App puts the power to save lives in the palm of your hand. Donating blood and platelets is easier than ever. Find nearby Red Cross blood drives, schedule appointments, earn rewards from premier retailers, follow your blood’s journey from donation through delivery (when possible), and create or join a lifesaving team and track its impact on a national leaderboard.
Do you know of a non-profit app you really like? Please let us know in the comments!
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>> Read more articles by Marita Meegan
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