Is There an App for Us?

How are nonprofits going to get a bigger piece of the always-on/in-your-pocket/smartphone/Internet of things that is eating the world?

Our donors, clients, funders and friends are connected practically 24/7 with Facebook and FaceTime, Tinder and Twitter, Fitbit and FuelBand. They spend 86 percent of their mobile time on apps, only 14 percent on the mobile Web. On their smartphones, they play games 32 percent of the time and on Facebook 17 percent, but surf the mobile Web just 15 percent of the time.

But how many nonprofits are playing in the app space? How many have created apps that are not just downloaded but actually used regularly? Not very many … and it’s not easy!

Like so many things in fundraising, it’s all about relationships. What kind of relationship do you want with your supporters, and more important, what kind of relationship do they want with you? Can an app make it easier?

Successful apps provide value for users over time. They are tools you want to use — if not many times every day (Facebook, Google Maps, MapMyRun), then at least regularly (United Airlines, Hotels Tonight, Tinder). When I asked a group of guys smoking cigars on a street corner to recommend a good taco stand, they thought I was a dope: “Don’t you have Yelp?”

Some organizations have started to make apps work. PETA has apps that let you take advocacy actions (and earn points for Peta2 prizes) and a HappyCow vegetarian restaurant finder. The advocacy apps generate an outsize portion of PETA’s actions. World Wildlife Fund‘s gorgeous animal app for iPad has been been downloaded more than 1 million times.

A few years ago, a British organization that helps homeless youths created a Tamagotchi-like app that required you to take care of a begging, drug-addicted homeless kid for three days. It caught a wave of publicity for the charity (and the ad agency that produced the app) but expired after the three-day experience (and generated very few donations). The Salvation Army has a Red Kettle app for Christmas fundraising, and Relay for Life and other events have nice apps.

Nick lives on a hippie commune in Northern California that just got cell service a few months ago.

Nick Allen helps nonprofits harness the power of the Internet and mobile to raise money, raise their voices and build relationships. For the last 15 years, he has worked in the U.S. and Europe to help organizations — including Amnesty International, UNICEF, UNHCR, Habitat for Humanity, CARE, and UNAIDS — to develop new ways to recruit and retain donors. He is the founder and director of Nuevo Fundraising.

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