Important Factors for Developing a Nonprofit Mobile App
By now everyone has heard the statistic that more people now access websites through mobile devices and smartphones than from laptops and desktops. In this ever-evolving digital world, mobile is king. People have their smartphones with them 24/7, and the tablet is usually not that far away either.
So it makes perfect sense for fundraisers to focus on mobile strategies. In fact, it’s essential, as more donors are using and expecting the mobile experience to be available from their nonprofits of choice. And one of the hottest trends in mobile is having an app.
Recently, the San Diego Foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life in the San Diego communities by providing leadership for effective philanthropy and promoting community solutions, became the first community foundation in the U.S. to develop free apps for iPhones, iPads and Androids. The app allows constituents to access charitable giving news and information, submit photos to share, connect with the organization and other supporters, and donate.
“People are not just going to their desktops. They’re actually spending more time on their mobiles devices,” says Adrienne Vargas, vice president of charitable giving at the foundation. “It just made it imperative for us to implement an app.”
Historically, the San Diego Foundation has been a large donation organization focused on major donors. So, given that mobile is the communication of choice for many donors these days, Vargas says developing an app had a two-part goal: to better engage smaller donors in its work and demonstrate the foundation’s value add to the larger potential and existing donors.
Since mobile is prominent these days, the app development was part of a shift in the San Diego Foundation’s communications strategy.
“We’re taking our traditional workflow and flipping it,” says Heather Back, associate vice president of marketing and communications. “We’re so used to having our smartphones and our iPads with us from morning to night, it’s almost an extension of ourselves, our digital assistant. So really we’ve got to get the news out on those mediums first. That’s a shift for our communications and marketing department, to think of the app and the digital outreach first.”
So far, the foundation is pleased with the adoption of its apps and has received lots of feedback on ways to enhance it even further.
Here, Vargas and Back provide some important factors for organizations considering launching a mobile app.
Have a mobile-optimized website
“The first step is a mobile-optimized website,” Back says. “… So many people are searching on their smartphones, you don’t want them to hit a roadblock in connectivity because it’s not translating to a smartphone.”
There’s no point in developing an app if your site isn’t mobile-optimized first. If you do, donors will lose confidence and become frustrated that your website doesn’t allow the app achieve all it promises. Your website must be readable by a smartphone.
For starters, your mobile site should not use Flash, since iPhones and iPads do not support Flash functions. You also must make sure you take donors to mobile-optimized landing pages from your app. Anything that disrupts that journey can mean lost donations or, even worse, lost donors.
Back recommends working with a publishing partner to optimize your website for mobile: “Find the right partner that’s going to look at the greatest areas that your website is visited. You want to make sure that you’re making those areas easily accessible because you know that’s where the searchers and viewers and the community are going to. So start there. Look at your own website traffic and depth and the conversations that are happening, and optimize accordingly.”
Have calls to action
Just as in any fundraising communications, your app should have specific calls to action so donors know what to do with the thing.
“Frankly, consumers are used to a call to action,” Back says. “In this particular day and age, we not only want to get information … we want to engage with it. We want to respond. So plugging in social media and having ways for the person to communicate back is really important. Putting in the share links to share content on Facebook or Pinterest, all of that functionality is very, very important.”
The San Diego Foundation’s apps have some very specific calls to action. Four sections pop up: “How to Give,” “Share Your Good,” “News” and “Connect.” “Share Your Good” is a specific call to action to upload photos of community work and share it with other constituents, while “Connect” allows donors to connect with the organization and each other.
Approval is not guaranteed
Just because you develop an app doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to get approved by Android and/or Apple. In fact, the San Diego Foundation had to introduce a simplified version of its app to ultimately get it approved for the iTunes store.
To give your app a better chance of being approved — and to make sure you aren’t investing in something that won’t go to market — Back suggests looking at functionality that already exists on most of the apps that have been approved. Things like making sure the bells and whistles fit in the architecture and infrastructure of Apple or Android, going through tiers, utilizing push notifications, etc., are what mobile providers look for.
More than anything, an app is an engagement tool. So use the feedback you get from your constituents to improve the mobile experience.
“Feedback is very important,” Vargas says. “We take this comments very seriously and act on them.”
“We’ve had great suggestions from a number of people and various stakeholders on what we can continue to do to evolve: adding video, allowing areas for you to generate content, etc.,” Back adds. “… We’re in a digital age of storytelling through videos, so as much as we can incorporate that, that’s what we’re really hearing people want.
“The long-term goal is to align this with our Center for Civic Engagement and really to make this an architecture that the community can give us their feedback, tell us what they us to work on, to share the good news. From the donor standpoint, for donors to actually see the good work that’s coming to fruition in the community based on their grants, our programs, and just the engaged and caring community that we have.”