Why Mobile Matters for Fundraisers
Mobile has been deemed the next big thing in the fundraising sector, but the technology is still in its infancy. It took years for e-philanthropy to have a major impact in terms of direct dollars and cents, and the same most likely will be true for mobile.
But that doesn’t mean fundraisers should ignore it until the technology for mobile giving and engagement matures. Just as with the Internet, early adopters will reap the biggest rewards once the mobile-giving wave hits. In the opening session at DMA Nonprofit Mobile Day in Washington, D.C., last month, “American Cancer Society: How Mobile Plays a Key Role in Donor Outreach,” American Cancer Society (ACS) National Director for Web and Mobile Miles Orkin discussed why mobile matters now for fundraisers.
Why mobile matters
Orkin began by asking, “Why does mobile matter?” For ACS, it matters because it wants “to be able to send cake,” Orkin said. Playing off the ACS slogan that it saves lives from cancer and thus creates more birthdays, ACS built an iPhone app for birthdays where people can "send cake" to cancer survivors on their birthdays and donate to ACS.
He gave four reasons why mobile matters for every organization:
- There are nearly as many mobile subscribers as there are people in the U.S.
- Mobile devices are rarely, if ever, beyond four feet away from their owners — “It’s an intimate and personal device, and that makes a huge difference,” Orkin said.
- Hundreds of millions of Americans communicate and consume on mobile.
- Brands that understand consumer mobile behavior now will ensure success as the channel evolves.
Plus, mobile has unparalleled ubiquity:
- 293 million U.S. wireless subscribers
- 307 million U.S. population
- 93 percent U.S. wireless penetration
- 2.26 trillion mobile minutes of use monthly
- 24.5 percent U.S. wireless-only households.
Further, broadband access is a growing market. In 2006, there were 3 million wireless subscribers with broadband access. In 2010, that number grew to 73 million. Smartphone ownership increased 85 percent from 2009 to 2010, unlimited data plan subscribers increased 57 percent from 2009 to 2010, and more than 89 percent of cell phones operating on wireless carriers’ networks are capable of browsing the Web.
The reach of mobile is unparalleled, and that’s why it matters for fundraisers.
How ACS conducts its mobile efforts
“There’s a misperception that mobile is this tool for just 16-year-olds,” Orkin said. “It’s actually a cross-generational technology tool that’s ubiquitous.”
ACS realized it had some good potential, and it really started to explore mobile in 2010. Orkin described the mobile strategy as low and slow for ACS in February 2010. The history of mobile use was piecemeal, explored in certain campaigns. The organization had minimal expertise in the area, though there was general enthusiasm. However, the vision was vague, resources limited and there wasn't much urgency to implement mobile overall.
Still, ACS dipped its toes in the mobile water with some good stuff: the birthdays and Relay for Life apps, the launch of the Cancer.org mobile website, and a text-to-give program.
The goals are much more ambitious this year. Orkin described ACS’ current mobile strategy as fast and furious. The cancer organization has an official strategic plan, seven major project areas, new vendor relationships, new staff assignments, support from leadership and an actual budget for mobile.
“Support from leadership is really key,” Orkin said. “We worked to show how mobile engagement is relevant to an organization that’s mission-driven.
“It’s more challenging to show merit around mobile fundraising because the lens is so distorted from Haiti,” he added. “Haiti was an anomaly with the enormous scope of it. Most nonprofits on a month-to-month basis don’t have that opportunity. So there really is no benchmark yet on what a successful mobile program is. But you can’t base your mobile program on fundraising alone. You have to show it hits a lot of people and is great for engagement and activation.”
Once the mobile initiative was a go, ACS mapped out its strategic plan:
- Create a programmatic approach.
- Have a blueprint to provide structure and vision.
- Define priorities, components, initial projects.
- Align with overarching enterprise objectives.
- Ensure that ACS mobile is coordinated and consumer-friendly.
ACS made sure its mobile undertaking was aligned with everything else: brand, digital, social-media and website strategies.
“You have to position [mobile] the same way you would social media, e-mail or the Web,” Orkin said.
With that mapped out, ACS’ mobile objects for 2011 are:
- Build the platform and process.
- Integrate and educate in the enterprise.
- Engage consumers/donors.
- Improve mobile fundraising.
The project pipeline includes:
- SMS platform launch — “SMS can scale from a large, national touch to a small, community touch,” Orkin said.
- Relay mobile
- iPhone apps
- Special event SMS
- Mobile giving
- Mobile behavior change
Mobile channels that work
From ACS’ perspective, the most important mobile channels fall into the big four:
- SMS — excitement, loyalty, participation, immediacy.
- Mobile Web — information, trust, speed, consumption.
- Smartphone apps — ease, fun, features, richness, brand intensity.
- Mobile giving/text-to-give — emotion, impulse, gratification, augmentation.
Those are the big four to explore, starting with the mobile Web. “The mobile Web is huge,” Orkin said. “Until you have a real mobile website, you can’t do any mobile marketing.”
Best practices for building a mobile program
Orkin provided a step-by-step approach for building a mobile program:
- Get started: get informed about mobile, take the pulse of the organization and educate everyone as you investigate.
- Identify goals: income, list size, downloads, conversion, e-mail opens, phone calls, brand awareness, buzz, etc.
- Make the case: drop stats wisely — number of handsets nationwide, number of text messages daily; show cool stuff — videos, text to a big screen, put it in their hands; get traction — cross-cutting relevance, early adopters and enthusiasts. “Find a way you can solve multiple problems, and find people that care about it,” Orkin said.
- Build the plan: include tutorial material, align with organization’s goals, address internal and external communications, provide realistic timelines, check with IT and legal first!
- Launch the campaign.
“People get enamored by that shiny thing and often you get it in the app store,” Orkin said. “To build a program, you have to be systematic, not chase after every shiny thing.”
Orkin provided some additional tips.
Advice for smaller organizations that have barely tapped in to mobile: “Depending on your organization and goals, 1. the mobile Web gives you a whole new platform for communicating; 2. SMS — once you’re running in SMS, you have flexibility, it’s cheap, can be personal, immediate and very nimble. Apps are expensive and take time, so start out with the mobile Web and SMS.”
On integration: “We take an integrated view with mobile. It’s a marketing tool, a way of engaging with donors. It builds brand. We do expect it to do more work for fundraising and expect it to help us deliver our mission of services. We would like to coordinate with texts across all platforms. If you think of mobile as just one entity, you go down the silo.”
On fitting mobile to scale: “You have to scale your program and find the right provider that matches your needs and audience. You can’t have a fundraising lens on it. The cost per dollar is too high. It’s a communication tool. You can step down to a pretty small scale that’s affordable and fits your needs. And something as simple as a text message can trigger higher responsiveness in other channels.”
On the difference between ACS’ mobile site and main website: “Our main site has 10,000 active pages, a big CMS, lots of content. Our mobile site is designed for mobile-user behaviors and focused on certain deep content areas that match mobile behaviors.”