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Mobile Websites and Smartphone Apps: It’s Time to Get with the 21st Century

Submitted Thursday, December 12th 2013 3:18 pm by Timothy S. Jacobson
in   smartphone    tablet    app    mobile-friendly    mobile version    website    nonprofit organization    donations    online donations    online giving    charitable contributions  

Mobile Websites and Smartphone Apps:

It’s Time to Get with the 21st Century

By Timothy S. Jacobson

~The Nonprofit Provocateur~

"Holding back technology to preserve broken business models is like allowing blacksmiths to veto the internal combustion engine in order to protect their horseshoes." -Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams, Authors of Wikinomics

If your organization doesn’t have a mobile version of its website and/or a smartphone app, it’s already missing huge opportunities to connect with potential supporters. According to the Learning Center in the Network for Good,

Nonprofits are reporting that up to a third of their Web traffic is now coming from mobile devices. The mobile Web is rapidly becoming a key way to communicate your message to donors; it’s important that your nonprofit website isn’t giving them a bad impression. See also, Nicole Wallace, Nonprofits Race to Get Ahead of the Explosion in Small Screens, 3/10/2013, According to that article, when a group named Mercy Housing set out to make its website easy to navigate on mobile devices, its top priority was to remake the donation page before the holiday fundraising season began. They had a good reason for doing this. People using mobile devices accounted for 18 percent of the organization’s year-end online gifts—nearly one out of every five online contributions—compared with only 2 percent during the preceding year.

Oddly, even many large and well-funded nonprofits are crawling at a snail’s pace to create a mobile-friendly version of their website and/or a smartphone app. For example, in early 2013 I conducted a (non-exhaustive) search for smartphone apps from land trusts. I only found three in the whole country: The Nature Conservancy, Little Traverse Conservancy in Michigan, and Door County Land Trust in Wisconsin. I interviewed representatives from two of these organizations, and here’s what I learned.

Little Traverse Conservancy has the best app, from what I’ve seen, and there are versions for the iPhone and the Android operating system. They used a web-based service with an app development template: LTC employee Charles Dawley there said that the normal cost for using the service is $600 (an annual, recurring fee), but he lucked out by coming across a 50%-off coupon. Consequently, the conservancy pays a mere $300 per year (which allows them to update the information using the web-based service). No real programming skill is required to use, although Dawley said some knowledge of HTML is helpful. He thinks he spent 40-50 hours pulling text and photos from their existing materials to upload for the app. This system creates apps for multiple platforms. They had about 2,000 people download the app as of May 2013. The primary downside of the service, other than the recurring annual fee, is that they have to separately maintain their main website. Updating one does not update the other.

Door County Land Trust ventured into the smartphone realm with an Android app. According to Dan Burke, their executive director, the group happened to have a volunteer who was taking a class on developing Android phone apps. Creation of DCLT’s app was that student’s class project and, thus, free for DCLT. That person did not have knowledge of how to set up an iPhone app, and so DCLT hired a local firm to translate their Android app for use on the iPhone, which was expected to cost them about $600. I assume that DCLT will have recurring expenses every time they want to update the information contained in the apps.

Six months after conducting my initial search for land trust apps, I found less than a handful more: Turtle Conservancy, Western Reserve Conservancy and Prairie State Conservation Coalition. With 1,700 nonprofit land trusts in America, that’s a paltry sum—a reflection of how slow charitable groups are to embrace this important technology.

There is a new mobile option for the conservation community: TravelStorysGPS. It’s touted as “a mobile app that informs and entertains travelers and locals about special sites of interest, communities, and land through vivid and engaging stories told in real time, triggered by GPS.” I saw a demo at the Land Trust Alliance conference in September 2013. It looks promising, but cost is likely to be a barrier for smaller groups.

Smartphone/tablet apps are not the only way to go. An organization’s website can be designed to auto-detect when it’s being viewed on a mobile device and then display a simplified version of the site’s contents in a way that is easy to see and navigate with a small touch-screen. If a good content management system (CMS) is in place, the mobile version can be automatically kept up-to-date when the main website content is updated, thus lowering ongoing design fees. As just one example of the potential cost, I have seen a proposal to take an existing, “large” website and create a mobile version for $1,800, with the nonprofit taking on the task of deciding what portions of the site would be visible on the mobile version.

For land trusts and other conservation groups owning multiple nature preserves, having either a smartphone app or a mobile version of the organization’s website should significantly enhance the usability and “findability” of the nature preserves for hikers, birdwatchers and other users. It has the potential to reduce staff time and costs spent printing and distributing maps on paper.

Think about the fundraising potential for such groups. Imagine a father trying to find a place to get his children out in the woods rather than spending endless hours in front of the TV. He pulls out his smartphone, finds out the local land trust has an app or a mobile-friendly website, and locates a nearby place to get outdoors, including a trail map and directions. If the site/app is designed correctly, this happy user might click the “donate” button while he’s out on the property, as well as posting pics of the kids enjoying the land to his Facebook account for his friends to see, “like,” and “share” with others.

Other types of charitable organizations should be able to find similar benefits for making their programs accessible to their respective target audiences, as well as making it easy for donors to contribute funds to support the organization. If you have integrated your mobile site well with your social media networking and other explosive marketing channels, you have the potential to generate far more revenue than you spend going mobile.

Don’t hesitate to go mobile. Do it today. This is your chance to be ahead of the curve!

P.S. ‘Like’ and/or 'Share' this article below if you agree that its time to make nonprofit websites mobile-friendly, and use the comment field to add your own thoughts or examples of how you've seen this put into practice. I'd like to hear from you!


Tim Jacobson photo

Tim Jacobson is president of Visjonær Consulting & Communications. He's been a board member and executive of a number of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's the executive producer of a documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS and author of the book Explosive Nonprofit Marketing: Tips from the Trenches, to be published in 2014. He has led successful efforts to raise millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations in the form of grants and individual donations. He's been featured numerous times in magazines, newspapers and on TV for his organizational consulting, nonprofit and business leadership, his film and writing projects, and his exploration of international peace issues.

This article is copyright (c) 2013, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.


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