The Mobile Nonprofit

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By Ritu Sharma, CEO & Co-Founder, Social Media for Nonprofits

What is a Mobile Nonprofit? Is your nonprofit mobile savvy and has it incorporated key elements of mobile in how it operates yet? The broad phrase “Going Mobile” is often taken for granted but is comprised of many separate moving pieces. It’s a term that’s quickly becoming necessary knowledge in the nonprofit sector.


In this post, we will explore the high-level how, why, and what exactly it is to be a mobile optimized and mobile first nonprofit. In subsequent posts in this series, we’ll cover different aspects touched here in greater detail.

Mobile doesn’t just refer to the use of phones and tablets. Mobile in terms of nonprofit use refers to mobile websites, SMS, mobile fundraising, mobile apps, access to mobile internet, hardware and mobile email. It has become important to go mobile because doing so increases your engagement with your stakeholders across all key metrics. Open and click-through rates have become a phenomenon in fundraising, and increases your nonprofit’s overall accessibility.

Mobile allows access and interaction with audiences that respond far better on this channel. According to the Federal Reserve’s 2014 Consumers and Mobile Financial Services study, 88% and 89% of Hispanics and Caucasians have and use mobile phones, respectively. And according to PEW, 91% of all adults are mobile-phone equipped.

Mobile DemographicsAs for teens, the number one medium of interaction in this demographic according to PEW is mobile SMS, even taking precedence over phone calls and face-to-face interaction. In addition, mobile SMS has a huge advantage over email marketing with an open success rate of 99%, compared with a 25% open success rate for nonprofit-specific emails. Therefore it behooves your nonprofit to take these trends and statistics in consideration so you can better reach, engage and serve your constituents where they are at.

Yet there are several perceived and real barriers to entry. Many nonprofits have a huge legacy site and those are hard to convert to mobile. As I wrote in an earlier blog, other challenges nonprofits face are: lack of technology knowledge, lack of funding, fear of being immediately outdated, and not knowing what you’re missing. However, each of these challenges are fairly easily overcome. Being optimized for mobile will equip your nonprofit with advantages that far outweigh the hesitations of getting started.

Making a Case for Mobile to Stakeholders

As you initiate internal conversations with stakeholders in your organization about various aspects of mobile infrastructure for your nonprofit, a great place to start is to equip yourself with data on your current website traffic, how much of it is mobile, and what devices and systems people are using to come to your website. Do the same analysis on your email newsletter platform: see how many of those are being opened on mobile devices and on your fundraising platform as well. Prepare this information about your organization over a period of 12-18 months. Then review the mobile numbers and make a case to your internal stakeholders on what percentage of your audience and demographics are not being served adequately and that due to your lack of mobile infrastructure are being served in less optimized and — thus less effective — fashion.

Mobile Website

Mobile responsive websites adjust to the screen of the device the site is opened on. According to ExactTarget, if a site is not mobile responsive, 27% of people will immediately navigate away if it takes too long to load or is too difficult to read. That’s too much of your audience to immediately lose. There are 3 key ways to go mobile responsive: stacks, CSS, and templates. It allows for you to only maintain one website, but boosts the user experience all the same.

Mobile optimized websites take responsiveness a bit further, reformatting the website’s design with touch-friendly buttons, reduced content and graphics, and is generally faster to load. Mobile Responsive WebsiteThe result is a better look and communication with your audience, and a higher likelihood of people staying on the page and engaging with your organization. However, it is a separate website to maintain.

According to PEW Research, 63% of cell phone users use their phones to go online, and the mobile web is well-poised to dominate over desktop web access. Mobile websites are necessary to keep up with the mobile evolution of the internet. If the above is not compelling enough, starting April 21st, 2015, Google will be expanding the use of “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking factor for websites.

SMS (mobile messaging)

Text messaging is the #1 most used function across all mobile phones, and yet it is one of the most under-utilized communication tools. SMS Open RatesSMS allows nonprofits to send messages to supporters quickly and effectively – not only are 99% of all text messages opened, but 90% of them are read within the first three seconds!

Text messaging is a great way to draw attention to your message and elevate your existing outreach. By sending out a text to your mobile list, you can prompt supporters to click on a link, make a donation, call a Senator, RSVP for an event, and more. According to the Direct Marketing Association, the click-through rate is four times higher for text messages than for email, and the response rate for call-in advocacy is 573% higher for SMS than for email.

But text messaging does more than just boost your conversion rates – it can help you connect communities with valuable resources. SMS is the most effective way to reach underserved populations.Open Success Rate That’s because while not everybody owns a computer or has reliable access to the Internet, almost everyone has a mobile phone that can send and receive texts. Research from Pew shows that undeserved demographics all over-index for text messaging: Hispanics text 1.56 times more than Caucasians, and African Americans text 2.24 times more than Caucasians. Households earning less than $30,000/year send twice as many texts per day than households earning more than $75,000/year. And while it’s no surprise that 97% of Americans ages 18-29 use SMS on a daily basis, the fastest growing group of texters are actually those in the 50-64 age group.

No matter what your goals are – be it fundraising, recruiting volunteers, influencing legislation, or helping populations in need – text messaging is a versatile tool with a far-reaching impact. However, even if you aren’t quite ready to launch an SMS campaign, it’s a good idea to start building your list now. Simply ask your supporters for their phone numbers whenever you collect their personal information and get their consent that you can send them text messages in the future.

Mobile Fundraising

If there’s anything we’ve learned from last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s that mobile fundraising is a powerhouse for nonprofits— and it’s only getting started. According to Artez Interactive survey, nonprofits that have mobile websites and apps for donations make 123% more in individual donations per campaign. Mobile fundraising comes in many different shapes and forms— text to give (as commonly seen in disaster relief donation campaigns), crowdsourcing, employing mobile web-responsive donation forms and app-based donations.

Nonprofits can improve their fundraising significantly by having a mobile responsive donation page—even if your entire site isn’t mobile yet—and by using tools like crowdfunding applications and platforms that are built with mobile donors in mind.

Mobile Apps

Many of the mobile websites on internet are accessed heavily through mobile apps, led by a billion users on Facebook. Mobile apps allow your nonprofit to take mobile content like web to the next level with extensive personalization and interactivity. For example, if your nonprofits offers services that are tailored to personal data of a single user, like My Fitness Pal for food logging or Evernote for taking notes, you can take advantage of the built in interactivity and personalization of app format.

Mobile apps can be an asset to collecting donations in a creative and easy manner (i.e. GiveApp), and/or for educating the public on your nonprofit’s area of expertise (see The American Booksellers Association’s Goodreads— like app, or Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch). According to NTEN, mobile apps open up the possibility for direct revenue generation, user acquisition, and providing another service of value to your supporters. Mobile apps allow for more of a push interaction instead of pull, making information and resources available to your digital consumer. Finally apps can work offline and sync at the availability of connection and that can be a huge distinction in providing services or collecting data in remote field areas.

Mobile Email

More than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices. Mobile email refers to emails designed specifically to be viewed on mobile devices—maximizing accessibility, readability, and actionability.

Much like how mobile-responsive and mobile-optimized websites work, mobile emails must be formatted and its content reduced so that it fits the platform the email is displayed upon. Most nonprofits send emails with the intention to direct its readers to its website or asks for a specific action. A good mobile email makes taking action, a quick and easy experience with touch-friendly buttons and a simpler ask. Free templates for mobile emails are fairly easy to find through sites like MailChimp, ConstantContact, Vertical Response and more.

In conclusion, what it means for your nonprofit to be a “Mobile Nonprofit” is likely much more complicated, yet much more rewarding than you may have imagined. There are lots of aspects to consider, but times are changing fast. Creating a mobile-friendlier website and email newsletter platform is necessary to retain your mobile-going audience. Many organizations are already taking note of the success and opportunity that mobile fundraising and SMS campaigns pose. And more and more mobile apps are surfacing, further adding to the engagement and value of the organizations that produce them. In the end, barriers to going mobile are nothing compared to the promise that these mobile resources have to offer nonprofits.

Interested in learning more? Tune in here weekly for the mobile blogpost series and join us on the 4th Monday of each month at 1PM ET for a monthly Mobile for Nonprofits Tweetchat

Note: I gratefully acknowledge the support, research and edits from my colleague Rachel Matsuoka and our Mobile Education partner Sam McKelvie, from MobileCommons in writing this post. 

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