May 14, 2010

The iPad’s potential for nonprofits

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Beth KanterMy son Harry, like most kids his age, loves screens: computer, video games and television. “Screen time” in our house is limited and a reward for good behavior. Harry was very aware of the launch of the iPad and wanted one. (Me, too.)

So after a good report card, I bought an iPad. And now I’m also exploring the iPad for professional uses. So far, it’s useful for note taking, live tweeting at conferences and checking email on the go. I also admit that the first app I downloaded was one for Google Analytics – it’s great for browsing data. Most of all, I like using it to read web content over coffee away from my desktop. I like it better than my smart phone because I don’t need 300x reading glasses to read the screen and it is nice and light.

So, I was curious when I saw the question from the Chronicle of Philanthropy on Twitter about nonprofits and the iPad.  The post points to an interesting article about the iPad user experience by Jeremy Rue. In short, the iPad is a lean back versus lean forward media.

The post muses about the implications for nonprofits:

Organizations that think about how they can build  an experience that truly captures their missions will have an advantage in attracting people who use tablets.

While acknowledging that thinking about integrating iPad apps is something that isn’t yet widespread, the Chronicle wonders what iPad apps early adopter nonprofits are working on for constituent engagement. This might be something along the lines of an interactive game that engages people around a cause.

This may not require the development of a native app, it could be something interactive on a website that can be accessed via your iPad. In fact, I was able to join LiveStrong’s Join the Ride Online Event using my iPad. This online event allows you to create your own virtual bike and race through the California landscape using your story to invite more people to join us in the fight against cancer.  (BTW, their partner RadioShack will donate $75,000 if LiveStrong can get 10,000 to join in the next day.)

I ran into Peter Conlon, CEO of Ammado, an online giving platform, who was eager to not only show me his iPad but also to show that one could make a donation online using their widgets.

Using the iPad’s back-end capabilities

We’re still in the early stages and there’s no compelling rush to get seduced by shiny object syndrome

One area of iPad development are “productivity” or “enterprise” apps that allow users to link back to a CRM or other database. Computerworld wrote about enterprise apps mentioning one from Blackbaud. So, not only is there front end, but there is also a back end, which assumes that the nonprofit has the iPad.

There is also another area for development and that is iPad apps for program/service delivery. Take, for example, this app that allows deaf people to test their hearing. Or VolunteerMatch, which launched an iPhone and iPad app recently.

Conclusion: iPads and nonprofits

Amid the hype around the iPad and apps, there will be lots of potential ways that nonprofits could use iPad apps to support their missions – from engagement, fundraising, enterprise and program delivery as well as more widespread adoption by users. Right now, nonprofits should recognize that we’re still in the early stages and there’s no compelling rush to get seduced by shiny object syndrome.

We’ll no doubt watch a few nonprofit early adopters test the waters with native iPad app development, although it’s bound to be expensive until we have other options. In the meantime, the iPad can also be used to access web content, so an easy place to start is to see if you’re getting web visits via iPads and then make sure your web site content is iPad ready

What’s your take on iPads and nonprofits?Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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3 thoughts on “The iPad’s potential for nonprofits

  1. Glad you wrote this post, Beth. I saw your original conversation on Twitter with @philanthropy and was hoping more would come out of it. I recently got an iPad, and our online team at the UN Foundation is exploring mobile apps in general, so I'm hoping there ARE some benefits for non-profits via the iPad. Most people think of it as just for fun & games, reading magazines, and watching videos. But it can be so much more if we think innovatively about it – but you're right, we don't have to rush to make it happen right this second.

  2. I have a serious case of "shiny object syndrome" and was valiantly resisting the inevitable iPad purchase until I read this post.

    Oh well.

  3. Do we need to think bigger than the iPad as alternative delivery device for conventional nonprofit online engagement? The field seems like the nonprofit iPad sweet spot. Just thinking out loud here, but imagine this in the hand of a canvasser. The canvasser could serve up one of 5 videos based on voter profile and then process a donation on the spot. They could then record an individual appeal from that voter/donor on video that could be immediately uploaded to their network and shared with friends and family with a donation ask attached…or, the canvasser could play the video appeal for the donor's neighbors.

    And, international development and education? Crazy possibilities with the iPad.