August 11, 2011

Why your nonprofit should have a mobile strategy

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Mobile is how more of us will be accessing the Internet in the years ahead. Below, Andy Steggles of Higher Logic.

Expand your organization’s reach by embracing the basics of mobile technology

By Tamara Schweitzer
Socialbrite staff

Tamara SchweitzerI attended the Social Media for Nonprofits conference in New York last week, an event series curated by Darian Rodriquez Heyman and Ritu Sharma, to help nonprofits make better use of social media and discover new ways to use social networking platforms to promote their cause. The lineup of speakers was stellar, including Farra Trompeter, VP of communications firm Big Duck, who already put together a great recap of the day that you should definitely check out if you want a quick rundown of the main takeaways. When I was thinking about what I wanted to bring back to Socialbrite readers, one of the standout presentations for me was by Andy Steggles, the chief operating officer of Higher Logic, who spoke about the basics of crafting a mobile strategy.

What really struck me about Steggles’s presentation is how powerful – and relatively simple — it can be to incorporate a mobile strategy into your organization. When you think about a social media strategy, nonprofits tend to focus a lot on the two big players – Twitter and Facebook – and making sure that they have established a presence on both. But, despite the enormous reach that these platforms have, many people (including your supporters) are still not regular users, and some may not have engaged with you through those channels to the extent that you want yet. But contrast that with the stats for mobile usage that Steggles shared on stage, and you will see how much reach you can have simply by embracing some aspect of mobile technology.

According to research by Morgan Stanley that Steggles presented (see image below), there are about 670 million people around the world who have a smartphone, and that number is growing at an annual rate of 37 percent. That means people are no longer just discovering you through the Web on their home or work computer. All those smartphone users are constantly connected and the more you give them opportunities to connect with you on the go, the more growth, engagement and success you’ll have.

Slide depicting 3G mobile usage globally from Andy Steggles’ SM4NP presentation.

Here are some easy ways you can get started with mobile.

It’s not just about the apps

You don’t have to develop an app to be a player in the mobile market.

You don’t have to develop an app to be a player in the mobile market. In fact, SMS text messaging and QR codes are two ways that you can work with mobile technology without breaking the bank.

A QR code, or quick response code, is like a barcode that can easily be scanned by smartphones to relay all kinds of information. You’ve probably seen them all over the place now, from the side of the bus stop station to the back of a menu at a restaurant. They’re used to lead you to a new piece of information about that company or service, whether that’s taking you to the website to see the bus schedule, or the restaurant is giving a 10 percent off coupon for the next time you eat there. With QR codes, there are endless ways to make use of them and all you need is a URL to create one.

What you need to know about QR codes

  • To create one, Steggles says just Google “QR creator” and there are a number of free services that you can use. Just plop in your URL and it will automatically generate the code for you.
  • Don’t place a QR code in an email or on your website. The point of QR codes is to be a call to action, says Steggles. You want people to take action by scanning the code, and that will lead them to your website or a video, for example. If they’re already at your website, no need to direct them to it with a bar code – that’s just gratuitous.
  • It’s best to use short URLs. If you have a long URL, shorten it via a shortening website such as or tinyurl. That way, you can also easily track the number of times that URL was visited.
  • Get creative! Steggles used the example of incorporating QR codes into a big conference or event. You could place QR codes on the back of attendees badges, and when they scan it, that would lead to the attendee’s online profile with a prompt to connect with the person on the conference network.

QR code

Here’s a real-life example of the effective use of a QR code by a nonprofit: recently launched a mobile campaign involving QR codes with Macy’s as its partner. They placed QR codes in Macy’s mStyle Lab departments and any time someone scans the QR code, that triggers a $1 donation to DoSomething. Macy’s pledged up to $250,000 to donate for the campaign. Participants then receive a text message to fill out a quiz for DoSomething about causes they are passionate about. Once that’s submitted, they are entered into a sweepstakes to win a $250 Macy’s shopping spree. Find out more about DoSomething’s “Do Good, Look Good” campaign.

How to incorporate text messaging

According to Steggles, SMS (short message service, or text messaging) should be a core part of your mobile strategy because it’s accessible by 97 percent of the mobile population. Fun fact: More than 7 billion texts are sent each day. These days, people are using text messaging to do everything from voting for their favorite reality show competitor to making charitable donations. There’s been a lot written about how to start a mobile giving campaign, but SMS doesn’t have to be limited to eliciting donations for your organization.

Last summer, the MOMA in New York used SMS as a way to generate more interest in the museum as well as get new membership leads. Those who saw the campaign and texted MOMA received a message back to submit their email, where they received a special offer for a membership deal.

Incorporating SMS marketing into your strategy is as simple as getting a five or six digit short code that is used as your contact number throughout the campaign. Visit these websites to register a shortcode and get set up with your campaign:

Should you develop an app?

That is the question. If you have the budget for it, you might want to consider developing an app that would offer something to your supporters beyond your standard website. Before delving into what is considered the most complicated aspect of mobile strategy, here are some things to consider:

  • Explore the cost options. A build-it-yourself app can cost anywhere from $10k for a simple app to $100k for a more advanced app. There are also off-the-shelf apps that are less expensive if you wanted to create it for a one-time event like a conference.
  • What are your goals? Think about what you could achieve with an app that will make it worthwhile for the cost. An app should highlight a specific service or benefit of your organization. Some effective apps include: a member directory, an event calendar, or a news feed.
  • Think about what device you want to develop your app for. It’s easiest to build apps for the iPhone because there’s only one piece of hardware to contend with and that gives you a greater degree of control. The Android market is open source software, and all kinds of devices run its operating system, so it’s more work to test the app on various types of phones. Same thing with the BlackBerry because it has a lot of different devices to contend with (i.e. the BlackBerry Bold has a touch screen).
  • Get outside help from vendors. Ideally, Steggles recommends hiring a mobile strategy consultant, someone who can put together a mobile business plan for you and help you integrate it into your overall organizational strategy. However, this is not feasible for many organizations. If you are a smaller organization with a limited budget, you can look for vendors that will do the development work for you and they would take a percentage of the profits that you make from the app.
  • Think about potential partnerships. Who are your big donors and how can you leverage them for your mobile strategy? One example Steggles gave is if you have a conference or an event that you want to develop an app for, you could find a sponsor for that event and then use the money from the sponsorship to develop the app.

Bottom line: You need to be thinking about mobile in a big way. It’s a significant part of your social media strategy, and it’s time to embrace it!

How have you incorporated mobile technology into your organization’s strategy? Please share your success stories!

Image at top by Dominik Syka


A beginner’s guide to mobile fundraising (Socialbrite)

How nonprofits can get started with mobile (Socialbrite)

How to set up an SMS campaign system (Socialbrite)

7 ways for nonprofits to raise funds with mobile (Socialbrite)

10 mobile apps for social good (Socialbrite)

A user’s guide to mobile activism (& handout) (Socialbrite)

How mobile media can serve the public good (

More resources on mobile action (Socialbrite)Tamara Schweitzer is Executive Editor of Socialbrite. She also writes about social entrepreneurship for Follow her on Twitter at @tschweitzer.

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