To App, or Not to App? That’s the (Mobile) Question. | npENGAGE

To App, or Not to App? That’s the (Mobile) Question.

By on Oct 11, 2011


Last week at the Convio Summit, discussions of how to get started with mobile abounded. Mobile-savvy nonprofits inspired many of us with their interesting apps, from PETA’s mobile advocacy center to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s collaborative BOOM app (in concert with Nike) to the Central Park Conservancy’s Insider’s Guide to the Park.

Sure, I’m as much of an app-aholic as the next smartphoner – even willing to pay for apps that deliver great charity content or interesting ways to get involved, particularly for causes I’m passionate about. Having just written a guide for nonprofits on getting started with mobile (co-authored with fellow Convian Lacey Kruger), I am also a realist with an argument to make, which is this:

Until your org has a strong, successful mobile-friendly version of your site available, offering a downloadable app shouldn’t even be on your radar screen.

To be even a bit more (kindly) cantankerous, I’d also say that any time you have a great new idea for an app, it’s worth contemplating first whether this service, or feature, or program could instead be delivered as a (non-app) mobile site.

Here’s the thing: Mobile strategy is, of course, tightly tied to your overarching engagement strategy, and it’s certainly a critical online channel (and as smartphone usage skyrockets around the globe, some are even predicting that mobile will become the online channel, surpassing desktop Web browsing). Despite this, an NTEN survey last year revealed that only 16% of orgs will have invested in a mobile version of their website in 2011, whereas 90% will have an email and social media strategy, and 19% will develop apps.

This means that nonprofits across the board are actively planning to drive traffic to their websites, their campaigns, their social media presences – without, in most cases, accounting for the fact that anywhere between 2% and 40% of constituents could be accessing their content and taking action on a handheld device. (For nonprofits with international constituencies, expect those numbers to be far higher in many countries.)

While mobile websites may not be as sexy as apps or sophisticated mobile engagement tactics like text-to-give, we consider having a mobile-optimized version of your Web presence and major campaigns or programs to be the foundation for effective campaigning – even effective email marketing.

My friend Lara Koch, whose full-time job at Humane Society of the United States is to own the organization’s mobile presence, has a policy on this: “If we direct people anywhere in a way they may use their mobile device, where we send them must be mobile-optimized. No exceptions.”

Bottom line: If your organization hasn’t invested in creating a mobile presence, but you’re thinking about campaign strategy for 2012, consider putting a mobile website foray at the top of your list. In many cases, you can develop a basic mobile site and optimize much of your content for mobile displays for $10,000 – $15,000, and then evolve your mobile presence iteratively over time, as you see how it performs and hear from your constituents. (For some contrast, developing a mobile app can run you $20,000 – $30,000 or more, considering the need to develop for multiple smartphone operating systems and browsers – and that doesn’t count paying for updates and iterations, provided that like most nonprofits, you don’t have an app developer on staff. And for mobile donations via iPhones and iPads, expect that Apple will take a 30% cut of your transactions.)

Wondering how to get started with mobilizing your main site, or a campaign or program? Or how to convince an app-happy exec to first pursue a mobile presence? Or how to even know if the investment will be worth it for your org?

Check out our Guide to the Mobile Web. If you’ve got an hour to spare next Thursday, October 20, I’d love to have you at a webinar on this very topic: Mobile Touches Everything. Or if you’re a mobile-ophile who just wants to talk shop, drop me a line!


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