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Will online fundraising move from desktop PCs to mobile? Will fundraising itself move from selling candy to selling digital products? Maybe even mobile apps? The world of fundraising has been changing drastically with donations declining and groups looking for new ways to raise funds.

With more and more of us using smart phones it makes sense to consider using mobile technology to reach more people and more new potential supporters. It may be especially useful to connect with the younger generation in that way, who has been growing up with the internet in their pockets.

If you think increased usage of smart phones isn’t enough of a reason to take mobile traffic serious, then consider that statistics project that the number of users accessing the internet from their mobile devices will soon surpass the number of users who access it from their PCs.

To be prepared to reach potential supporters through different channels on the internet, wouldn’t it then make sense to move at least part of your fundraising and marketing efforts to the mobile sector?


Mobile app for donations?


Can you use mobile apps to collect donations?

There’s been an ongoing debate and petition to Apple to allow non-profits to collect donations from mobile apps. Apple maintains that the reason for not allowing this functionality is because the process of weeding out legitimate applications from scammers’ apps is currently too complicated.

Having apps that make it easy to give from your phone would be a great way to harness a donor’s goodwill right when they’re ready to give; no need to wait to get to a PC! By then the potential donor may have forgotten about the plea for help all together. And going to an actual website from a mobile phone’s small screen to make a donation can also be cumbersome to the point where the donation simply is never made.

Hopefully Apple will figure out how to scrutinize bogus non-profit mobile apps from legitimate ones, but in the meantime, how else could you connect with mobile users?

>> Update: Read New Options for Mobile Donations

So what else could you try?

If you already have a budget for an app, you could use an app itself to raise funds. You could create a useful, or simply fun game app and sell it or put it up for free in the app store. You could sell an app for 99 cents or more, but taking into account that currently the majority of downloads are still free apps, you may want to consider giving your app away for free as well.

Now you say it makes no sense to give the app away for free, but free apps can actually create income through advertising opportunities and also in-app purchases. If you currently own a smart phone and have downloaded some free apps, you can see first hand what kind of advertisers are prevalent and how the advertising is presented. Would this work for your own app? You’ll have to decide for yourself. (More about mobile apps and earnings potential.) Many free apps also offer the option to add on premium services for a fee, another way to create income from an app.

What kind of mobile app could you create?

It could be something as simple as creating an app that presents the content from your website. A simple game, or useful utility (f. ex. a price checker) would have a much wider appeal, but would also cost a lot more to create.

Since apps aren’t cheap to come by, maybe it’s possible to strike up a marketing partnership with an app developer? Think about it: a useful and/or fun app could be a great marketing tool and also create income. With so many people owning smart phones, who wouldn’t want to help by downloading a fun app for a good cause? We certainly would!

If you’ve already worked on fundraising partnerships in the past, your experience with getting sponsors and working with companies to promote each other will come in handy.

How much does it cost to build a mobile app?

As opposed to building a website as an interface to interact with visitors through a web browser, a mobile app is actually software that needs to be meticulously planned out, merged with design elements and tested. It needs to be updated as operating systems are updated and continuously managed and marketed.

Software development costs upwards of $100 per hour within the US. In other words, you need to have a pretty large budget to create and manage your own app. If you happen to have the budget for a mobile app, you have to ask yourself, how long it would take to earn the money back, and how you will keep it updated and interesting so people will actually keep using it.

Can you create a mobile app on a budget?

There are some affordable do-it-yourself services available (like appmakr.com) that let you build apps based on the content of your website. Note, that to get your website content formatted for mobile phones and displayed on a small screen, you don’t necessarily need to have a mobile app. You can simply use a plugin if you use WordPress for example (This is what we’re currently using. To try it out, go to http://www.fundraisingip.com/ on your smart phone.), or have a mobile stylesheet created and added to your current website.

However, if you have your own mobile app, you’ll be able to market and distribute it (along with your content) through many more channels than if you simply make your website available for small mobile screens.

That’s why we’ve decided to try one of the do-it-yourself services available and report back to you with what we’ve learned! We’ll let you know what’s involved and how much it costs and how well it works. Look for more posts on this topic in upcoming weeks and months!

If you have already tried any of the free app creators out there, or have otherwise created or considered your own mobile app, please let us know in the comments.

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  1. Diana and Sarah – I can help you answer questions regarding a mobile app. It’s important to look at an overall strategy before just creating an app. I can do that with you for free. I create mobile apps for non-profits and find they are successful IF you look at an overall strategy. Please contact me: Cami Zimmer cami@campaigntouch.com

  2. Does anyone know of any nonprofits using mobile apps successfully in the Chicago area? Would greatly appreciate any suggestions! best, Diana

  3. Wow, $5,000? That seems like a lot! Can’t wait to see what you guys come up with when trying the do-it-yourself service.

  4. Sarah, we have contacted one US developer so far and have received a quote for $5,000 for an app for content only – no other functionality. But this would include all programming, design and getting it listed in Apple’s app store. Since we have no comparison yet, we don’t know if that’s a lot or if it’s a good price for a content app only.

  5. I’ve been toying around with this idea for a while. I think the best bet for nonprofits is to use the app as more of a marketing tool that raises awareness of the issue they address and directs the user to give in some way to the organization.

    1. Hello Betsy, Yes, we’ve been seeing apps here and there for non-profits just for marketing purposes, and some of them with social networking features. The Salvation Army now has three apps available; two of them for free that tie in with their website but also one of them, a Christmas music app, for $2.99 in partnership with the digital music firm Melodeo with $1 of the sale price being donated to their Red Kettle campaign. It remains to be seen, if the return from an app as a marketing tool only is worth the expense, especially for smaller groups. The Salvation Army’s music app seems like a great example of an app that combines e-commerce with charity.

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