The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that, as of early 2012, 88% of American adults had a cell phone. Three out of five of those were smartphones. Yes, that’s right. The majority of cell phone users now own smartphones, and by 2013, experts predict mobile phones will replace PCs as the tool most used to access the web.
It’s a brave new world, and it’s mobile. For your nonprofit to succeed, it must embrace this new technology trend just as it has all of the other trends that came before it. Doing so can definitely pay off because, according to Pew, smartphone users tend to be young and/or financially well-off and well-educated. In other words, they are the people most apt to donate their time, enthusiasm, money and expertise to your nonprofit organization.
It’s time to “mobilize” your nonprofit!
Making Your Website Mobile-Friendly
It seems like everyone has an app or a mobile website these days, but don’t be tempted to put the cart before the horse. Start with the basics. Your nonprofit needs a website that can be easily navigated on a 3- to 4-inch screen. That’s a major paradigm shift from your traditional website, designed to be viewed on a 12- to 25-inch screen. You’ll want to start by doing research on how people are currently accessing your site. Any basic analytics tool can tell you which gadgets and which browsers are most prevalent with your current users. Begin your mobile website redesign by prioritizing that data.
Next – and this is the difficult step – let go of all your preconceived notions about what makes a website appealing. For now, mobile networks simply don’t have the bandwidth and speed you are used to with your broadband connection at home or work. So, keep it simple. Use few (if any) images, and go with plain backgrounds over artsy ones. Mobile surfers want the info they’re looking for quickly; speed trumps aesthetics in the mobile world.
Finally, regardless of screen size, content is still the most important aspect of any website. You just have to think more about boiling your message down to its bare bones or at least the most pressing issue/event/call to action you have going on at this particular time. Spotlighting just one major news item at a time also frees you up to keep content fresh. Frequent visitors will appreciate a new tidbit or opportunity every time they browse to your site.
There are also tricks of the trade to maximize the functionality of your mobile screen space. For example, you will definitely want to include a mobile-optimized “Donate Now” button. You can also incorporate features that let users go from surfing your site to actually placing a call to you – or getting GPS directions to your office or one of your events – with just one “tap” of the screen. That’s the real promise of a successful mobile strategy: allowing supporters to interact with your organization in a number of different ways seamlessly with the use of just one device.
Should You Create an App for Your Nonprofit?
This is a trickier question that requires a more complex cost-benefit analysis. Designing, launching and maintaining an app can be costly, both in terms of time and money. Be sure to do some in-depth research on your target audience, including your current donors and advocates as well as those you hope to entice. Take a look at their demographics. Are these people, by nature, prone to app use? Why and how would they use the app? Finally, does your nonprofit have the organizational capacity to keep the app up-and-running and fresh?
If you’re like most small- to medium-sized nonprofits, you may want to abandon ship at this point. But remember, being on the cutting edge of mobile technology can place your organization’s message in front of a whole new group of supporters. Perhaps all you need is a little inspiration to start brainstorming the perfect app for your organization. Take a look at this short video explaining an app called Cause.it that links local business owners with nonprofits and philanthropically minded community members. If practical, you might decide to opt into an established platform like Cause.it rather than inventing your own app from the ground up.
At this point in the evolution of modern technology, the question isn’t whether your nonprofit needs a mobile strategy; it is what that mobile strategy will be. Start with optimizing your website for mobile devices and move on from there. Don’t get left behind. To some extent, your nonprofit can still afford to move at its own pace and in its own direction, just be sure you are mobilizing toward mobile.
This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin is a writer and editor for University Alliance which works with prestigious colleges such as Villanova University. Erin writes about nonprofit and public sector topics that are discussed when studying for a Villanova's Masters in Public Administration degree. She also covers the sort of business-related topics covered in their human resources certification programs.