« Hot or Not: What's Sizzling in Online Fundraising: Presentation | Main | Blog Picks of the Week »

Nonprofits Take a Dive into Mobile Apps

Has the world gone mobile crazy? Apple’s app store just cracked a quarter million available mobile applications, Google’s Android is giving them a run for their money, and Microsoft is waiting in the wings with Windows 7 Mobile. Apps are central to mobile and, according to Allyson Kapin, Blogger-In-Chief for Care2's Frogloop and Partner at Rad Campaignmobile web use is exploding. Does your organization have a mobile and app strategy?

Ensuring that your nonprofit website is mobile friendly and loads well from different mobile browsers should be your first priority when it comes to mobile. Beyond that, we’ve seen the potential for text-based mobile giving campaigns, which Frogloop has reported in the past year. While few nonprofits have developed mobile apps, the potential is huge if done strategically and of course executed well. We’ll likely see some great mission driven apps released in the coming years as more nonprofits decide to experiment and invest in mobile app development to further their missions.

Thinking about Developing Your Own Custom App? Check out these 7 Mission Centered Nonprofit Apps  

  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium - Seafood Watch - Helps diners make sustainable restaurant choices. Guides actions and informs about overfishing and health issues. (iPhone)
  2. American Museum of Natural History - Dinosaurs - Information on fossils in the museum, different species of dinosaur, excavation stories, and more. (iPhone)
  3. American Hiking Society - “HIKE” - Helps hikers find park maps, trail-heads, and campgrounds. The app lets you record “adventures” to track progress along a map with GPS. You can also take photos as you hike, share your experience with friends on social networks, review your journey in order along your mapped route after you’re done hiking, and see stats about the hikes you complete. (iPhone)
  4. Humane Society of the United States - Humane TV - View HSUS produced videos, stories, and other content and share with friends on social networks from within the app (iPhone)
  5. Sunlight Labs - Congress - Information on legislation coming up for a vote, contact information for legislators, and links to lawmakers’ social media profiles (Android)
  6. People Against Violent Environment - Child Abuse and Sexual Assualt Awareness - April is an awareness month for these issues. The apps show different facts about child abuse or sexual assault each day of the month that users enter the app. (iPhone)
  7. 350Mobile - The first release of the app was focused on coordinating 350’s Day of Action. Users can find actions near them, learn about climate science, and the policy solutions that 350 is advocating. (iPhone)

Inexpensive App Development Options
Cost is one of the biggest factors preventing organizations from adopting mobile apps as a tool to accomplish their programmatic work. Complex applications can be expensive to develop, which is fine if your budget is in the tens of millions, but for smaller organizations, the cost of developing a custom app can be prohibitive.

If your organization is in this boat, consider putting together a simpler mobile app using template-based tools like AppMakr and AppFlight. Template-based apps can be developed by staff quickly with an investment in the $200-$400 range. Admittedly, the resulting applications are relatively bare-bones in comparison to what you can build with a five to ten thousand dollar investment, but they do provide a mobile experience to your supporters that is becoming increasingly important as mobile use skyrockets.

Has your nonprofit developed a mobile app? Tell us about it in the comments section.

*Avi Kaplan is the Online Coordinator, AKA Coordinator of Awesomeness, at Rad Campaign, a firm that provides web design, web development and online marketing and strategy to nonprofit organizations and political campaigns.


You should follow Frogloop on Twitter.


Reader Comments (9)

Do you know how many people actually use these apps? It seems to me that in order for an app to truly be successful, it needs to provide a long-lasting benefit to the user. I think the HIKE app sounds the most appealing, because it seems VERY useful.
September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCara
I have developed both iPhone (http://bit.ly/aNRTf8) and iPad (submitted but not yet approved) apps for my organization, IntraHealth International. These apps were built for our current and potential supporters, as well as for use internally to promote our organization at meetings and conferences. I am also currently volunteering to build an iPhone/Android app for Local Motion's Trail Finder (http://www.trailfinder.info) which will have a much larger audience for tourists and local trail users. My recommendation for smaller nonprofits is to use a template app service as a last resort - either develop your website to be compatible on most mobile browsers using HTML5 and CSS or ask within your organization if anyone has any mobile development experience. Template services may charge a relatively small fee upfront, but there are almost always additional services for updates or additional monthly subscriptions required. There is bound to be a friend or family member or even a supporter who will volunteer to develop an app if you do not have experience in-house and want an app with content beyond what a mobile site can deliver. There are also numerous open-source cross compilers that can easily build native apps with just a fraction of the traditional SDK development time for iPhone and Android apps.
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTroy Taylor
More than 250K users of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app already, a version planned for Android in 2011, and new features (!) coming in the next upgrade. It definitely makes it easy for ocean lovers to make sustainable seafood choices when they're at the restaurant or market. Since app seafood rankings are always up to date, there's never an issue of carrying an outdated paper pocket guide with you.
September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKen Peterson
The United Steelworkers have a safety app with the NIOSH pocket guide on it and some MSDS/New Jersey Chemical safety sheets. As far as I know besides the people who deal with that on a day-to-day no one uses it but that's OK. It was made for a niche market.

There's actually a $2 paid app with the same thing as theirs(theirs has the OSHA #s in 2clicks which the paid one doesn't) so some non-union people might use it but I haven't heard anything.
September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Banditelli
Thanks for the info, Ken and Brett!
September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCara Breeden
@Ken - Thanks for sharing your user numbers with everyone! Good to know that you're bringing the app to Android. It's increasingly important to be platform agnostic when possible since potential users are on lots of different platforms.

@Troy - I appreciate your points about volunteer involvement. If you have skilled volunteers among your supporters, by all means reach out and enable them to create something! A template-based app will never be a replacement for a custom app, but if you're short on skilled volunteers and you can get some value from simple functionality like RSS, then some of the templates may be worthwhile to you.
September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAvi Kaplan
I'm with Public Radio Exchange (PRX), a nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA. http://www.prx.org Among our many projects devoted to diversifying and growing the reach of public radio, we build iPhone and Android apps. The Public Radio Player iPhone app has had over 2 million unique downloads: http://www.publicradioplayer.org. We developed the This American Life app, too (iPhone done, Android on the way).

An area we're expanding further is bringing affordable but sophisticated mobile apps to public radio stations across the country. We started with the WBUR Boston iPhone app, which has revolutionary features including Assignments -- enabling user submissions of text, photos, and audio captured within the app itself -- and Member Benefits, which allows station members (ie people who've donated) to generate a virtual member card and show their phone for discounts at participating businesses. We are hoping many more stations see mobile apps as a way to expand their role as a local information service, increase community engagement, and bring in more underwriting and listener revenue. But the only way to make this happen is to provide affordable development and support, and we're hoping that by scaling, we can bring the price of individual apps down.

All this to say we are excited too see nonprofits using mobile to reach more people and solidify existing relationships.
September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRekha Murthy
I completely agree with Cara. Though, the statistics show us that there is a huge amount of investment going with these mobile apps and thousands of new apps being developed everyday. What really matters is the quality of these Apps being developed and there is nothing to do with the quantity.
June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
Thanks for the post. Non-profits can tackle limited budgets and IT resources by using a cloud database for non-profit applications http://blog.caspio.com/web-database/non-profits-overcome-cutbacks-with-cloud-database-apps/
January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Lee

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.