4 Ways Nonprofits Can Get Started with Mobile (and 4 Ways They Shouldn't)

I'm writing this post in Kansas City where I presented at the Philanthropy Midwest Conference on How Mobile is Changing Nonprofit Fundraising and Marketing.

I put a lot of work into this presentation, as I really wanted to share some useful advice with my listeners on how to get started with mobile. I had four main suggestions to get nonprofits started on mobile NOW without going broke or crazy.

  1. Mobile starts with you. I bet you own a smartphone but what do you use it for besides email, music and Angry Birds? I use mine to track the analytics of my blog and e-newseletter, to pay bills and deposit checks, to buy my Starbucks latte, to unlock discounts in QR Codes, to make to-do lists, to sign contracts and invoice clients. The list goes on and on. My point is that you can you yell "Charge!" in the mobile revolution when you're spending most of your time on a desktop. I challenged my listeners at PMC to take my Wicked Awesome Mobile Challenge. Mobile only for one week! Stop reading about mobile and start using it.
  2. Master Email first. The bad news is that you mostly use your smartphone for email. The good news is that most people are just like you. That's why before considering SMS, apps and location-based services you should master email on mobile devices. Is your email subject line powerful and fewer than 35 characters? How about reducing that five paragraph email to one? What about larger links for fat-fingered readers?
  3. Step up to QR codes. Half of you are probably cursing me right now. (Sorry mom.) But QR Codes are easy to use, free and they can teach you a lot about mobile best practices such as avoiding bloated images and Flash. Let's not forget the growing link between the physical and digital worlds that will continue with NFC and augmented reality over the next few years. QR Codes are the stone wheel that will ultimately propel a virtual revolution.
  4. Focus on social media. Five years ago nonprofits were obsessed with their websites. The latest craze is building mobile websites. Sadly, it will attract even fewer visitors than your traditional site. Go where the people are. Focus on engaging supporters on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or your blog. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a mobile site. But devote the bulk of your time, energy and resources to engaging supporters on social media sites.

Here are a few of the mobile practices I'm second guessing.

  1. SMS. Text based promotions make great sense if your nonprofit serves teens or is seeking donations after a major disaster. But for most local nonprofits building a SMS subscriber isn't worth the effort.
  2. Mobile donations. Their time will come - of that I'm convinced. But the time isn't now. However, it's not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the different mobile payment options so you're ready when the mobile wallet is mainstream.
  3. Apps. Apps don't have to be expensive and complex, but persuading people to use them can be.
  4. Location-based services. The last time I checked one percent of social media users were actively engaged (defined as checking-in two or more times a week) on location-based services such as Foursquare. I'd focus on the other 99 percent.

You have to decide on what areas of mobile to focus. Your current supporters, or the people you want to call supporters, can guide you. Don't try to predict what their mobile habits will be a year from now. Follow what they're doing now and they'll lead you to the future.

Will Your Nonprofit Pick QR Codes or NFC?

I'm dying to know, which one will you choose, QR codes or NFC?

QR codes have their advantages.

  • QR codes are offline hyperlinks that connect the offline world to online content.
  • The technology is being used by 14 million people.
  • QR codes can be put on anything and only need to be one square inch to be effective.
  • You can customize QR codes. You can make them pretty, add your logo and use every color in the rainbow.
  • You can store a lot of data on a QR code. You name it and you can encode it on a QR code.
  • You can easily track QR code scans, location and mobile device used so you analyze results and adjust your marketing campaign accordingly.

Yeah, I'm a fan of QR codes, especially since I'm writing QR Codes for Dummies.

But you might be favoring NFC or Near Field Communication.

  • NFC is a short-range broadcast technology that allows smartphones to interact with other devices when held close together. Think "Bump" - but with a lot more potential.
  • If you're following the money trail, it would lead you straight to NFC. Google, Apple, Verizon, MasterCard, AT&T, and many other major players are investing heavily in NFC.
  • NFC is standard on many phones and major players such as Apple are poised to add it to their devices.
  • NFC is super-easy to use. Just put your smartphone near a NFC chip and you’re done. No scanning, no reader, no holding up your phone. You don’t even need to physically “bump” the devices.

So which one will you choose?

I know what you're saying: "What the heck are you talking about?"

There's a good chance you've heard of QR codes, but you probably think NFC means National Football Conference.  QR codes are popping up everywhere. But odds are you haven't scanned one yet. Don't worry, you'll have plenty time to try QR codes and NFC once they're more mainstream. You probably won't have to choose between the two either. They'll coexist for a while until one dominates, or both are replaced by something else.

Here's the news you need to process and act on now: the mobile screen will be the most dominant screen in history. Bigger than television and the desktop, combined. That's why they call mobile The Third Screen.

Just about everyone will own a smartphone. Mobile phone sales are expected to hit a billion units in 2015. That means one out of every seven people on the planet will own a smartphone. Just last year Android sold 250 million phones, or 8 phones a second!

Wi-Fi is coming to your area soon. The Wireless Broadband Alliance reported in 2011 that global public Wi-Fi hotspot numbers are set to grow from 1.3 million in 2011, to 5.8 million by 2015, a 350% increase. The Alliance also found that smartphones are poised to surpass laptops as the device most frequently connected to Wi-Fi.

Consumers are addicted to their smartphones. I know how I am when I forget mine at home. I feel tense and disconnected. You may too. Smartphone users reportedly spend nearly 90 minutes a day on just apps and 75 minutes surfing the web. That’s nearly three hours a day...on a phone. But consider this: the average adult spends over seven hours a day consuming media. Mobile use could double in the years ahead. It’s no surprise that when asked to choose between only their smartphone or desktop for six months, 55% of respondents under 30 chose their phones.

Consumers are warming up to mobile purchases and, soon, mobile donations. One in two mobile users use their mobile device in stores to make purchasing decisions. They’re also buying things on their phones, totaling $9 billion in purchases in 2011.

Mobile devices will be the remote control of people’s lives. A recent Nielson study showed that people use smartphones for everything: music, news, dining, games, weather, directions, banking. Heck, 40 percent of people use their mobile device while watching television. And the television industry is taking note with innovations that connect viewers to their favorite shows and will one day allow them to make purchases by just pointing their phones at their televisions and hitting a button. People want that mobile connection between the offline and online worlds.

Mobile devices are everywhere. Connectivity to the Internet is growing worldwide. Mobile devices rank pretty close to food, water and shelter as a thing people think they need to live. Good or bad, people want a remote control for their lives.

The future of QR codes and NFC may seem like the maze people often mistake QR codes for. It’s a maze that may lead to something better, or to something else. Or it may just lead to a dead end.

But the path of mobile is straight and clear. People may not be scanning QR codes forever, or passing their smartphones near an NFC chip, but demand for online content to enhance and support offline activities is strong. That's what your nonprofit needs to begin addressing. In this, you have no choice.


Foursquare, Cause Marketing Find Home with Housing Charity

I love this cause marketing promotion from a UK housing charity that brings together eight Edinburgh thrift shops with the leading location-based service, Foursquare.

It capitalizes on a physical location. Shelter Scotland helps people with all sorts of housing problems from homelessness to poor living conditions. 16 percent of Shelter's annual donations come from its two dozen thrift shops throughout Scotland. Not all nonprofits are destinations for shoppers or visitors. But the ones that are should follow Shelter's lead and tap Foursquare, which just isn't for nonprofits that are cultural institutions and museums. What about thrift-store giant Goodwill or a busy historical attraction like the Freedom Trail in Boston? Foursquare should be part of their [cause] marketing too.

Shelter jumped in with both feet. They launched the program in eight stores to start and created a great video to educate supporters about the campaign and how to use Foursquare. Shelter isn't assuming anything. They're building a Foursquare promotion one user at a time and are not giving people a reason to say no (e.g. "I've never heard of Foursquare." "I don't know how to use it.")

Shelter also developed real benefits for users that regularly checked-in to their stores. They’re offering a buy two, get one free special for both newbies and for loyal customers on every sixth check-in.

I also like how Foursquare users can earn cool badges from a noted designer. Shelter even created a unique badge for each store. Those who collect all eight will be entered into a contest to win prints of the designs.

The folks at Shelter really gave this promotion some forethought and didn't skimp on the details.

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The promotion has room to grow. Shelter is off to a great start and can develop the promotion in  a couple ways. The charity has a number of corporate partnerships they could add to the promotion. In exchange for a co-marketing opportunity on Shelter's Foursquare page a company could make a donation for each check-in. The real opportunity, however, is for Shelter to create Foursquare promotions for businesses--preferably ones with lots of locations--and include a cause marketing component that will benefit the charity. Companies would profit from Shelter's expertise and the housing chartiy would profit from sharing it.

Shelter was smart to focus on smartphone users. Now's not the the time to question the merits of mobile. Trust me, its future is as bright as the printing press! However, Shelter shouldn't stop with Foursquare. What about SMS? Those who read me regularly know that SMS is my new cause marketing darling so bear with me. Adoption rates for location-based services such as Foursquare are low and growing slowly. Adding a text component to Shelter's mobile promotion might make sense.

Use SMS for reach--because it's the ring that everyone answers--and then a QR code, landing page, application such as Foursquare for a richer media experience. SMS is the messenger that will tell mobile users that supporting Shelter Scotland and earning rewards for themselves is just a check-in away.