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.