Mobile Fundraising Options for Nonprofits

Submitted on Wed, 2/29/2012 - 3:10pm
What are the pros and cons for the various mobile options available to nonprofits?

The mobile demands being placed on organizations by consumers are not limited to the for-profit sector; they are also being placed on nonprofit organizations.

Realizing this, nonprofits are focusing on mobile, especially mobile fundraising and donation strategies. Below are pros and cons for the mobile options available to nonprofits.

SMS/Text Donations

An early mobile solution, text donations are still an option for nonprofits seeking to raise funds through mobile.

Pro: User-friendliness: Sending a text message is about as simple and quick as mobile donations get. Having the donations automatically added to their phone bill is also convenient for donors.­ Donors are not required to have a credit card or even a bank account, and there are no online forms for them to fill out.

Pro: Reach: Any constituent who has a phone with text messaging capabilities can donate, once they find out where the short code is (through a TV commercial or printed add, for instance).

Con: Donation Amounts: $5-$10 limit. Also, there is no option for recurring gifts. One way around the donation limit is to allow text pledging. Nonprofits can ask for the donor’s contact info along with their pledge and then follow up later with a reminder to fulfill the pledge.

Con: Turnaround: 30-90 days to process; donations are received only after the customers pay their phone bills.

Con: Engagement/Integration (Donor): With text donations, there is no intrinsic next-step for donors. Consequently, mobile engagement is limited to a transaction and ends after the transaction is completed.

Con: Engagement/Integration (Volunteer/Employee): N/A

Con: Red Tape: Mandatory ASPs (application service providers), mandatory foundations and annual budget requirements can all be obstacles in setting up a text donation program.

Con: Expense: Between initial set-up and per-message service costs, 5-10% of each text donation ends up being lost in fees.

Native App

Native apps like “Angry Birds” are hugely popular with smartphone owners. Nonprofits can also develop native apps to reach their constituents and mobile donors.

Con: User-friendliness: Constituents have to find the native app in their device’s app store and download it. Then, they have to manage the native app on their device whenever the app is updated.

Con: Reach: Nonprofits must develop a different native app for each device they want to reach. A native app built for Android, won’t work on BlackBerry, for instance, so nonprofits will need to develop several different native apps in order to reach their constituents effectively. To complicate matters, Apple prohibits charitable donations through its transaction engine, so native app donations are not an option for the second most widely used smartphone operating system.

Pro: Donation Amounts: Unlimited; recurring donations possible.

Pro: Turnaround: Donations processed in real-time.

Pro: Engagement/Integration (Donor): Native apps can extend key business processes, such as CRM, etc. to offer mobile donors true engagement with core business functions. Native apps can also deliver a high-quality user experience to constituents that makes full use of device-specific features. For example, push notifications and camera functions can be integrated.

Pro: Engagement/Integration (Volunteer/Employee): The possibility of allowing volunteers and employees to interact with key business processes via their mobile devices is a reality with native apps.

Con: Red Tape: Native app releases and updates must be approved by app stores, a process that can take weeks.

Con: Expense: $30,000, minimum, to design, implement and deploy one native app for one operating system (e.g. Android). There are 4 major operating systems: Android, Apple (which doesn’t allow donations), BlackBerry and Windows. To create 3 different native apps, it would cost at least $90,000. Integration of business processes is significantly more expensive (upwards of $1 million per app).

Mobile Website

Mobile websites are now widely considered a necessity for nonprofits. Mobile sites are easily accessible and allow many interaction options, including mobile donations.

Pro: User-friendliness: Constituents can find a mobile site easily by doing a quick search in their browser. When they click nonprofit’s official website link, they are automatically redirected to a mobile-optimized site. No downloads or updates required on their end.

Pro: Reach: All browser-enabled smartphones can access a mobile site.

Pro: Donation Amounts: Unlimited; recurring donations possible.

Pro: Turnaround: Donations processed in real-time.

Con: Engagement/Integration (donor): Constituents can interact with the nonprofit after making a mobile site donation through features, such as video and geo-location mapping. However, constituents are unable to engage directly with the nonprofit’s key business processes, unless a mobile web app is embedded in the site.

Con: Engagement/Integration (Volunteer/Employee): Donation forms can easily be added to mobile websites, but they are not integrated into the nonprofits’ existing software. Other key business processes, such as CRM, are inaccessible to volunteers and employees unless a mobile web app is embedded in the site. Information captured through a mobile site is siloed in a database separate from the nonprofit’s existing databases. Aggregating information among databases can be time consuming and costly.

Pro: Red Tape: None.

Pro: Expense: A high-quality mobile website can be created and managed through a mobile website platform for under $200/mo.

Mobile Web App

Mobile web apps can be embedded in mobile websites to vastly improve constituent and donor engagement.

Pro: User-friendliness: Easily accessible on mobile site.

Pro: Reach: All browser-enabled smartphones can access a mobile site.

Pro: Donation Amounts: Unlimited; recurring donations possible.

Pro: Turnaround: Donations processed in real-time.

Pro: Engagement/Integration (Donor): Like native apps, mobile web apps can extend key business processes, such as CRM, Billing, Registration, etc. to mobile constituents to offer donors true engagement with core business functions. With HTML5, mobile web apps can increasingly access more device-specific functionalities, but they are still somewhat limited in this capacity.

Pro: Engagement/Integration (Volunteer/Employee): Volunteers and employees can engage with key business processes via their mobile devices. Mobile web apps address the consumerization paradigm more efficiently than native apps, because they allow all devices with a mobile browser to engage with key business processes.

Pro: Red Tape: None.

Con: Expense: A mobile web app that integrates with core business processes and allows for deep internal and external constituent engagement normally costs upwards of $2,000/month.

It is imperative for nonprofits to reach their constituents, who are now mobile. Whichever mobile tactics nonprofits choose to implement, it will be important that they continue to adapt their strategies to the increasingly mobile environment.

Vinay Bhagat, CSO for Convio, summarized the situation well: "Greater emphasis on strategy, organizational alignment and process design will be applicable to all nonprofits, large or small. Essentially, being more sophisticated and savvy when it comes to supporter engagement won't be just a ‘nice to have' — it will be a necessity.

Luke Lightfoot works in marketing and client services at UR Mobile, a software company that provides enterprise-level, mobile web solutions.