Mobile Tech and Nonprofits: DIY FTW!

Even in today’s digitally-saturated age, nonprofit organizations have typically been more sluggish than in other industries to implement technologies that help them solve their business challenges. And this is true for good reason—traditionally, nonprofits are understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. In fact, the organizations that don’t have the resources for tech innovation are indeed usually the ones who need it most.

However, the lack of time, financing, and resources don’t belie the need for effective tech tools that help save time and money, simplify processes, and streamline operations that all speak to every nonprofit’s bottom line: reach more people, make the world a better place.

Luckily, this digitally-saturated age comes with a few upsides. As technology continues to innovate, access to it becomes cheaper and broader. And along with this expansion has come the advent of do-it-yourself technology.

DIY tech development platforms are perfect for those looking for rich solutions without the matching investment. Need a website but don’t know code? Google will yield no shortage of platforms to try. Need to accept payments but don’t have a brick and mortar storefront? There is a multitude of digital payment systems you can use to garner financial support.

What about if your organization needs mobile apps to accomplish its mission in more efficient ways? Self-serve, custom mobile app builders can help you do it—in fact many nonprofits are already doing it.

At-Risk Seattle Youth Grow Job Skills Through Urban Farming…and a DIY Mobile App

The Seattle Youth Garden Works program empowers homeless and underserved youth through urban farm-based education, job skills training, and employment.

At the beginning and end of the program, participants are asked to fill out a paper survey aimed at collecting information about what the youth are getting out of the program and tracking how they progress with greater life goals. The data also helps the organization better hone its services and provide potential contributors with program efficacy information they need to decide whether to provide donations—the kind of valuable information every organization needs to present to its funding base.

One enterprising employee used a self-serve, code-free app builder to turn these surveys into mobile apps. Now, participants fill out the forms through the mobile app via iPads on the farm. They are able to do this even without an internet connection.

The app also carries compelling implications for the future of the program. In addition to saving time and reducing errors, the automatic data collection greatly simplifies the organization’s grant writing and expense reporting processes. The app helps the team provide potential contributors with detailed information about the program’s effectiveness, which demonstrates its success and helps garner more financial support.

This kind of data is invaluable to an organization like Seattle Youth Garden Works. Like almost any nonprofit, it needs to prove its efficacy and impact on the community in order to continue receiving the support it requires to operate. Because the old system meant carrying around vast swaths of papers and manually transcribing the information later, time lapse and potential human error presented significant barriers to that goal.

The mobile app the team was able to build with low financial and time investment allowed them to innovate on their outdated procedures, creating new avenues to collect, analyze, and present data to key stakeholders.

Harnessing the DIY Revolution

DIY mobile apps are just one of the technology tools resource-challenged organizations can harness to achieve greater effectiveness. Here at AppSheet, we’re not trying to convince potential new users that we’re better than other self-serve app platforms out there. We’re still working to convince individuals they can build their own mobile apps in the first place. Most of our would-be customers don’t even know that yet. The same goes for nonprofit organizations that know they need more sophisticated tools, but don’t know they have access to them now.

Before embarking upon an DIY app/website/logo-building marathon, it’s wise to first ask yourself a few questions about the goals your organization is trying to accomplish—not just the underlying goals, but the actions that contribute to meeting those objectives, and whether the processes in place to accomplish them are making the cut.

You can do this by breaking down a few of your organization’s overarching goals, then the actions that help you reach them, the procedures you’re utilizing to complete those actions, and the potential problems those procedures present.

Here is how Seattle Youth Garden Works, for example, might have tackled this exercise:

In order to achieve the goal of garnering financial support, we need to collect, analyze, and disseminate data organization-wide to our donors and potential donors.

  • How are we collecting data? Paper forms/surveys
  • Where are we collecting data? On the farm
    • Problem: Manual transcription doubles workload and contributes to human error
    • Problem: Paper forms are cumbersome to tote around offsite and can get lost. The location is not ideal for manual handwriting, and there is low privacy for sensitive data

In this case, it would be a simple conclusion to draw that a mobile app is a great option for an organization that needs to collect large amounts of private data at an external worksite. Luckily, Seattle Youth Garden Works knew a mobile app was within their reach—via DIY app development.

The challenge now only lies in helping other organizations discover the existence of powerful self-serve solutions they can customize themselves, that don’t drain their resources, and that ultimately, give them more time to dedicate to causes in need.

Julia Guthrie
Julia Guthrie is Communications Manager at AppSheet ( Julia is a communicator, artist, and nonprofit advocate with more than eight years' marketing experience and a lifetime of advocating for causes in need. She excels in community building, having grown an email donor base from 100,000 to 1,000,000 in just two years, as well as having cultivated robust online communities to foster brand loyalty. In 2013 she moved to Thailand and taught English to disadvantaged families. Today, she manages communications and PR for AppSheet, a code-free mobile app development platform.