April 05, 2012

Nonprofits Need to Think More About Mobile

The growing number of people using their cellphones to go online is a compelling reason for nonprofits to think more about how they make mobile technology a key part of spreading their messages and operating their programs, Laura Quinn, executive director of Idealware, told participants at the Nonprofit Technology Conference here.

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 10 percent of cellphone owners said that their phone was their primary means of  getting online. For certain demographic groups, such as young people and low-income workers, the percentage was even higher.

The first thing nonprofits should think about, Ms. Quinn said, is how their current Web site appears on cellphones. She recommended visiting the Web site to see how an organization's site looks on different mobile-phone operating systems.

Organizations that want to appeal to mobile users in more sophisticated ways shouldn't immediately decide to build a mobile application, said Ms. Quinn. Building an app is usually more expensive than designing a mobile-friendly Web site, she said, and downloading an app requires a bigger commitment on the part of a supporter or program participant.

"Just because you want them to download an app doesn't necessarily mean that they have any intrinsic motivation to do so," Ms. Quinn told conference participants.

Organizations—especially those that work with youths—should also consider text messaging as an element of their programs. Ms. Quinn talked about Crisis Connection, a nonprofit in Minnesota that runs a suicide-prevention hotline that lets young people call or sent a text message to the hotline. The hotline receives 30 times as many text messages as phone calls.

Says Ms. Quinn: "It's a way that their target audience is already communicating, so it lowers the barrier to asking for help."

Send a e-mail to Nicole Wallace