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More than Apps: Mobile Tips from 12NTC

More than Apps: Mobile Tips from 12NTC

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 You've probably heard the statistics. More mobile devices are sold worldwide than PCs, and mobile is expected to overtake PCs as the most popular way to access the Internet in the next few years. So what does that mean for your organization?

Director of Idealware Laura Quinn shared her ideas at the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference, in a session called More Than Apps: Affordable Program Delivery Through Mobile Phones.

Mobile-izing Your Website

Given the growth in mobile, you can expect an ever-increasing percentage of constituents and potential volunteers and donors to access your organization's website via a mobile device. That means you need to make sure your information is viewable and useable on a mobile device.

Quinn outlined a few options:

  • Optimizing your current website so that it looks better when viewed via a mobile device.
  • Building a separate site specifically for mobile devices, using a subset of your most important content and functionality.
  • Employing responsive design. Responsive design is a way to dynamically adjust the layout of a website so it looks good on any device, regardless of how big or how small the device's screen is. Many platforms, including Drupal and WordPress have responsive design themes available.
  • Creating a simple mobile app. AppMakr, SwebApps, MobBase, and TapTours are platforms for creating simple apps.

Having Conversations with Constituents

Quinn also discussed how mobile technologies can help you have conversations with your constituents in interesting ways. SMS (text messaging) is a particularly useful technology for communicating with youth (who may be more responsive to SMS messages than to email or phone calls), and for working in areas that don't have consistent Internet access.

  • Sending broadcast SMS messages. This is similar in concept to broadcast email – you send text alerts, calls for action, or updates to a list of mobile phone numbers.
  • Having two-way conversations. SMS messaging can also help you conduct surveys, provide quick answers, and gather information on-the-go.

Quinn mentioned a few interesting examples of how nonprofits can use mobile to facilitate conversations with their constituents, including:

  • Engaging volunteers and conducting surveys. Some SMS providers allow you to set up automated responses, with branching decision points based on how people respond to your message. For example, you can send a message saying "Can you volunteer next weekend? Respond YES if you can, or NO if you cannot." Then your system can send an automatic text confirmation and thank you if your constituent responded with yes. This functionality also allows you to conduct surveys via text messaging.
  • Sharing information from your database. Users can text a keyword to a shortcode to get relevant information. For example, Blue Ocean Institute's FishPhone helps users make sustainable seafood choices. They text the word FISH and the name of a particular fish to 30644 and get a quick sustainability evaluation back via SMS.
  • Collecting information. Ushahidi allows you to gather data using SMS and other channels.

Recommended SMS Solutions

For U.S. use, Quinn recommended:

  • For a small number of messages: Mozes supports up to 250 texts per month for $10/month.
  • For greater volume: MobileCause starts at $69/month for up to 1,000 texts per month.
  • For more sophisticated functionality, such as two-way conversations and mobile giving: Mobile Commons and Mobile Accord start at around $400/month.
  • If you have developers and want sophisticated functionality: Clickatell is a a development API that supports bulk messaging, and syncing texts to databases.

International users should look into FrontlineSMS or Gammu. 

Supporting Staff in the Field

Your staff could also use mobile devices in the field to:

  • Collect data from constituents.
  • View data (if your database allows mobile access) and enter data remotely.
  • Support services and programs. For example, The Reach School educates children on the autism spectrum, and they use iPads to show videos, provide students with hands-on learning games, and as a reward for good behavior.

What About QR Codes?

Quinn had an interesting perspective on QR codes. She said that, while there are definitely some organizations that are using them effectively, in general "there's a limited audience that knows what to do with a QR code and is willing to do it."

Learn More

Photo: Alex E. Proimos

by Ariel Gilbert-Knight, Senior Content Manager, TechSoup

  • Good article but seems that it's missing one of the major uses for mobile technology, collection then delivery to databases of field based transactional data for program management, outcome measurement and service delivery.  The challenge of course is how to do it inexpensively and easily.  

    As an example our company Rovenet provides our Measurement Outcomes system ( to not for profits for no charge.  Creates custom data collection systems for any smartphone or tablet with strong backend support.  Easy to use so minimal training required.

    Chuck Schwartz

    Rovenet Technology Services

  • Good point about the challenges of syncing mobile data in the field back to your database. Esri, one of our TechSoup partners, has some options available for reporting data from the field.

    Anyone know of others?

    In general advertising your own products is discouraged in our blog comments and forums, but your point about the next steps on mobile field activities is a good one, so I hope you'll stick around and contribute more to our community.