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That most 21st century of idioms “there’s an app for that” certainly applies to charity fundraising. Either through third party platforms or bespoke products many charities are benefiting from the revenue-raising potential of mobile apps.
But apps have the potential to offer more than just provide another channel for generating income, as useful as that function is. Charities are using the unique potential of mobile apps for a range of uses, from raising awareness, spreading information among service users, attracting volunteers and more.
There are of course barriers for some charities when it comes to deploying mobile apps, particularly when finding assistance in developing the technology at a time when budgets are under strain.
Peter McQude, VP, CSR at visual analytics company Qlik, says: “We’re finding it increasingly prevalent for charities around the world to create apps which allow them to analyse their own data for all kinds of outcomes. For example, Medair, a charity which goes to remote areas after national disasters and aids humanitarian efforts, uses data analysis to help them with operations on the ground.”
Currently based in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, Medair uses a mobile application to register important information on each refugee, from their medical conditions to who their relatives are. They then share their data with NGOs and volunteer groups so they can better provide for the people in those camps. In addition, they use this data to optimise the way the camp is run, better serving and providing for the refugees that live there.
“It’s great to see charities thinking smarter about how they can use apps like this to improve operations,” says McQude.
Rob Finley, business development director at Cybertill, providers of technology solutions to the charity retail sector, says: “There are lots of situations where a supporter app could be very useful and this would help charities combine the retail and fundraising sides of the operation.”
Finley cites some examples. For instance, on the volunteer front volunteers could be given an app that lets them see into their “volunteer world”. It could tell them how many hours they had given to the charity and what value they represented.
They could look at the Gift Aid income that the charity had generated and what revenue the charity had made from goods. Such an app could also have HR functions from holiday planning to specialist resource requirements.
Finley says: “Charities are now selling collectable and specialist goods not only in their shops but also online and via channels such as eBay, and there is always a need for specialist knowledge - appeals for this knowledge through an app could be done.”
In the shopping area, Cybertill says it has already issued nearly 2 million loyalty and supporter cards to the charity sector. It says giving loyalty can increase customer spend.
Stephen Morgan, co-founder at digital transformation business Squiz, says integration is key when it comes to mobile apps. He says: “Going mobile offers charities a great many opportunities to exploit, including relationship building. If you are able to integrate your mobile systems with your website you can deliver even more personalised experiences to fundraisers.
“For instance, charities could use location targeting on mobile devices to inform supporters of upcoming events or volunteering options in the local area, so that they don’t have to scan through pages of information.”
On obstacles to mobile deployments, he says: “Some charities have found becoming more mobile difficult, but this tends to occur when mobile is treated as a separate channel, away from all of the existing systems and processes within the organisation, or if mobile apps and websites provide a poorer, ‘website-lite’ experience.”
Morgan says: “To get the most out of mobile, charities should take a holistic approach to developing strategies for campaigns, considering how mobile can interact with other channels or connect with users at the very core in order to take full advantage of the channel.
“An easy shortcut is if charities create websites that are designed responsively, this means that your website will automatically format itself to the device it’s being accessed through - this ensures consistently good, multi-channel experiences to all your users.”
The Ramblers Association is one organisation that works to this formula to get the most out of mobile apps. Using Advanced Business Solutions (NFP) as a provider, it has overcome many of the challenges and demonstrated success from its investment in mobile apps, whilst linking the technology to its existing infrastructure to achieve “one view” of its donors.
Simon Fowler, managing director, Advanced Business Solutions (NFP), says: “Apps give donors more freedom to give when it suits them whilst being able to follow the progress of a charity and hear about its latest news and upcoming events.
“But most charities would absolutely agree that the use of mobile technology and apps have not yet reached their full potential – this is due to a combination of challenges, from costs and the traditional culture of some charities still needing to understand the benefits of these changes, to the speed of change in technology, meaning it’s a steep learning curve for some to keep track.”
They also need to invest in the right skills to ensure mobile technology and apps can effectively deliver the benefits and associated ROI (return on investment), he says.
Fowler says it is equally important that mobile apps integrate all data with the charity’s core CRM (customer relationship management) system, to ensure that they gain that all-important single view of the donor, so the charity can track and monitor exactly how each donor wants to be engaged with.
This is critical, he says, in light of the forthcoming EU Data Protection Act as well as the potential implications of the Etherington Review. But this can often be a barrier for charities, said Fowler, as they may not have a suitable system in place to do it.
Despite a mobile app roadmap being laid out for the third sector to follow, it isn’t clear cut that charities will follow it through, says Paul Swaddle, CEO of app developer Pocket App. Pocket App has created mobile solutions for a number of charities such as Breast Cancer Care and the Royal British Legion.
Swaddle says: “Apps are a great way for charitable organisations to increase the size of their audience and boost their potential to receive donations, but I’ve seen recent research that shows 20 per cent of UK charities still do not have facilities to accept online donations, and that almost 90 per cent of those that do use third party sites to process donations, not their own.
“With the UK being a world leader in e-commerce, it is very surprising that the transformative power of digital seems to have bypassed the charity sector.”
He adds: “This isn’t to say that the entire sector is behind the digital transformation curve. Some of the larger and more forward-thinking charities are embarking on digital programmes that include creating a multichannel supporter experience, increasing business efficiencies through automation and personalising communications and supporters’ online experiences.
“However, for the vast majority, it pains me to say that that they are still very much in their infancy in their acceptance and use of digital.”
Going back to the international aspect of mobile apps, more is happening on the refugee front, although even here some of Swaddle’s concerns are shared.
Shelley Taylor is the founder/CEO of www.trellyz.com. Earlier this year, it launched an app and content management system for NGOs and charities involved in giving aid to refugees.
RefAid is an app to help refugees find water, health care, legal aid, food and more. Taylor says: “I’m currently working with the Red Cross and many other NGOs, and we now have places to get these things listed on the app, which is available through Google Play and iTunes.”
Save the Children, the British Red Cross, the Italian Red Cross, Caritas and others are early users of RefAid. As refugees themselves are given access to the apps, aid organisations can use the app’s geo-location system to send them urgent aid communications about weather warnings, closed borders or impending food trucks.
Taylor is originally from Palo Alto, California and has been working in technology in Silicon Valley for 20 years as a consultant to many of the world’s largest technology businesses.
Despite getting RefAid off the ground though, she does share some of Swaddle’s concern. Taylor says: “I believe that technology has been way under exploited to date. I have been really shocked to see how few organisations have an actual database or even an Excel document that shows them, for internal purposes, what type of aid they have available where.
“One of the challenges I have seen when attending some of the recent conferences about finding technology solutions for the refugee crisis is that the aid organisations want solutions but do not have any budget for innovation or technology.”
She says: “We were able to launch RefAid quickly because we are a technology company and a small organisation so we can make decisions quickly. This is in contrast to some of the large organisations that don’t have deep technology experience, or the agility to create solutions.”
Taylor says charities should consider working closely with tech startups that may already have solutions that can be adapted for charitable purposes, to enable them to get their apps up and running more quickly and potentially more cheaply.
She says: “My company had already created apps and content management systems for other uses, so we only needed to use our existing solutions for another challenge. We were able to contribute the technology, and I have hired people to work with bringing on board the charities but we cannot provide enough personnel to service all of Europe and 5 million refugees.”
While many charities have already gone down the mobile app route for fundraising, perhaps there is still much more to come when delivering extra functionality.
Antony Savvas is a freelance journalist
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