Future of mobile fundraising

Nonprofits looking for a new platform for fundraising should be enthused by the recent happening in mobile donations. According to a July 2010 PEW study, more people used cell phones to make a charitable donation than to access a status update service like Twitter.

After last year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, an estimated $41 million was processed to help the relief cause. Similar campaigns are being run right now to support the relief in Japan.

To date, most of these donations come through a text-to-give service that puts a $5 or $10 charge on the donor’s phone bill.

This February, PayPal Mobile—the iPhone and Android app that brings PayPal’s smooth and secure payment process to mobile devices— announced that the new version would include the FundRazr platform, which would allow you to create and manage peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.

The PayPal app allows developers to integrate the PayPal interface into their own app with just a few lines of code. Their current fee is nominal for such a robust micro-payment program — 4.9% plus $.30 on every payment.

Apple denies donations

Ideally, this means that nonprofits could create apps that allow users to make donations through PayPal in a seamless, two-click process without ever leaving the app experience.

Not so, says Apple, who makes the iPhone and iPad and control the iTunes App Store. Since the launch of the PayPal app they’ve decided to not allow charities to take donations through their apps. They also forced PayPal to pull the plug on the donation function of their app.

Even if Apple would allow donation, their policy statement entitles them to 30% of all in-app transactions… enough to make the effort useless.

Is the Web dead?

Last summer, Wired editor Christian Anderson pronounced the Web dead. He argued that the proliferation of mobile devices and the new revenue stream that apps represented to Web publishers would make accessing the Internet through a desktop browser passé.

Trends seem to indicate that it’s a real possibility that the web browser could become obsolete in the short term. And there are reasons to be excited: apps are often faster; they have cleaner, more purposeful user experiences; they can be used offline.

But there is reason to be concerned that an app store monopoly might lead to the kind of walled-garden capriciousness Apple has applied to PayPal’s donations functionality. Luckily it looks like Anderson may only be partially right. We are moving toward more mobile use, but that doesn’t mean we have to use native apps.

The Google voice app is a good example. Apple denied their app because it duplicated features that come with the iPhone—you could make free phone calls through the Google Voice service. So, Google avoided the Apple App Store and re-created the app as website using HTML5, but with a nice little icon and an app-like user interface, you can’t tell the difference between the site and an app.

Moving forward

PayPal is continuing negotiations with Apple. And so far the other major mobile platforms, Android and Blackberry, have not taken a similar route. But it is possible to avoid the app stores all together in favor of an app that gives you total control and a service fee that doesn’t negate your effort.