The mobile revolution is here – what are you doing about it?

For years, we’ve been talking in the digital space about the increasing role that mobile was going to play in the nonprofit world.

But here’s the thing — the mobile revolution is here today. The time to “get ready for mobile” is passing nonprofits by.

My recommendation? If you haven’t already, it’s time for a conversation with your team about what you need to be doing today in the mobile space. Ask yourself and your team — “at this stage in our development, and in our donors’/constituents’ lives, what role does mobile need to play?”

To be clear — I am NOT declaring that mobile is the new fundraising channel to supplant all channels (at least not for awhile yet). Mobile as an income channel doesn’t compare to the volume of direct mail, telemarketing, email, and so on.

But mobile not being a core fundraising channel today isn’t an excuse to ignore the importance of having a mobile strategy in place and testing in your organization today.

Why do you need to act today? Take a look at your web analytics (or ask your web staff or agency to) — I won’t be surprised if anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of your website visitors are already coming from mobile devices.

Thousands (or even tens of thousands) of your own constituents are using your website on their mobile devices.In a brief review of our clients’ web analytics, I’m seeing anywhere from 10 to 22 percent of all traffic coming from mobile devices. I’ve seen even higher. That means thousands (or even tens of thousands) of your own constituents are using your website on their cellphones and tablets.

Maybe I’ve convinced you of the importance of mobile, or you were already convinced. The next question then is what to do about it. From our experience working to develop and implement mobile strategies with nonprofits around the country, I’ll give you a common misperception on where to start — and where you should really start instead.

An app is NOT the answer (probably)

Mobile is actually a collection of channels (mobile web, text messaging, apps, phone, etc.) — and yet today when nonprofits begin to believe they need a mobile strategy, creating an app is the first thing that comes to mind.

But for the vast majority of nonprofits a mobile app (aka native app) would be the wrong way to start out. They can be expensive to build and maintain, only run on the systems they are built specifically for (iPhone, Android, etc.), and most importantly, what the nonprofit has to say or provide is not conducive to being in “app” form. We won’t go into detail (contact me if you’d like to do that), but for an app to be successful it has to be inherently valuable to your users on a day to day basis, and in a mobile context.

There are notable exceptions to this statement, such as Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn app which provides entertainment reviews from a Christian perspective. The app is very useful to users on a regular basis, and in a mobile context (like when I’m standing in front of the movie theater!).

But a mobile app is not the place to start for 99% of nonprofits. So where should you start?

Focus on your website first

Your website is the foundation of your digital strategy. It also likely receives the majority of eyeballs and use of any of your organization’s digital channels.

The first step is easy — start today by visiting your own website on your phone. Borrow one of the other major phones from a colleague for a few minutes and try that too (Android or iPhone typically).

What’s the experience like? Can you read the content? Are the links and navigation big enough to tap on and use? Do videos or other interactive content work? Try giving a gift — how pleasant was that experience?

Even for nonprofits who have begun to think about mobile, often these things are extremely difficult. And in testing, we’ve found that even the slightest hiccup in experience can cost your organization tens of thousands of dollars (depending on your revenue stream, millions even).

Then turn your attention to email

According to a recent study, in 2011 20% of all emails were opened on a mobile device. Email is typically your second major digital driver of income and results, so this is a critical channel to pay attention to the mobile experience.

Try to open and read your organization’s emails on your phone. Are the fonts large enough to easily read without zooming in? Do you have to scroll sideways to see everything? Are links easy to tap? How about the experience of clicking through to the landing page and taking action?

Just like on the web, poor email experience on mobile can significantly hurt your results.

Get started yesterday

The past can’t be changed, but you can start today. Push your team (or your agency) to work with you to determine what your next steps should be in mobile today. Remember that while it may not be the leading channel in the fundraising space, it already plays a critical role in the overall communications and experience of your nonprofit.

If you’re a Masterworks client, talk to your team and your Digital Strategist – we’re here to help! If you’re not an MW client, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have – email me at Or you can always catch up with me on Twitter – @daveraley.

Dave Raley