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Using Mobile Technology to Take Nonprofits on the Road

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As we head into a new year, we each make our personal resolutions. Nonprofit organizations make theirs as well and primarily these center on meeting new fundraising and programming goals. In 2012, I propose nonprofits look at the way they've traditionally approached these efforts and turn them upside down. Try introducing new campaigns and using new tools to reach into supporter communities.

My favorite new tool is my phone. I love my phone. It's fast, has amazing graphics and makes communicating with others much easier than my old phone. My new phone has opened up worlds for me and I know many others feel the same way. We read the news on our phones, we watch the latest movies on our phones, and, according to a poll conducted by Performics, 75% of all consumers surveyed in 2011 reported buying things using their phones. Shopping with my phone? Watching movies on my phone? Reading on my phone? This is a tool nonprofits need to be using!

To help me think about this I contacted Larry Eason, nonprofit technology guru and founder of DotOrgPower, a consulting firm for nonprofit agencies. Larry advocates looking at mobile phones as practical, accessible tools that can be used by nonprofits in a variety of ways, from accepting pledges to delivering programs.

Fundraising, Major-giving: International Medical Corps (IMC) used Text2Donate -- a mobile pledge application (app) two years in a row to raise individual contributions at their annual gala. Larry reported that both years IMC raised over $50,000 in mobile donations from guests at the event. Using Text2Donate, individuals pledge an amount which the nonprofit fulfills after the dinner. More immediate and much cooler then the conventional "write a check and place it in the donor envelope under your plate" approach. Additionally this allows nonprofits to record contact information which potentially helps the agency to launch other mobile-friendly campaigns.

Fundraising, Micro-giving: The most well known is probably Text2Give which was the pillar for the incredible fundraising which occurred to support the victims of the disaster in Haiti. Text2Give is a micro-donation platform which allows individuals to donate $5 or $10 instantly with the amount contributed registered on their monthly phone bill. Text2Give grew to become more than just a fundraising tool. The practice became a community builder -- an easy way for people to show sympathy and allegiance to Haitians and others helping the cause. The charity sector's way of holding up a lighter at a concert.

But Larry points out that even mobile pledging and micro-donation applications are just the tips of a much larger and more powerful iceberg.

Campaigns: Nonprofits can share important and timely information about their work through mobile apps. For example, the US and State Public Interest Research Groups share their annual toy safety reports though a mobile site so that parents can find information about a toy when and where they need it most -- at the toy store. The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently launched Sea Food Watch which shares information on where to find sustainable sea food in your community.

Mobile programs: The National Healthy Mothers, part of the Healthy Baby Coalition, launched Text4Baby, a program which has tapped mobile communication to help educate moms about pre-and post-natal health in an effort to reduce infant mortality. Text4Baby makes information for new moms easily available and easily accessible at no charge to users. The environmental nonprofit Go Planit created Pet Earth, a game to help users learn to take care of the planet by fixing disasters and finding polluters.

Networking: Nonprofits could also use mobile technology to make networking, the foundation for fundraising success, even easier. Already we have global positioning systems that allow users of Facebook and Twitter to "check in" with their friends. Nonprofit event and program attendees could be encouraged to "check in" at charity functions which would allow them to find each other at these events. Guests could micro-blog or tweet from events, helping to raise awareness for the agency in their own online communities. Apps like Card Munch, from LinkedIn, which uploads contact information from business cards, go even farther to help supporters connect in the virtual world.

Going mobile. Feels like one of the most logical next steps a nonprofit could take. Using mobile technology takes advantage of a behavior in which most individuals already engage and a tool which most people already own. Mobile technology is a missing piece in most advancement strategies which tend to focus on traditional practices that may, in truth, be outdated. As I've written in earlier essays, a nonprofit donor is a consumer and an agency's success will be based on its ability to meet a consumer through convenient avenues. What is more convenient than our phones?