Getting the third sector mobile: how these leading charities are ‘apping’ their game

Mobile usage has rocketed in recent years, overtaking desktop as the primary channel used by consumers to access the internet. As mobile becomes ever more dominant, charities are increasingly looking to apps as a way to boost their supporter base.

But the role of a charity’s mobile app is not as obvious as you might think. They’re not all about the money – at least, not directly. Though the ultimate aim of any charity app is to increase giving, the most sophisticated are not all about the ‘ask’, nor should they be.

Instead, they are designed to create strong brand interactions that build more gradually towards this point, telling the charity story and engaging supporters on an individual basis in order to deepen interest and strengthen loyalty in the longer term. When the ‘ask’ eventually does come, it has a far higher chance of converting.

Mobile is ideal for exactly this kind of brand building, and not just because it’s a popular channel. It’s also personal, immediately accessible, and with consumers wherever they go – a platform they use on their way to work, in bed and in front of the TV.

Of course, this also makes it tricky for charities to cut through the competition and convince consumers that their apps are worth their time and attention.

> See also: How the charity sector can get started on its digital transformation journey

Charities have had to learn that their supporters seek a sense of mutual value. In a crowded digital landscape, they must offer apps that people can enjoy and learn from – otherwise they simply won’t use them.

Today’s consumers are savvy, and have no time for a crude ‘ask’ without any return. For them, an app must offer genuine utility, and as a result, the concept of value exchange has become central to the development of today’s most successful charity apps.

The NSPCC has successfully used this kind of value exchange to diversify its digital presence. An example is Net Aware, a free source of information for parents looking to learn how to keep their children safe online.

Net Aware, which was originally released as a desktop site, was launched as an app last month to offer a true cross-platform experience. It rates a range of popular social platforms on their relative safety, and educates parents on the dangers their children face, using parent-friendly information sourced in partnership with Mumsnet. To add further value, it also offers advice on how to speak to children about the issues at play.

Clearly, Net Aware is not explicitly built to drive donations, but instead to encourage engagement and create a meaningful experience, raising awareness of important issues that are core to the NSPCC’s work as a charity. In earlier iterations of the project, this balance has paid off, with 40,000 users attracted in the first month alone.

Cancer Research UK’s Reverse The Odds is another great example of an app with genuine utility. The app is designed as a simple game, which educates users on bladder and lung cancers as they progress through its levels.

It also offers a simple value exchange: the fun and challenge of the game for the consumer, and the processing of scientific data for the charity. As it turns out, the game is a cleverly-designed way of processing reams of biological information to further research into cancer treatments.

> See also: A world of good: JustGiving is transforming the charity sector through 'social giving'

As well as creating a great platform for a value exchange between charity and supporter, mobile also gives charities the opportunity to personalise their offerings, individualising brand experiences rather than creating ‘one size fits all’ user journeys.

As charity apps grow more sophisticated, this is where we will start to see the most creativity, as charities serve up increasingly tailored experiences for their supporters.

Of course, mobile also creates some technical challenges for charities, particularly when it comes to digital payments where there is often a greater than average drop-out rate due to friction in the process. This is a problem charities need to address if they want digital to drive fundraising along with brand engagement, but it is a challenge faced across all sectors, so they are not alone in working to resolve it.

Clearly, mobile is a fertile area for charities, and we can expect to see ever more sophisticated apps developed in this sector as existing efforts continue to pay off.

Sourced from Charlie Lyons, general manager, Beyond

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...