Published: 19 July 2011

How can charities use mobile?

It’s commonly understood that technology can help charities better spread their messages. But it's still unclear what role mobile plays. As the popularity of mobile continues to grow, how can charities make better use of it to engage their audiences and increase support?

Earlier this year, Vodafone teamed up with Just Giving to create JustTextGiving, a service which allows users to donate to their chosen charity via text message. But this isn’t the only text based service to meet the charity world; the likes of Children in Need and Red Nose Day have shown how text based donations can contribute to the total fundraising amount.

But while text based services are quick and easy, they don’t stand up alone and require some kind of marketing placement to tell the user what to do with it and why (such as the Children in Need television features).

For this reason, some charities have made use of mobile apps. One successful example is that of Depaul UK’s ‘iHobo’ which has reached over 400,000 downloads – no mean feat considering the application was developed for free and was, at the time, quite a controversial project.

Then there’s the apparently cheaper option for mobile representation – a mobile website. Created through the streamlining of your current website and a new structure and navigation, mobile websites are the mode of choice for many charities looking to move into mobile.

Moving into mobile: Where do you start?

Just because one charity is using one mobile medium, it doesn’t mean it’s right for all charities. Understanding your audience and what you have to offer them on mobile is the first step to ensuring whatever you’re doing on the mobile platform is worthwhile and will provide you a good ROI.

Key points to consider are:

  • Who are your audience? What age are they? How do they feel about mobile and how do they use it?
  • What do they want from you? What do they currently come to you for and how does your content provide them something of value?
  • How can you provide them what they need in a mobile format?

Mobile websites vs mobile apps

For many charities and businesses alike, the decision to move into mobile comes down to a choice between mobile websites and mobile apps – both of which have their pros and cons:

Mobile websites

Generally speaking, mobile websites are the cheaper option for charities moving into mobile. However, simply streamlining your desktop content and putting it into a smartphone format isn’t enough to really engage the end user; good mobile websites will utilise added functionality, such as pinch-and-zoom, and a restructured  navigation to provide an optimised, bespoke mobile experience. Examples worth looking at include the NSPCC and Red Nose Day.

Mobile apps

Mobile apps are typically the more expensive option, both in terms of set up and maintenance cost, and for that reason charities must ensure their offering is suitable to an app to get the best return on investment.

The most successful mobile apps are those which provide a practical use, such as the BHF’s recipe finder. These kinds of apps don’t need to represent your entire offering – after all, the BHF offers far more to its users than healthy recipes. However if, like the BHF, you have access to a collection of useful and relevant information already, it can be a really good way to get a foot into the app market.

Other successful mobile apps are highly customisable and interactive, like iHobo. These apps work because they integrate software on the user’s handset and provide them with a personalised experience they can return to again and again. Good apps will also be recommended by users to their friends and, through this, provide an excellent opportunity for charity brand building.

Wait! There’s no need to rush in…

Mobile phones continue to grow in popularity every day, with users increasingly making use of mobile websites and apps; that means they’re not going anywhere fast and there’s no need to rush into a mobile presence.

Though many sources may encourage the fast take-up of mobile (such as the recent Giving Report), a quickly put-together offering may be detrimental to your audience rather than beneficial. Instead, take your time to really consider how best to make use of mobile, be it via websites, apps or a combination of the two.

By taking the time to consider a long term mobile strategy, charities can not only refine their offering to provide a better experience for their audience, but also give staff and supporters time to better understand the benefits of mobile and how it can work for them.


Laura Hampton, head of content engagement, Zabisco