Nonprofits Leverage Mobile to Make an Impact


Mobile technology has potential benefits to offer almost any individual or organization, and nonprofits are learning to use mobile to make an impact. Nonprofits are creating and using mobile apps for everything from fundraising and sharing content to educating the public about their mission. Below we outline a few examples of how mobile apps can be used to spread awareness and engage with a wider audience.


Many nonprofits who explore mobile look into fundraising opportunities first. Apple prohibits apps on iOS that accept charitable donations directly, so any “fundraising” apps currently available for iOS can suggest that users make donations, and can provide links to a nonprofit’s mobile site, but are prohibited from stating in the app or in the app description that some or all proceeds will go to the nonprofit. Despite these limitations, there are a number of new fundraising apps, such as HelpBridge, Check-in for Good, and Charity Miles, that do make it easier for nonprofits to receive donations from mobile users. It should also be noted that Google Android doesn’t prohibit in-app donations the way Apple does, and has an in-house mobile giving app, One Today.

Apps for Change

Fundraising is important, but mobile apps have the potential to do so much more for nonprofits, and many nonprofits don’t realize that yet. Here, we take a look at some innovative mobile apps created by nonprofits, to showcase what can be done. Instead of creating an app that explores its facilities, Monterey Bay Aquarium chose to create a mobile app that explores sustainable seafood, and helps people make an everyday difference. The Seafood Watch mobile app shows users recommendations for markets, seafood restaurants, and sushi restaurants, that serve sustainable seafood. Users can sort by “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative,” and “Avoid” rankings. The Project Fishmap feature lets users upload and share their own recommendations. The Humane Society of the United States, well aware that people on the Internet love cute cat and dog videos, uses its Humane TV app to directly distribute hundreds of in-house produced short videos. Video topics range from cute pet videos to investigations of puppy mills to animal rescue. The content can all be shared on social networks from inside the app. The Sunlight Foundation has a suite of useful mobile apps, all using freely available government information that many people aren’t aware they have the right to access. The Sunlight Foundation’s Congress app highlights current happenings in the federal legislature, including recent bills, floor activity, and representative votes, as well as making it easy to contact your own congressional representatives. The Sunlight Foundation also offers the Open States mobile app, which provides similar information for all 50 U.S. states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. The ACLU-New Jersey offers the free app Police Tape that allows users to discreetly record video and audio, and upload it remotely to the ACLU-New Jersey for backup storage. The app is intended for users to record civil rights violations on their smartphones as evidence.

Nonprofit Development of Nonprofit Apps

Not many nonprofits have invested in their own apps, and it’s easy to see why — a mobile app is a significant investment of resources, resources that many small and midsize nonprofits would find a burden. But there’s help available. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in February 2014 launched App-E-Feat, a program to connect nonprofits with volunteer engineers and mobile developers in order to create mobile apps for nonprofit organizations for free. IEEE had 400 engineer volunteers available when the project launched, and hopes to recruit more. To participate, nonprofits can log in the App-E-Feat website and upload a request for a specific type of mobile app. Current requests include mobile apps for 24/7 peer-to-peer support for veterans, and tracking the health of city trees. As mobile technology changes and wearable tech becomes more prevalent, it will be interesting to see how nonprofits start using device-specific apps to support their mission and create an impact. [Image from]

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