eMarketer recently estimated that the average time US adults spend with digital media every day will surpass TV viewing time for the first time in 2013. The report says that the average adult will spend more than 5 hours online a day on nonvoice mobile activities (that is, any mobile device activity that is not a phone call) or with other digital media (such as Netflix or games)—compared with 4.5 hours watching television. The average adult will spend 2 hours and 21 minutes on nonvoice mobile activities—nearly an hour more than they spent on mobile last year and more than they spend on desktop and laptop computers.

This is good news for nonprofits: Traditionally, nonprofit organizations have not been able to afford a significant presence on television, but most already have some type of online presence that’s accessible via mobile. That said, these numbers are also a wake up call. Lots of nonprofits do not have their websites or donation pages optimized for mobile devices, and many have not even started incorporating mobile into their fundraising, operations, and communication strategies.

It’s time for all nonprofits to start thinking about mobile. For starters, organizations need to ensure that their website and emails render well on mobile devices; they also need to begin to explore options for making operations more efficient and consider how best to use text communication in service of their mission.

Where to start

More and more people are visiting websites on mobile devices, and reading email on their phones and tablets—a look at your own organization’s analytics will likely reveal the same trend (ask your site developer or host if you don’t know where to find your website’s metrics). Nonprofits need to start by creating a mobile-friendly website (including a donation page optimized for mobile) and ensuring that all emails work for smaller mobile screens.

Many nonprofits use a content management systems (CMS) to manage their website content. Some systems such as the Drupal CMS offer modules that you can use to create a mobile-friendlier website; if your system doesn’t, you might consider transferring to a new one. Another thing to look at is email. Most email programs now allow you to preview your email and how it looks on a mobile device—if not, sending out test email messages to folks with different mobile operating systems (Primarily iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) and different devices will allow you to find out what works and what doesn't.

Operations and texting

Some nonprofit organizations are finding ways to incorporate mobile not only in communications, but also in operations, programs, and fundraising. Two particular opportunities are in the areas of operational use and texting.

A good example of innovative operational use of mobile is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Rapid Mobile Phone-based (RAMP) survey—a digital toolkit for efficiently conducting surveys, collecting data, and reporting results. Moving away from decades-old paper-and-pencil methods that often took weeks to compile and report, RAMP collects data and prepares reports within days, allowing the organization to deliver faster health-response services based on that data. This is just one example of using mobile to improve efficiency and effectiveness in internal operations and program delivery. With some brainstorming and small experiments, your nonprofit can come up with ways to try using mobile in support of your mission.

Texting is increasingly popular, but it is generally a very personal type of communication. Sending a text to a supporter out of the blue requesting a donation is not a good idea—it is out of context and the prospective supporter may feel as if it violates their privacy. You can, however, ask for permission to text supporters, and then send out texts reminding them about a protest, an important meeting, when tickets are on sale for the annual gala or art show. Two good examples of using text are Dosomething.org’s “Undocumented for a day” text game and the recently launched text-messaging campaign for preventing fires, sponsored by the US Forest Service. Organizations are finding success with these types of communications, and using texting to reach out to younger people who do not use email or traditional social media channels regularly.

The payoff

For every nonprofit featured in an AdCouncil spot or news report, there are hundreds that don't get coverage. As people turn their attentions from TV to mobile devices, the opportunities for engagement with new supporters and donors are increasing. If your website or emails don’t render well on mobile devices, you could lose that opportunity. But with some thoughtful strategies and experimentation, you can put your nonprofit on the road to better integrating mobile with your operations, programs, communications, and fundraising.

View slides from my recent presentation at SSIR’s Nonprofit Management Institute here.

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