How mobile is helping charities to boost engagement

While apps can be incredibly powerful for campaigns, charities need to be aware that success relies on their relevance, writes Charlie Lyons

Charlie Lyons
Charlie Lyons

As mobile overtakes other platforms to become the most common way for consumers to access the internet, apps have become a core focus for charities looking to boost engagement amongst their supporters.

One key focus has been on assisting supporters through the fundraising process, which is helping to resolve a problem faced by many charities' most loyal givers. ‘Super-fundraisers’ (think multi-marathon runners and perennial office bakers) can suffer from their own enthusiasm, sometimes struggling to convince family and friends to donate because of the frequency of their charitable efforts.

This is a particular challenge for events like the London Marathon where targets are high, typically landing between £1,500 and £2,500 per entry. Virgin Money reports that 50% of marathon participants are frequent runners, which means they are repeatedly trying to raise thousands of pounds, often from the same support network.

The NSPCC is one charity that’s using a mobile app to enable committed runners to overcome this challenge and keep their fundraising fresh, particularly when tried-and-tested methods are beginning to lose their appeal amongst friends and family.

This year, it launched Team NSPCC, an app that suggests new ideas for raising money ahead of the marathon, as well as allowing runners to monitor their fundraising progress. The idea is to help experienced fundraisers continue to do what they do best, whilst also encouraging new runners on their way to becoming veterans themselves.

After last year’s marathon, Virgin Money Giving reported that the use of a fundraising app increased average donations by up to 19%. Clearly, mobile is an attractive channel for any charity looking to optimise giving around such an event.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that successful charity apps need not be about the money (or not directly, at least). Though the ultimate aim is to increase giving, the most sophisticated charity apps are not all about the ‘ask’. Instead, they are designed to create a meaningful brand experience, building more gradually towards donations by engaging supporters, deepening interest and creating a strong sense of loyalty.

Mobile is particularly good for this kind of incremental brand building as our phones are so personal – they’re in our pockets, immediately accessible and always-on. Nevertheless, the app market is tough to crack, and charities have learnt that the only way to ensure apps are downloaded and engaged with is to ensure they offer real value to their users.

Two charities that have successfully negotiated this balance are Cancer Research UK, with Reverse The Odds, and the NSPCC with Net Aware. Reverse the Odds is a fun, challenging game that educates users about cancer as they play, while also cleverly processing scientific data for the charity. Net Aware, meanwhile, educates parents on how to keep their children safe online, with interactive guides to a range of popular social platforms. Both apps create a meaningful brand experience by engaging users in a value exchange – entertaining, educating and advising in exchange for the user’s attention, and ultimately, their support.

As charities feel the impact from both kinds of app, many are deciding to develop multiple, complementary mobile offerings, with some apps that directly support fundraising, and others that work to build brand engagement. As these continue to pay off, we can expect to see ever more sophisticated charity apps developed in both genres.

While apps can be incredibly powerful, their success relies on their relevance. If you are thinking of developing an app for your own charity, remember to build it around core features and functionality that your supporters will actually need and use – without these, it just won’t take off.

Charlie Lyons is general manager at Beyond, an experience design agency that has developed digital products for charities including the NSPCC

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