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Apps Make Donating Easy As Downing A Soda And Slice

By Kate Rogers - April 15, 2010

Sixth-graders from low-income families who attend Eberhart Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side needed Net Book computers to increase their technology skills. Donors across the country made this happen on Feb. 19, without spending a dime.

Through the use of a simple iPhone app, CauseWorld, which partnered on the project with New York City-based Donors Choose.org, consumers checked in at restaurants, clothing stores and supermarkets on the app, turning their retail therapy into dollars donated.

In other words, there was an app for that.

Nonprofits are upping their tech game by creating smart phone apps, which enable donors and constituents to give or volunteer in quick and simple ways, without the limits seen in text-to-give campaigns. More importantly, charity apps bring something different to the table; they combine education and fun.

CauseWorld users earn between five and 10 “Karmas” for each store they check in at on the app, and can accumulate up to 10 karmas to give to a charity. For each 10 karmas donated, sponsors Kraft and Citibank donate a fixed rate, which varies by cause. Donors also have the opportunity to learn more about each cause before donating to it.

Users donated 772,595 karmas to classroom projects at DonorsChoose.org, totaling $7,725.95, according to Jonathan Evans, director of vendor relations at Donorschoose.org.

“It’s very peer-to-peer,” he said. “They (users) decide where funds go, and there’s a direct connection between a need and an individual who wants to help.”

The app was created as a way for corporations to use marketing budgets and join forces with charitable causes, according to Cyriac Roeding, CEO and co-founder of shopkick Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif., which created CauseWorld. The application, which is available for iPhone and Android phones, was downloaded more than 300,000 times during its first two months, and has added Procter & Gamble to its list of sponsors. Roeding said the app taps into the passionate mindset of those who want to do good but can’t always afford to make donations.

Soon, CauseWorld users will be able to earn karmas by scanning the barcode on Procter & Gamble products in stores across the U.S. Roeding said there is no way to tie purchases to karmas as of yet, and support from the app’s stores is not needed.

The ASPCA in New York City launched an iPhone app called Pet Safe, after previously successful interactive marketing campaigns and social media engagement. The app works as a consumer tool, and gives users complete access to the charity’s toxic plant database, which can also be viewed on the ASPCA’s Web site. It lists the plants that are toxic to dogs, cats and horses in alphabetical order, along with photos, warning signs and a breakdown of the plant, showing what parts of it are and are not toxic. Users can also contact the Animal Poison Control Center.

The app allows users to donate directly to the charity, and can also link them back to the ASPCA home page, which is now mobile-optimized for smart phones. From there, users are given the option of signing up for email alerts and charity information. Betsey Fortlouis, vice president of member communications at the charity, said the ASPCA has the number one toxic plant database in the country, and hopes to extend it to include common household poisons.

“Right now, we are trying to figure out how to reach the 70 million homes in America with pets, in a more fun, hip, forward-thinking way,” Fortlouis said. “The demographic is changing. It used to be little old ladies with seven cats at home sending in a monthly donation. But now, we are seeing more savvy, active members, and we are looking to reach more people like that.”

Creating smart phone apps should be a natural move for nonprofits that are investing in current technology, according to Beth Cathey, business development consultant at is7.com in Richardson, Texas. The gap between smart phones and PCs is narrowing, Cathey said, and charities should take advantage of the opportunity to engage a rapidly growing audience.

“Mobile giving strategies should be a part of your plan. Instead of spending time and money on the latest thing, figure out how it complements what you are already doing,” she said. “Make a smart phone-optimized Web site, so you are not scrolling and scrolling. That is the kiss of death when you are trying to get someone to give you money.”

Web optimization is extremely important for nonprofits to consider, she said, because it allows donors to get information and donate within seconds, anywhere they might be.

“It’s almost like impulse buying at the grocery store,” she said. “They can access it wherever they are, and whenever they get inspired.”

Nonprofits like VolunteerMatch.org in San Francisco, Calif., are making volunteering easier. On its new iPhone app, the organization links volunteers to one of its 70,000 participating charities based on their age, location, interests and skills.

Robert Rosenthal, director of communications for VolunteerMatch, said because volunteer listings have become increasingly niche-based in recent years, the charity hopes to take advantage of such interests by making it more simple to connect volunteers and their choice causes. The app, which is free to download, is similar to the charity’s Web site, which allows volunteers to search for opportunities in their area.

Using GPS technology, the app looks up volunteer listings based on a person’s location, Rosenthal said. It will evolve over time to give people volunteer information based on what the phone itself already knows about the person.

“This allows us to more quickly give people things that are more relevant to them,” he said. “It filters based on what you care about. It’s so important to make it easy for nonprofits to connect with volunteers.”

Once a volunteer signs up for a nonprofit on the app, the charity will reach out to the person on its own. From there, volunteers can share charity information through their own social media accounts, Rosenthal said.

The app debuted at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas last month and had more than 400 downloads in its first week, Rosenthal said. The charity is working on creating versions of the app for other smart phones.

Los Angeles, Calif.-based MobileCause is making app creation and deployment less expensive and simple for nonprofits with its uGive software. Charities can launch their own iPhone app in just four steps, according to MobileCause President and Co-founder Daniel Scalisi. Nonprofits can upload video content and photos, link their Facebook and Twitter accounts, connect their text campaigns and self-publish using the platform, Scalisi said.

The app can be maintained and updated through the same steps. The software comes as part of a bundle from MobileCause, which includes text to donate and $5 and $10 text to give campaigns, for $99 per month.

“With an app, nonprofits are immediately exposed to a whole new audience,” Scalisi said. “We realize there is much more to a donor relationship than text messaging, and the trigger for us was the app marketplace was meaningful enough to pursue it. It was critical for us to make an app simple to create and deploy.”

Close to 35 nonprofits were using uGive at presstime, before its official release, Scalisi said. uGive is free to download and gives users access to all participating nonprofits. They can sort and save the nonprofits they want to learn more about and follow. Users can also share information about the charities with their Facebook and Twitter communities. Donations can be made in just two clicks, Scalisi said.

“It’s a far richer experience and it’s more personal, because (the phone) sits right in your hand,” he said. “It’s more immediate and simple, and the device is so much more pervasive and accessible than a desktop PC.”

Apps can typically cost charities upwards of $10,000 to create and hundreds to maintain. However, the ASPCA’s app was created free by the Treviso Media Group. The charity is not projecting to make a ton of money from the tool, Fortlouis said. Instead, the ASPCA is seeking to enter into the world of interactive marketing and gauge its success.

“The purpose of this is to get our foot in the water,” she said. “This will be cool for us, because we didn’t have to spend money on acquisition mailing, and we can reach out to people in a new way. We are very limited with our budget, so we want to figure out where else we can go with this.”

Although the nonprofit had not previously worked with mobile fundraising, it did offer pet tips of the day through a text messaging campaign. Fortlouis said nonprofits are often limited during mobile campaigns, because donors can only give up to $10 and charities cannot access their home or email addresses to cultivate a relationship with them. Such is not the case with a smart phone app, which will allow the ASPCA to access the users’ contact information.

Text-to-give campaigns will not completely disappear in the wake of newer technology, such as charity phone apps, is7.com’s Cathey said. However, they will become more advanced and give donors more options.

Many donors and nonprofits become frustrated with such campaigns because the donation amount is limited and it can take up to 90 days for a charity to actually see the money raised. “The fact is that organizations forget that a donor only has one relationship with them; they don’t have email, direct marketing or text-to-give options to choose from,” Cathey said.

“Organizations have to use analytics to figure out how donors want to engage with them. If you want to be the recipient of a donation, then you better make it quick and easy for donors,” she said.

Roeding said charities should get in the app game as soon as possible to take advantage of mobile technology’s vast user base.

“It’s embedded in your daily life,” he said of mobile technology. “As a nonprofit, people are in love with what you do, but there are only so many people who are directly engaged in your charity.”

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