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Going Mobile: A How-to Guide for Nonprofits

Look around you. Smart phones and tablet computers are everywhere! It’s no surprise then that non-profits are focused on making their websites mobile and developing apps to support their fundraising and communication initiatives.

Going mobile will increase your chances of reaching new supporters and engaging current ones. Are you on the bandwagon? If not, here are some tips to get you started at developing an app or making your website mobile.

Technical Considerations

It is important to know a few key distinctions before you begin. A mobile website is a version of your existing website that has been optimized for smartphone use. The practical implication of this, from a development perspective, is that mobile websites have cross-platform functionality: the site will work the same in iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system), Android or Blackberry. Apps, on the other hand, are software programs which are downloaded onto the phone or tablet, and may or may not have an interactive/internet component.

Regardless of which you decide to develop, the most important thing to remember may seem obvious: you are working with a platform and screen much smaller than usual. This works in your favour, as experts agree that mobile devices help personalize the user’s experience. Your challenge will involve keeping your design simple and intuitive. Use large buttons and text, as well as high-contrast graphics. Limit bandwidth by avoiding embedded sound or video; pages that are slow to load, even by a few seconds, will discourage users. Google has a useful development tool that allows you to see a mobile version of your website as you work on it.


As native software, apps can support a richer user experience with more graphics or sound. However, they are difficult to update, and most users won’t bother installing them in the first place unless they serve a clear purpose. A good example is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s popular Seafood Watch app which helps users make sustainable food choices when eating out or shopping. The app makes useful information readily accessible by limiting itself to a specific task. Consider what your organization does, and how your expertise can be helpful in people’s daily lives.

There’s no question that apps are trendy right now, and a lot of organizations may be tempted to rush into putting one out. But they can be costly to develop, difficult to update, and often will have a very narrow scope. If you can’t satisfactorily answer the question “What does the app do?” in less than one sentence, you may wish to develop a mobile website instead.

Mobile Websites

A good mobile website combines the functionality of an app with the robust content of a website. Of course, the specifics of your mobile website will largely be determined by what your organization does, who your stakeholders are, and the specifics of your overall communications plan, but here are three things every mobile nonprofit website should do:

  1. Make information about the organization easy to find. Again, keep your user foremost in mind: someone accessing your site on the go will be looking for different things than someone browsing from a conventional computer. Make sure the basic information about your organization (what you do and how to contact you) is up front and easy to find.
  2. Make it easy to donate. Make the “donate now” button easy to find and the donation process simple and straightforward.
  3. Make it interactive. Think about different ways to get visitors engaged in your cause in a fun way. If you are running a conventional marketing campaign, use QR codes (those square barcodes you see on advertisements) to create an interactive component.

Need inspiration? Check out “22 Nonprofit Mobile Websites” for some ideas to get you started.


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