Monday, February 22, 2010

What matters about mobile?

(Photo by nedrichards. Flickr, Creative Commons)

So here we are, several weeks after text donations crossed from cutting edge to common place. I've been interviewed more times than I can count on what matters about text giving, and the real experts on social media and social good (Beth Kanter, Katrin Verclas, Allison Fine, Holly Ross, Geoff Livingston) have written, been quoted, held panel discussions, and written handbooks on the subject.

After all this good discussion, I've come to think that the question should not be "to text or not" but "what matters about mobile?" From the point of view of nonprofits, mobile gives them the opportunity to add a new location. Essentially, every organization in the world just got the opportunity to expand their footprint to include their current location and every mobile phone.

It may be like winning the location lottery. An organization can be where they are now and also on every one's mobile phones.* That might be through a text short code. It might be through an App. It might be by being on FourSquare or other geolocation services. Maybe NPOs should start tagging their service delivery areas on Google Maps? The possibilities are many - far more than "just" a question of getting text donation enabled. Of course, like winning the lottery, organization now have to make choices they never had to worry about before.

Mobile matters. It matters as a news source and distribution channel. It matters as a payment system. It matters as a marketing platform. It matters as an organizing tool. Yes, I know the "to text donate or not question" is complicated in and of itself. Sadly, it is also too simple a question.

*(Noting that more and more nonprofits are being born on mobile phones - e.g., Ushahidi, The Extraordinaries)


Anonymous said...

So to paraphrase what Charlene Li was saying two years (Social Networks will be like "air") - are you saying that mobile will be like air? Let me push back, are there instances when nonprofits should not be so enamoured with mobile?

Wonder what we'll be saying when mobile its the trough of disilluissionment?

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for writing in. There will, no doubt, be a trough of disillusionment for mobile. BUT, mobile phones as access to the cloud are not going away. The bigger short term problem is that there is not one easy on ramp from Mobile - your android phone uses different apps then my iPhone then someone else's windows mobile. That is a huge problem for everyone, not just nonprofits - Zittrain claims it to be the end of the internet as we know it.

As Americans catch up to the parts of the world that are already primarily accessing the internet via mobile being accessible via mobile will be critical.


Wendy Harman said...

I love the question "what matters about mobile" much more than "how do I sign up for mobile giving?"

There are so many more opportunities for nonprofits to fulfill their missions more impactfully via mobile (just like with social media tools). I love all the conversations starting to emerge around the idea that this could be more than fundraising (just like with social media tools).

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks Wendy!

Lisa Colton said...

Great post. In the coming months and years as everyone jumps on the mobile bandwagon, I expect the space will start to get crowded just like everything else. What can proactive nonprofits do now to make sure we build and maintain trust, and use this opportunity in ways that will position us for long-term success?

Also, do you know any firms/developers that specialize in helping nonprofit imagine and design (not just build) great mission-centric apps?

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for writing in. Tim Ogden has a good piece in this month's issue of Alliance Magazine about the kinds of conversations that we should anticipate as we move to mobile, and the expansion of what he calls Peer to peer philanthropy - P2PP. I don't know if it is online yet - it is out in the print edition

As for firms to help design the app - Zoetica comes to mind as a possibility. Others? Anyone?


Geoff_Livingston said...

As a Zoetica cofounder, we do help conceptualize, but don't build apps. It's a strategy play for us. There are many, many great developers who build fantastic apps. Adobe is actually coming out with a solution that will allow for Android and iPhone app development simultaneously (SP?), dramatically reducing costs.

Lucy: As someone who has had a history as a wireless reporter dating back 15 years now,I'd have to say the thing that most people don't get about mobile is it's unique properties as a stand alone medium. The screen size creates new behavior patterns...

We have finally hit a smartphone diffusion point where this matters. In turn this creates a fantastic new world of apps, which we as nonprofit communicators are just beginning to wrestle with.. It's the new frontier.

Unknown said...

Location is definitely good - although I do think Beth's 'air' comment is valid. It seems to me that mobile giving is evolving:

- Clearly TXT campaigns work in a crisis
- How do we evolve to day-to-day use?

I agree with Artez that mobile display is key as is increasing the % of donations that actually go to the cause.