What nonprofits should know before developing a mobile app

Lots of nonprofits are drooling over the prospect of having their very own mobile app: the potential for reaching an untapped market of donors and volunteers is extremely appealing. And while I applaud any nonprofit that takes the initiative to develop an app (which is neither an easy nor inexpensive feat), there are a few issues you need to be aware of first.

This past week, it was revealed that Apple would no longer allow charities to take donations through iPhone apps. Their rationale is that they can't verify the donations are actually going to the charity they claim to be going to, and while that seems logical on the face of things, it presents a major roadblock for nonprofits seeking to build their donor bases. So if your app's primary purpose is to solicit donations, you may want to rethink your strategy, and consider creating something that encourages volunteering, activism, or awareness-building instead. Or you may want to consider developing your app on another platform, which brings me to my next point.

Apple isn't the only game in town. Despite the hype, Blackberry actually remains the top smartphone platform. And the Android operating system (think Motorola Droid, Google Nexus One, HTC, etc.) is coming up in the world, though it still owns a comparatively small market share compared to either the iPhone or Blackberry.

But while it may seem logical to develop your app for Blackberry to get the largest piece of the smartphone pie, unfortunately developing apps for the Blackberry platform is notoriously difficult and expensive, with few developers specializing in the platform and too many different models and screen sizes on the market, which makes development and testing tricky, though certainly not impossible.

Armed with the caveats above, where does this leave a nonprofit who wants to reach the mobile market? The good news is, if you really want an iPhone app and aren't worried about the lack of donation options, or if you'd like to develop an app for the Android platform, it's relatively easy to find a developer to help you do the job. More and more people are specializing in mobile app development for the iPhone and Android systems. And even if you don't want to develop your own app, but want to have a presence in the smartphone realm, you can integrate with one of several apps already in existence that cater to a variety of nonprofits, like The Extraordinaries or CauseWorld. You can also spend some time working to optimize your website for mobile screens, or make a simple app from your blog's RSS feed with one of the many DIY app building utilities out there.

Additionally, you can look into mobile giving through text messages. Several companies now specialize in making it easy for people to donate to your cause through their cell phones (look at the success the Red Cross had with their Haiti initiative), and most phones, regardless of carrier or platform, have the ability to send text messages.

What's your nonprofit's mobile strategy?