iPhone as Fundraiser

Is there anything the iPhone can’t do?

Shazam figures out what song you’re listening to.  A pocket flashlight (not to mention a light saber) is only two taps away.  And Yelp can get the phone number, directions and even a review of the place you’re trying to find and meet your friends at in a quarter of the time directory assistance, Safari, Google or any mapping software can do it.

So, why wouldn’t our love affair with the iPhone help us make the world a better place?  Why wouldn’t our obsessive usage create perfect opportunities for capturing micro-donation portals to make contributions to the micro-finance or giving sites of Kiva or Global Giving?  What about a carbon calculator that lets you immediately link to an offset purchase equivalent to the inquiry? It would seem that millions of tiny donations could add up to lots of impact.    It seems possible, and even more so fun.  But does it really add up to a smart fundraising play?
Part of what makes the iPhone so magnetic (and what Apple is famous for) is the sheer simplicity, intuitiveness and delight you experience when you begin interfacing with each of the singular functions that each application features.  Mostly they are personal devices for entertainment or utility.  They draw you to your phone because you either need the info or you need a time killer.  The apps are sexy brilliant in their use of the technology and the format.  Every time we download a new app, we are sucked in, at least for a short time period.

The challenge for social ventures to monetize applications will be to determine if there is a big enough audience at the intersection of 1) organization loyalists and 2) iPhone enthusiasts.   This will require some thoughtful creativity and long-term dedication on behalf of the organization.  Which is to say that creating an iPhone app alone is only one piece of the equation –  how each app gets marketed and updated will be critical to its effectiveness.

Utility driven

Utilitarian apps that mimic real world behaviors or aspirations are fun but don’t really provide an opportunity for increased revenue over typical fundraising means e.g. if LiveStrong or Team in Training used their app to log training miles which in turn auto-updates to a web site which could in turn trigger emails to supporters when benchmark/contribution level training miles are achieved.  Interaction is driven by the participants because of how the app captures the innate achiever of the athlete and draws in that immediate gratification element the iPhone holds over all of us.  Beyond extended branded awareness, this idea is unlikely to draw in significant extra funds – but the concept works at all levels on the iPhone motivation chain.

Carbon calculators would fall under this description and could likely yield some interesting results should this be a topic that pervades our daily sensibilities.   A little calculation while filling up at the gas station, sitting in the airport, or even waiting for the bus all provide conceivable opportunities for using an app designed to attract monetary contributions.

Pure sponsorship

More integrated ideas that provide greater opportunity for fundraising come from sponsorship-driven formats and are more appropriate for bigger branded non-profits or even the social ventures that big brands support.

The easiest of the more advanced model is the “buy this app and all the money goes to X”.  For sponsorship partners of Susan G Komen for the Cure or any of (RED)’s licensing partners, this approach is a no-brainer.  They get ongoing eyeballs for the price of a (potentially free) web app (what if Starbuck’s tapped the “ibeverage” program app to give their customers the opportunity to chug a latte or chai tea – all on behalf of (RED)?).  Seasonal celebrities could leverage their buzz-ability by sponsoring an app and picking a charity as benefactor of the download (Shaun White are you listening?).

One-time wonders

A more difficult challenge comes from the need to truly use one app to draw the user back over and over again.  Perhaps an action (i.e. every new game) puts .10 cents in the coiffures of the group sponsored, essentially it’s the “play” factor that drives the contribution. Use of a mobile campaign could serve to drive users to either new apps or app updates.  Or you could use the app as part of a campaign that mixes promotional media (online, radio, print).  There’s a lot of fun and merit to this idea (contributions made during concert events where the whole audience has downloaded the band’s app, new apps launched during the NBA All-Star game).  But it’s not a total slam dunk and it could take an extensive marketing team to support it beyond a one-time event.

An answer to this could tap into the sheer playfulness factor of some of the most famous apps.   Koi Pond, iBeer and iSoda remain the most popular in the entertainment category.  What if Heifer International was the beneficiary of a game that involved milking a goat?  Not only does it educate the user but it serves in a silly way to highlight their work and drive awareness.  Heifer provides a range of farm animals (chickens, rabbits, cows) to families in need.   I think you get the idea….

Charity portals

Micro-finance sites like MicroPlace seem like natural opportunities but there is no individual behavior driver to invest spontaneously.  Investments are planned and rarely on-the-fly.  Monthly or other regular contributions are typically set up through bank accounts.  And the information updates relative to organizations supported are rarely desired when on the move.

There are only 4 million iPhone users in the marketplace right now which means that non-profits and other social ventures really need to look at the numbers to justify the efforts if for fundraising only.  But they should also not discount the platform as as another media tool to promote brand, bring communities closer to the cause and even educate – in its own silly iPhone way.

image credit: YouLookNiceTodayPhotography on Creative Commons