Earlier this year at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, I found myself seated for lunch with Heather Mansfield of Nonprofit Tech for Good. I was surprised to learn from Heather that her older book on social media marketing outsells her latest book on mobile marketing for nonprofits. This was curious: why aren’t readers keen to access the latest information about digital and mobile marketing? I invited Heather to answer a few of my questions to shed some light on why you should be – and luckily for us, she accepted!

Mobile marketing for nonprofits: expert interview with Heather Mansfield

1. What does mobile marketing mean? What forms can it take?

Many nonprofits still associate the term “mobile marketing” with text messaging and text-to-give technology, but mobile marketing and its tools have expanded significantly since the Haiti Earthquake in 2010 when text-to-give and text messaging rose to popularity. In 2010 and 2011 a few nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross and the Humane Society of the United States, were successful at raising money and awareness through texting, but most nonprofits were ill prepared to utilize texting effectively. There was a rush to sign up and use the tools, but very little strategy or understanding of how, when, and why to utilize texting and text-to-give. That’s unfortunate because texting and text-to-give could be very effective – even still today, but their poor implementation and subsequent failure led to the premature conclusion that ‘texting and text-to-give does not work.’

In 2010 only 27% of Americans had a smartphone so most of the early adopter nonprofits of texting and text-to-give could not yet conceptualize how mobile content, such as responsive donate forms, petitions, and articles, could fuel successful text-to-give campaigns. Even today with 64% of Americans owning a smartphone, that connection has not yet been widely made. The problem with texting and text-to-give is not that it couldn’t work, but rather that it rose and crashed too quickly and now few nonprofits are willing to invest and experiment with texting and text-to-give.

Fortunately, in 2015 the nonprofit sector is starting to understand mobile marketing more broadly. In general, nonprofits were slow to embrace mobile marketing – again, primarily because until recently mobile marketing had been narrowly defined as text messaging and text-to-give – but today most large nonprofits are making investments in responsive design for their website, blog, donate forms, and email campaigns. They are shifting budgets to invest more in social media and visual content. Today, social media is now primarily a mobile experience and no matter how your donors or supporters access the Internet, visual content is crucial for storytelling and fundraising success. In reality, the Internet has fundamentally changed over the last five years, yet most nonprofits don’t quite understand how transformational the rise of mobile devices has been or what is required of them to prioritize mobile marketing.

2. Why does every nonprofit need to include mobile in their marketing communications mix – or do they need to?

Many nonprofits are already experiencing more that 50% of their website traffic as mobile traffic and if they have not, the time will come. If a donor, supporter, volunteer, or foundation cannot read your content or respond easily to your calls-to-action on a two-inch screen, then your online communications and fundraising campaigns will fail. Every nonprofit needs to prioritize mobile marketing no matter their size or their donor base. People of all ages access content on mobile devices – not just millennials or Gen Z. Gen X and baby boomers are quite savvy on mobile devices and they are driving the growth in online giving.

When it comes to mobile marketing, I hear too many excuses and not enough forward thinking. The rise of social media has in many ways set up the expectation that technology is now supposed to be free or very low-cost, but we all now know that social media is not free and when it comes to online technology, you get what you pay for. To embrace mobile marketing, a financial investment is required. The good news is that investing in mobile marketing will pay off over time. Many nonprofits are losing thousands of dollars a year in lost online donations due to mobile incompatibility, but nonprofits must be willing to make investment upfront – and the sooner, the better.

3. How do mobile considerations affect a nonprofit’s content strategy?

With approximately 50% of website traffic now occurring on mobile devices and approximately 65% of referral traffic on social networks coming from mobile, nonprofits need to first prioritize launching a new website that is responsively designed, including your blog and all online donation forms and calls-to-action. Also, with two out of three emails being opened first on a mobile device, nonprofits need to invest in a mobile-first email strategy.

To the nonprofits currently unwillingly to make the financial investments in mobile, I remind them of the 1990’s when all nonprofits had to launch their first website at exorbitant cost. Like the 1990’s, we are at another watershed moment in the short history of online fundraising and cause awareness where investments must be made. That is a hard truth that executive staff need to hear and take to heart.

Finally, being successful with mobile marketing requires nonprofits to monitor the ever-evolving app economy very closely. The utilization of smartphone apps by nonprofits is very similar to the adoption curve of text messaging and text-to-give. With the release of the iPhone in 2007, in the years immediately after, a few early adopter nonprofits launched their own apps, but as we have learned people don’t want to open an app just to read your blog or make a donation. Your app has to have a hook and a unique purpose and consequently, the vast majority of those early adopter apps failed. The trend to launch an app for your nonprofit rose as fast as it crashed, and again, unfortunately many nonprofits have the misconception that smartphone apps don’t work for nonprofits.

In reality, the app economy is in its infancy – in the womb even – and the apps that will work and transform nonprofit mobile marketing likely haven’t been invented yet and these to-be-released apps will work on desktops, SmartTVs, smartwatches, and the smart-whatever-is-next in the Internet of Things market. Nonprofits should be paying very close attention to the evolution of apps. They need not launch their own apps (but in some cases, yes they should), but apps will play a crucial role in mobile marketing in the next decade/century.

4. What are the dangers of ignoring mobile?

Clearly, after everything said above combined with the reality that there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, ignoring mobile is detrimental to the existence of your nonprofit. It sounds dramatic, but it is true. The nonprofits with the best digital strategies will survive the next decade. Gen X pioneered online giving and they are hitting their peak income earning, thus giving years. Millennials have never written a check and Gen Z has been using tablets and smartphones since they were in the cradle. A good leader today sees the future for what it is based upon the data. Mobile is the future and the future is now.

5. Do you have any tips on starting points or helpful resources?

MobileForGoodCoverMy book Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits is 265 pages of mobile marketing strategy. It covers in detail responsive design for websites, blogs, email, and online fundraising. It also discusses apps, texting, text-to-give, and digital wallets. There are 8 chapters on social media from the mobile-first viewpoint and by the end of the book you should have a written 10-page mobile and social media fundraising and content strategy for your nonprofit.

But here’s the crazy thing: my first book, Social Media for Social Good, sells better even though it is terribly out of date and has no mention of “mobile marketing.” Mobile is not even discussed.  Mobile for Good is a much better book, but the fact that the word “Mobile” is a turn-off to potential buyers speaks volumes about the nonprofit sector’s reluctance to invest in mobile. I rarely hard-sell my book(s), but a $25 investment inMobile for Good will save you thousands in consulting costs and to date is still the only book written specifically for the nonprofit sector about mobile marketing. The only one! Crazy, huh?


HeadshotHeather Mansfield is the principal blogger at Nonprofit Tech for Good and author of the best-selling books Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits and Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits. She also created and maintains the “Nonprofit Organizations” profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube which cumulatively have more than one million followers. Heather has twenty years of experience utilizing the Internet for fundraising, community building, and advocacy. To date, she’s presented more than 100 social media and mobile media trainings throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Southeast Asia as well as over 500 webinars to audiences worldwide.

Heather was honored as a “Fundraising Star of the Year” by Fundraising Success Magazine in 2009 and was placed on Twitter’s Suggested User List from 2010 to 2012. She was also named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Twitter Feeds of 2013 and currently serves as an Honorary Ambassador for the World NGO Day Initiative.

Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira

Communications advisor and copywriter at moflow
Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.
Marlene Oliveira
Marlene Oliveira