Using Apps to Help Microfinance Political Campaigns and Charities

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There’s an interesting trend in the mobile industry right now of using apps to microfinance political campaigns and charitable donations. The idea is that you launch an app that gets your message and donation button in front of as many mobile eyeballs as possible. Mobile is a great market for conspicuous consumption and apps are a good way to tap into the market. So how do you best campaign on mobile, raise awareness and solicit donations?

Ron Paul app
UPDATE: This screenshot is from the Ron Paul Wallpaper app for Android. I was talking to the developer of the app which became the impetus for this article. I was also inspired to write this based on Alex Kinsella’s article about tips to monetize and market your app.

If you’re looking to build an app to microfinance a charitable cause or political campaign, here are some tips:

1. Make it free – Raising awareness requires you get the app in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Making the app free lowers all barriers to entry and lets you circulate the app as much as possible. If you’re a developer that is looking to get the costs of the app covered, find other ways to monetize the application such as in-app advertising or white labeling it to a charity/campaign.

2. Donations must be verifiable and efficient – On BlackBerry, there are several apps out there that are raising money for charities. Many of them are themes promising to donate the profits or a percentage of sales to the cause. The problem with these apps, is that the donations aren’t verifiable and the definition of “profit” is relative. Also, these apps are not exempt from the manufacturer’s 30% cut so the money is very inefficient. The BBC Children in Need theme is a good example of how to create a charitable theme, as it simply provided a link to the donate page.

S4BB uses a service called Mobile Giving to ensure the funds are properly donated through the application. Funds are donated via SMS messages to the appropriate charity and S4BB just created the pipe. The Help Haiti Now app by S4BB can be downloaded in App World at this link. Before you donate, you should also do some research yourself into the charity and make sure it’s efficient with its donations. For example, Wyclef Jean’s charity Yele only gave less than a third of its donations to relief efforts and $1 million was paid to a Florida firm that doesn’t seem to exist.

3. Keep the user engagedPolar Mobile made an app for WWF Canada and it does a great job of connecting the user with the cause. The app provides news feeds such as media releases, blog posts, and Twitter. By updating someone and keeping them informed, you’re more likely to receive donations. You can download the WWF Canada app for your smartphone at this link.

4. Make it social – Social is a good way to spread word about your app virally. By including links to a facebook page, twitter account and updating them frequently, you’re giving your userbase a chance to share the message. Social is also a good way to aggressively tap into networks. Presidential candidate Rick Perry uses a rewards platform called CALYP to leverage the social networks of its users. There are other ways of tapping social networks, such as integrating with facebook’s Open Graph. The platform has worked very well with digital content, and could work for charities or political campaigns as well.


An incredibly convoluted explanation of CALYP (YouTube link).

5. Make sure it’s approvedApple has a policy against apps that raise donations but you can get around this by taking the donation out of the app onto a website. It should be clear to the smartphone manufacturer and the user that the money is going through a verified and trusted source. If you’re taking donations with in-app payments, you could see your app denied from iTunes.

If you’ve got any tips of your own, feel free to share.