What Makes for a Really Great Application for Non-profit Organizations

Statistics show that people strive to make our world better: In America alone, $114 billion was donated to charity in 2017. The number of nonprofit organizations grows every year. World Cleanup Day, a large environmental event held by the Let’s Do It! foundation, gathered 15 million people in 2018 to clean our planet of waste.

There are thousands of nonprofit organizations, and each serves a particular purpose. For instance, the Red Cross handles emergency planning and management, the Care foundation raises money to provide Pakistani children with good education, and the Let’s Do It! foundation handles a large annual environmental event called World Cleanup Day. There’s no single formula for creating an app for all nonprofits, but there are a few common elements that help these apps succeed.

We’ve created a list of tips for building a top-notch app based on our experience building the World Cleanup app and deep analysis of top apps for nonprofits.

How can apps solve problems of nonprofit organizations?

You should carefully weigh all the pros and cons of creating an app, since nonprofit organizations often have limited budgets for development. Let’s find out what advantages an app can bring to a nonprofit.

  • Encourage donations

By creating an app for donations, you enable volunteers to do good deeds in just a few taps and hence encourage them to contribute more.

This is proved by recent statistics. According to the 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report, 54 percent of respondents prefer to give online with a credit or debit card. What’s more, people tend to donate more via mobile. In 2018, the average mobile donation was $167, while the average donation for traditional text-to-donate campaigns (where people need to send an SMS to donate money) was $107, according to Nonprofits Source.

  • Raise awareness

The time when charity organizations raised awareness by distributing flyers and going door to door asking for donations has passed. Sending emails and text messages is still common but is losing popularity as an acquisition channel.

According to Nonprofit Source, 25 percent of volunteers use smartphones and tablets to discover nonprofit organizations.

Creating an app makes it much easier for volunteers to find your organization online, and with a well-made marketing strategy, you can make many more people pay attention to the problem your organization wants to solve.

  • Engage with volunteers

One more important purpose of a mobile app is to retain volunteers and encourage them to contribute regularly. Avoid situations when people download your app and delete it after one use. With the help of several tricks, you can retain users and turn volunteering into an exciting journey. We’ll unveil these tricks below.

  • Manage large social events

Thousands of large social events are organized and held by nonprofit organizations every year. Some of them are held annually, so creating an app for such events lets you keep in touch with volunteers throughout the year and make volunteers contribute regularly.

For instance, we recently worked on the second version of the World Cleanup app. This app managed millions of volunteers on World Cleanup Day, held on 15 September 2018. The Let’s Do It! Foundation expected 15 million people to clean up waste all over the world on that day. With the help of the app, people knew for sure where waste was and then deleted cleaned trashpoints from the map. This helped the organization to achieve maximum effectiveness.

If your nonprofit focuses on finding volunteers for events organized by other organizations, consider building a platform. Volunteer Match, for instance, created its own web platform where other nonprofits can create events and recruit volunteers.

What makes a great app for nonprofit organizations?

To reap all the benefits of an application for nonprofits, you should think over details and find ways to attract and retain volunteers. Here are top things you should carefully think through to make your organization prosper.

Stage 1. Design

#1 Clear and user-friendly UI/UX design

There’s no denying that an app’s design is what make users either close it and delete it or continue exploring it. Make your app’s design clear and predictable so that users have no need to spend additional time figuring out how it works.

Based on our experience developing the app for World Cleanup Day, we can share the following tips for creating an appealing design:

  • Place top-level and frequently used actions at the bottom of the screen where they can be comfortably reached for one-thumb interactions.
  • Choose bright colors and don’t go overboard adding too many design elements on a single page. In most apps, each action has a separate tab with a minimum of elements. This ensures that users won’t be distracted from completing the main action.
  • In the same way, don’t go overboard adding too many design elements to your web app. Navigation should be simple and not lead people astray.
  • Cute illustrations make your app more appealing. Both the mobile and web apps for the Cleanup Day app are full of bright illustrations created by a volunteer. Check them out!
Illustrations in the World Cleanup app

[Illustrtions in the World Cleanup app]

#2 Data visualization

With a lot of data about transactions, donations, and user actions, you need to measure the performance of your app.

Data visualization can be useful for both app owners and app users. For app owners, data visualization is a convenient way to see how an app affected donations, awareness. etc.

App users can be incentivized to take an action and feel like part of a large movement. In ShareTheMeal, an app created by the United Nations, there’s a tab that shows the number of meals shared and the number of users who have donated. To date, 32 million meals have been shared and one million users have donated. These stats are really impressive and can encourage people to join this massive movement. In the same way, the Burn to Give app shows stats about calories burnt and meals delivered.

Statisctis in apps for NPOs

[Statistics encourage people to contribute]

Stage 2. App development

Tooling is an essential factor in your app’s success. We have several tips here.

Choose APIs carefully. Application programming interfaces, or APIs, are ready-made solutions for common development cases that are provided by large tech companies. While developing World Cleanup, instead of creating and drawing a map by ourselves, we used the Google Maps API. It accelerated development and cut costs.

Integrate a payment gateway. If you have a donation app, be sure that users can donate money effortlessly. For this, implementing a payment gateway is a must. The most common payment gateways are Braintree, Stripe, and Adyen. For convenience, allow users to donate via Google Pay, Apple Pay, credit and debit card, and PayPal. With an integrated payment gateway, ShareTheMeal lets people donate in a few taps.

Read also: Mobile App Payment Gateway Integration

In-app payments in ShareTheMeal

[ShareTheMeal has various payment methods]

Ensure that the app works smoothly under high load. There are lots of people working to make our world better. So be sure that your app can handle a lot of simultaneous users. We faced this issue while developing the World Cleanup app. More than one million users were expected to use the app simultaneously, but the first version couldn’t handle such a high load. We discovered that this was due to a problem with the database, so we migrated from CouchDB to PostgreSQL.

Provide device compatibility. If you want to reach millions of people, be ready for them to use the app on different devices. While this isn’t a big deal for iOS devices, Android fragmentation can be a real issue for developers.

Techopedia explains Android fragmentation as the situation when Android SDK’s apps created for specific devices don’t work properly on other devices. For instance, an app may work seamlessly on Xiaomi devices with MIUI, while it may have compatibility problems on OnePlus devices with Oxygen OS. Different screen sizes is one reason why, for instance, an app that looks great on Samsung devices may look odd on HTC devices.

To help developers solve this problem, the Android community has created a detailed guide on how to support different devices. While developing the World Cleanup app, we faced the problem of device compatibility. The legacy tool used for the first version of the app was Expo. For some reason, it failed to provide location tracking properly for devices by some vendors including Xiaomi and OnePlus. We solved this problem by migrating to React Native, which handles device fragmentation better.

Make your web app responsive. As for web app development, responsive design is vital. Ensure that your web app will work seamlessly on desktops and mobile devices.

Stage 3. Turning users into enthusiastic volunteers

#1 Onboarding

CleverTap claims that 77 percent of mobile applications lose active users in the first three days after installation. Onboarding helps decrease abandonment by demonstrating an app’s value right after it’s installed.

There are different ways to teach volunteers how to use your app. For example, you can create slides that onboard users, like in the Simply Blood app for donors by the Change With One foundation.

Onboarding in Simply Blood

[Onboarding in Simply Blood]

When Simply Blood is launched for the first time, it shows colorful tabs with illustrations describing all the benefits of using the app and becoming a blood donor.

Charity Miles is an app that lets users earn money by walking and then donate it to charity. This app onboards its users with the help of a chatbot. The chatbot asks users questions: whether they’re a new or returning member and what organization they choose to donate to.

Onboarding in Charity Miles

[Charity Miles uses chat to onboard users]

But there’s a flip side of the coin. Some users may be annoyed by onboarding or may be downloading an app for the second time. To solve this problem, allow users to skip onboarding.

#2 Show gratitude for what volunteers do

An appealing design and good performance doesn’t guarantee that volunteers will use your app regularly. The way you communicate with volunteers is also of great importance. Don’t forget to tell users how much you appreciate their good deeds. ShareTheMeal does this by sending cute messages like “We are grateful for your gift!” each time someone donates.

Cute messages in ShareTheMeal


#3 Let users cooperate and compete

Besides being part of a great movement, people want to gather in smaller groups sharing the same interests or goals. For that, most charity applications allow users to create and join teams.

In the World Cleanup app, teams are geared toward cleaning waste in a particular area, usually in a particular country or city. Charity Miles has running clubs for Harry Potter fans and women with small children.

In Blood Donor, an app created by the Red Cross, users can join teams based on universities, workplaces, and other groups they’re part of. What’s the point of creating teams? The Blood Donor app tracks statistics for each team’s contribution and shows a ranking of teams. In this way, the app awakens a competitive spirit, encouraging volunteers to contribute more.

Teams and team rating in Blood Donor

[Teams and their rating in Blood Donor]

#4 Gamification

Turn volunteering into a fun experience by adding game mechanics to your app. The most common type of gamification in apps for nonprofits is an achievement dashboard. After users do a certain action or number of actions, they receive colorful badges or stickers. These elements can increase enthusiasm and serve as an additional incentive to contribute.

Blood Donor has several types of achievements related to actions (donating, inviting friends to the app, joining a team, donating on New Year’s or St. Patrick’s Day, etc.). Burn to Give, a similar app to Charity Miles that includes all types of physical activities, gives achievements depending on the number of donations, amount of sharing, and number of workouts. ShareTheMeal stands out thanks to its beautiful illustrations for achievements.

Achievements in ShareTheMeal and Blood Donor

[Increase enthusiasm by adding achievements]

#5 Let users create their own events

For applications that handle large social events, enabling users to create their own events is an essential part of increasing user engagement. With the second version of the World Cleanup app, users are able to create their own events by choosing a date and time and adding trashpoints to clean. Thanks to this feature, the app is useful not only on the official World Cleanup Day.

Create events in the World Cleanup app

[New feature that lets users create their own events]

#6. Help users organize their work

When you develop an app for events, take a few steps to help users organize their events. Integration with Google Calendar makes sure users never forget about important events, such as a blood donation appointment. You can also implement push notifications to remind users about events.

Read also: 3 Essential Types of Push Notifications to Inspire Loyalty from Your Users

A to-do list is another useful feature if volunteers are supposed to complete a sequence of actions. For instance, during a large event, volunteers might need to arrive at the meeting point, get equipment, clean point A, then clean point B. With a to-do list, it’s easier for them to see the scope of work.
Another convenient feature that may be considered core in some apps is a map. In the World Cleanup app, a map helps users navigate during events. The app also enables users to take photos of waste to make it easier to recognize areas that need to be cleaned.

Stage 4. Reaching more people

No matter how great your app is, no one will use it if no one knows about it. That’s why in addition to creating an app you need to create a strategy for how to make more people know about your app.

Oftentimes, nonprofit organizations have no budget for marketing, so SMM and word of mouth are the best marketing channels.

Enable users to share their experience on social networks. World Cleanup lets users share events on social networks and messengers. ShareTheMeal offers users to tell their friends on social networks about their good deeds. Blood Donor asks volunteers to “Encourage others to donate” by sharing a link on social networks and messengers or via email. And of course, there are achievements for sharing.

Share feature

[Let volunteers share their experience]

How to make an outstanding app with a tight budget

We won’t lie to you — app development can cost a pretty penny, so one of the main concerns that stops nonprofit organizations from developing an app is money. We understand this concern and have several tips for you.

  • Start with a minimum viable product

Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) means that you develop an app with a minimum set of features to get feedback from users and catch the interest of sponsors.

Charity Miles is an app sponsored by several large companies including Johnson & Johnson, Del Monte Fresh, Brooks Running, and Blueprint for Athletes. That’s where the money users earn from walking comes from. Most nonprofit organizations get money for development from their sponsors. So showing them an MVP of your product can be an ace up your sleeve.

Discover more: Build an MVP Right: What Does the Platform Economy Driven by Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber Teach Us?

  • Use ready-made solutions

We’ve already talked about how APIs can shorten development time and hence cut costs. Today, there are a great variety of libraries, frameworks, and APIs for common development problems. Don’t reinvent the wheel; use ready-made solutions for your product. Choose APIs from well-known companies that have good documentation and support.


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