The world has gone mobile, so why hasn’t your foundation?


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by  Krista Jahnke, Communications Officer at The Skillman Foundation.  Fow along on twitter @kristajahnke or @skillmanfound.

Environmental portraits of the Skillman Foundation's staff at 100 Talon Centre Drive Detroit, MI 48207.The other day while watching TV and unwinding at home, I made a decision. I took my ever-present iPhone and set it about five feet away from me on the couch. There, I thought to myself. For the next 30 minutes, I’m just going to concentrate on this TV show.

This moment came back to me this week while attending the preconference workshop on mobile. It’s remarkable to think of how distracted by mobile our lives are, so much so, that to “concentrate” on a TV show I have to deliberately set my phone aside.

I don’t know if I like the fact that life is like this now. Is this hyper connectivity wearing us collectively out, the constant checking and downloading and liking and photographing and sharing and texting and Tweeting and mapping and Skyping? Maybe.

But for better or worse, this is our world now. As communicators for good, we have to acknowledge that and figure out ways to use it to advance our missions. We need to focus on the “for better” part of that equation and give people reasons to feel good when they can’t put the cell phone down, because they’re connecting into social movements that give them identity and a purpose much more powerful than besting their bros in Words with Friends.

Let me share some stats from our session, in case you’re not convinced that you should be thinking about a mobile-first strategy. The number of mobile devices will exceed the world’s population this year. With those, two thirds of all cell phone users will go online, up from 31 percent in 2009. Fifty-six percent of Americans own a smartphone, and 34 percent own a tablet.

As presenter Nam-ho Park stated, what would you do if you say a stock rising like that? You’d buy as much as you possibly can.

We need to buy in, because the audiences we’re trying to connect with are more and more finding our content through their smart phones and tablets. Some audiences in fact are getting almost all of their information online through mobile devices. If reaching less-educated, less-affluent, non-white or young audiences matters to your work, guess what? If your message isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s not reaching these people.

The question, once you’ve made it this far and realized you better get thinking about mobile, fast, is what now? Do you build a responsive design web site, which will reorient and condense itself for whatever screen the user has in her hand? Do you build a mobile-friendly web site, one designed to look its best on a small screen (think without clutter, stripped down, with the urgent, must-see navigation big and impossible to miss)? Or build a native app?

The answer, like it is to so many communication questions, is this: it depends on your communication goals and audience. But the presenters did give three guiding questions to answer for that last option, the app. There have been more than 10 billion app downloads from the Apple App Store, so no doubt, many a foundation CEO and board member have put a call out to their communications team to get their brand in on the app game. Before you plow forward, ask yourself:

Do we have the audience? Do we have a “use-case scenario?” And do we have valuable content?

In reality, even for people like me who treat a mobile device like a fifth appendage, apps tend to be hard to make stick. Think about how many apps you use on a daily basis. Park said the average is about five. So you need to know the answers to those questions before you make that investment.

If you have an engaged audience that identifies with your brand and looks to you frequently for a certain type of knowledge or information, check one. If you have the “use-case scenario” figured out, meaning you know the reason someone would need your app versus just going to your web site, check two. And then the Holy Grail: is your content relevant, useful, engaging, and fresh, something people will want to come back to again and again? Check three.

If there’s any big takeaway, it’s this: to think as soon as possible, and in every strategic communication discussion, how does mobile align with our mission? There’s no doubt that it does.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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