An Open Letter To Nonprofits

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This post was written by PwrdBy Founder Christopher Brereton. You can follow him on Twitter @PwrdBy


Time and again, I hear about organizations who've attempted to get their feet wet with new media, new technology, and specifically mobile applications that didn’t meet the desired outcomes. I've seen organizations spend $100k+ on building customized mobile apps that do not support the mission or objectives of the nonprofit. Afterwards, I hear these same organizations state that mobile "doesn't work for us." 

The truth is that technology is only as technically functional as the person using it. When I was a marketing director at a nonprofit, I was constantly exploring different ways to utilize technology to do my job better or quicker. Some things worked, while others didn't. But through this exploration I came to realize it wasn’t the tool that worked or not but rather my ability to effectively use the tool.  

Let’s use social media as an example. There is a huge divide between organizations that are effectively utilizing social media and those that aren’t. Organizations that “get it” leverage social media as a way to improve impact, enhance awareness and drive donations. A great example is the Surfrider Foundation. Its communication team heavily focuses on social media and tries to drive impact online. It does so a in a couple of ways, including:

  • Develops monthly communication themes and structures all social media around those themes 
  • Asks supporters for direct responses to things being posted online (via Facebook and Twitter)
  • Provides thought-provoking images and links that encourage people to read more ON THEIR WEBSITES

Through these efforts, Surfrider has been able to connect with over 300,000 supporters using Facebook and Twitter alone. This many users is a huge success for an organization relying on approximately 60 volunteer run chapters across the country. The key to this social media success is not that they use Facebook and Twitter, but rather HOW they leverage the tools to maximize impact.

At the same time, Surfrider does not represent the majority of nonprofits. Most nonprofits don’t effectively utilize social media. I won't point fingers, but the 2013 Nonprofit Marketing Report noted that only 51% of nonprofits surveyed found social media very important (36% found it somewhat important). But the truth is that social media is VERY important to nonprofit success in the digital age and underutilizing it can reduce your ability to fulfill your mission. I would argue that for most organizations, NOT using social media is irresponsible to the people that support their mission. 

Now let’s think about mobile applications. While some nonprofits have effectively harnessed mobile to support their mission, most are not effectively using mobile. I have seen organizations pay $100,000+ dollars to hire consulting firms to develop mobile apps without a healthy understanding of their mobile goals or how to leverage the tools effectively. This often ends in heavy resource involvement, as well as high costs for the organizations. It also reduces the likelihood that the organization will see a positive return, (on investment or impact) and sours the executive-level interest in mobility.

It’s not that I blame the nonprofits for poor mobile app development. It isn’t their area of expertise. Most nonprofits utilize resources to engage donors, meet with members of local or national communities, or execute on organizational functions (i.e., accounting or HR). This doesn’t allow for most nonprofits to build an entire technology department. So when the board gets the idea that apps are the future of the organization, the president or marketing director is left in a tough position: hire a team of expensive technology developers or outsource the task to an expensive consultant. 

That’s why PwrdBy created a third option: a mobile app platform. We created PwrdBy to provide affordable access to effective mobile apps. We do this by taking our in-house, pre-built mobile platforms and adapting them to meet your nonprofit needs that can be rolled out to every chapter across the country. By building off of our core platform, we’re able to reduce development time, decrease the spending required to build new tools, and share resources we create with the community!

We also deeply understand that you may not know what you want or know how to leverage the tools we have. That’s why we have a team with backgrounds in both the nonprofit and mobile consulting spaces. We understand the landscape, know the design possibilities, and are excellent coders. We get how people use their devices, why people choose certain apps, and how we can leverage existing tools to build strong, useful and engaging apps. 

We are constantly investing our time, ideas, passions and technical resources to help nonprofits brainstorm, design, and develop impactful mobile solutions. We also do most of it for free. For instance, we provide the following pro bono services to help nonprofits:

  • Published nonprofit technology articles and blogs
  • Think tank sessions and meetings on technology 
  • Event setup, fundraising support and sweat equity donations to hundreds of nonprofits across the country
  • One-on-one conversations with tech designers and developers 
  • Educational classes and seminars on technology in the nonprofit space

Why do we all these things for free? We do them because when done right we believe mobile apps can be a tool that drives massive impact for the nonprofit sector, and we want to bring that power to every nonprofit across the country. We are not powered by profit maximization. We are driven by maximizing impact for our stakeholders AND our shareholders. Our days are driven by the desire to build technology that changes the way you communicate, raise money, and make your impact. 

If you’re an organization that is actually moving the needle and thinking progressively, come join our cause. Help us push nonprofits forward. At the end of the day, we are here because of you. The name PwrdBy comes from our realization that we are “powered by” the positive impact your organization does for the world. Let us empower you to do what you do best: BETTER THE WORLD. 


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