If you’re like over 50% of adults in the United States, you have a tiny computer on your hip at all hours of the day (and it probably rests within arms-reach while you sleep).

Chatting with my father-in-law the other night, he entertained me with stories of the computers he used during his undergrad engineering program. They stretched from wall-to-wall and somehow ran on punch cards. (Don’t ask a millennial like myself how this worked.)

The mobile revolution busts up old assumptions about reaching audiences. With just one mention of a nonprofit’s name, I can go to their website and form a first impression about their trustworthiness in seconds.

Mobile means we receive email seconds after they’re sent. Text messages interrupt even the most important of meetings. Digital screens are anywhere from thumb-size … to table-size.

And unlike an annoying email list, your organization can’t “unsubscribe” from the mobile reality. As marketer Katya Andresen says, people are already visiting your website “from their mobile device… The train has sort of left the station.

With our limited resources, nonprofits can’t afford to be careless about how we invest in mobile. Mobile marketing for nonprofits can be divided into three categories:

  • The Must-Do: Get a Nonprofit Mobile Website
  • The Should-Do: Send Mobile-Friendly Fundraising Emails
  • The Wish-You-Could-Do: Launch A Mobile Fundraising Campaign
  • Bonus: The-Shouldn’t-Do

1. Must-Do: A Nonprofit Mobile Website

Once you accept that hundreds of folks are already trying to find you on their tablets and smartphones, the logical next step is making their mobile experience as good as possible.

We recommend nonprofits upgrade to a mobile-responsive web design. Responsive designs adapt to the platform visitors are using, whether it’s a desktop, iPad or smartphone:

If your website is responsively designed, you only need to update and monitor one website. Just update your site as per usual and it will automatically adapt to make all visitor experiences awesome.

(We think awesome user experience should be an inalienable right.)

There are two viable alternatives to a responsive design:

  • You could make your existing website mobile friendly. This is just a normal site whose design elements try to avoid significant problems on mobile (e.g., making your call to action buttons larger and easier to click, spacing out your links, etc.)
  • Create a mobile-optimized website. This site loads when accessed via a mobile device. These sites are designed for a mobile, touch-responsive experience and exist in addition to your standard-variety website.

A nonprofit mobile website is vital because mobile browsers command 20% of all mobile app usage:

What’s that you say? Facebook represents about 18 percent of all mobile usage, too? You’re incredibly observant—and correct! If your nonprofit prioritizes capturing mobile audiences, the best Facebook page will be regularly updated and highly visual. Facebook optimizes your nonprofit page for mobile automatically–thought you’ll still need to be mobile-optimized if visitors use Facebook as a browser to find your site.

2. Should-Do: Mobile-Friendly Fundraising Emails

According to the 2013 eNonprofits Benchmarks Study, online fundraising increased by 21 percent in 2012, and a third of all online giving came from email fundraising.

Because mobile screen size is smaller than a desktop or laptop, text is harder to read. Links are more difficult to click on. Too much going on makes it hard to figure out where to focus your attention. The call to action (a.k.a., the thing that leads people to your website to donate) gets lost in the muddle.

The most important thing to remember: Mobile friendly emails are all about readability and clickability. In other words, the easier you make it to read your emails and click on the important parts, the better your email is.

One recommendation from Mike Snusz of Blackbaud: “Shrinking your email even from 600px to 500px width can make text easier to read.”

But there are many great ways to make email easier to read and click:

  • Keep font sizes large, san-serif and non stylized. No Comic Sans, please.
  • Short sentences, phrases and subject lines. Keep it snappy.
  • Don’t do too much. Think of your email like a landing page. Get them to click to your website–that’s where the fine details happen.
  • Only use single-column formats for best readability.

If you want more great tips, check out this infographic on the perfect, mobile-friendly email.

3. Wish-You-Could-Do: A Mobile Fundraising Campaign

Some of the most interesting work in the nonprofit fundraising space is being done via mobile channels–especially SMS-integrated campaigns.

Whether mobile fundraising brings the greatest impact in the fundraising space is questionable, however. Because mobile fundraising is basically in its infancy, it’s hard to measure the return on investment effectively.

If you’re the Red Cross responding to the Haiti earthquake disaster in 2010, you can quickly net millions of dollars in aid donations. But you’re probably not the Red Cross, so your resources look a lot different.

Nonprofits could do really cool things with a mobile-specific fundraising campaign–and more orgs will be doing them in the future–but for now, they’re a significant resource investment and unproven.

The cons:

  • Huge time and money investment (for now) for uncertain rewards.
  • You’ll have a lot of unsubscribers – SMS campaigns have an unusually high unsubscribe rate, probably because of rules requiring your unsubscribe option to be stated clearly in nearly every text message.
  • Limited fundraising options – services typically only allow $5 or $10 dollar donations via SMS.
  • Texting’s limitations as a medium – text messages cost money to send and to receive, and you have limited characters for your pitch (and some of those characters go to listing the unsubscribe options).

The pros:

  • With greater risk also comes greater rewards – early adopters have a strong advantage when a technology goes mainstream, and those with successful mobile campaigns stand to reap huge rewards.
  • The barrier to doing remarkable work is much lower. Because there are fewer competitors in the space, you will stand out. A mobile campaign might get you press that leads to traditional donations.
  • SMS strengthens your multichannel fundraising, deepening existing relationships.
  • Texts reach people directly, when it matters (like during a disaster or important event).
  • If you want to take the plunge, here are some examples of interesting mobile fundraising campaigns that nonprofits have executed.

Bonus: What Most Nonprofits Shouldn’t Do

Here’s a friendly suggestion: It’s dangerous to spend a bunch of money developing a nonprofit app.

Let’s be candid: Making an app is the sexy option, but it simply doesn’t pay off for a small-to-medium sized nonprofit.

87% of people still prefer to visit website via browser instead of org-specific apps. Furthermore, apps are a huge investment of resources, need to be updated constantly to adapt to shifting mobile platforms and requirements (thus, will require a dedicated team of workers) and will only be used by a tiny amount of your most loyal constituents.

You probably have better things to do than app-building–especially if you haven’t invested in any of the suggestions above.

What ways have you used mobile marketing for nonprofits? What has worked for your organization? What hasn’t? Comment below!