How the Global Mobile Revolution is Transforming Philanthropy

August 18, 2016 Heather Mansfield

This article was originally published on npENGAGE

In the late 1990s, I worked as a communications director for a small international development organization in San Francisco. When I came on board, the company’s first website had just launched, and my role was to create the first email newsletter and set up the site to accept online donations. The times were revolutionary. I was a young Gen Xer, empowered with a brand new Bondi Blue iMac® G3 desktop computer, that was emboldened by the belief that my generation was going to pioneer how nonprofits used the Internet.

In truth, we did change the world, and we did pioneer how nonprofits use the Internet. However, progress took longer than any of us thought it would. In reality, those early years of experimentation were mostly defined by failure. We learned that website traffic was earned, not a given, and effective email marketing required advanced skills and forward thinking.

As far as online fundraising success? It would remain elusive for a decade. Inspiring donors to give online is an art form that requires juxtaposed creative writing and design, along with a working knowledge of how altruistic human behavior is manifested and triggered online. It is a skillset that takes years to acquire.

Today, the vast majority of nonprofits have websites, use email marketing, and accept online donations, but the irony is everything that we have learned over last 20 years needs to be revised and relearned. Why? Quite simply, the release of the first iPhone® on June 29, 2007 (my 35th). To anyone and everyone reading this now, no matter your age or location in the world, you are about to experience—and hopefully help pioneer—the most consequential evolution in Internet technology yet: the Global Mobile Revolution.

The number of smartphone and tablet users worldwide is expected to grow to 6.8 billion by 2021. Today, it is 3.7 billion (2016 Ericsson Mobility Report). It has taken almost 20 years for Internet access to spread to 40% the world’s population, beginning with the release of AOL® dial-up in 1997. That number is set to nearly double in the next five years due to mobile technology. If your nonprofit has been procrastinating on embracing a mobile-first communication and fundraising strategy, you should hear the bells ringing loudly.

Must-Know Implications of the Global Mobile Revolution:


By 2021, 90% of Internet traffic will be mobile (Source: Ericsson®). Therefore, your website must be compatible with smart- phones and tablets. If your website—and blog— cannot be easily read on a two-inch screen, then it won’t be read at all. Investing in a responsive website that reshapes to accommodate the screen used for viewing is a necessary expense. There’s no way around it. The sooner your nonprofit makes the investment, the better.


More than 55% of emails are now opened on a mobile device (Source: Litmus®), and you can expect that percentage to grow steadily each quarter. Your nonprofit must have mobile-responsive email templates for newsletters and fundraising appeals. Think large, visually compelling photos and graphics, less text, and tap-able call-to-action buttons.


14% of donations are now made on a mobile device (Source: Blackbaud), and it’s guaranteed that your nonprofit is losing online donations if your donation pages are not mobile compatible. If it’s a frustrating experience for you to donate to your own nonprofit on a smartphone (hint, hint: test, test), imagine how your donors feel. Online giving continues to grow rapidly every year. Within five years it’s not too much of a stretch to predict that online revenue will account for 20% of your nonprofit’s operating budget.


54% of Facebook users log in exclusively on a mobile device (Source: Facebook®), and 83% of Twitter users are active mobile users (Source: Twitter®). Your nonprofit must approach social media from a mobile-first perspective. If your nonprofit hopes to convert followers into donors, embracing mobile technology is a must. That includes learning how to use Instagram® and Snapchat!


The mobile app economy is projected to double to $101 billion by 2020 (Source: VentureBeat). Thus far, the nonprofit sector has struggled to effectively use mobile apps for fundraising. However, as Apple PayTM, Android PayTM, Samsung Pay®, and other mobile payment systems increase in popularity, it’s just a matter of time until your donors will be able to give to your nonprofit with just two taps and a finger scan inside mobile apps. It’s also likely that mobile apps will evolve into Internet of Things apps that will allow tap-tap-scan giving through things, such as the new Family Hub Refrigerator from Samsung®. By 2020, there will be about 26 smart objects for every human being on Earth (Source: Intel®).

Get ready! The Global Mobile Revolution has just begun.



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