Charity mobile apps: what you need to know

Mike Creaven

Managing Director of Smartfitapps

Mobile Innovation Apps News

Mobile apps can help to boost donations, fundraising and volunteering activities, and can develop a new channel to keep your supporters engaged with your charity?. 

Managing a non-profit in Ireland requires a lot of dedication and hard work, whether it be coordinating fundraising events, collecting donations, selling charity goods or even making life easier for those in need.

A mobile app could make all these activities more efficient and effective. Mobile apps give you permanent brand presence on all your contributors’ phones, allowing you to reach out to promote your activities, sell products and collect donations.

With smartphone penetration heading towards 70% this year in Ireland, apps have become one of the most dominant and engaging platforms, ahead of web, mobile sites, SMS and email. Apps allow you to develop richer engagement, more flexible donations/business models and they can act as a call to action for your marketing campaigns, allowing you to build a customer database, which can then stay engaged through the app.

SMS vs apps

Although SMS has high open rates, it has limited functionality. It can prompt you to donate but may be only able to handle one donation model e.g. Donate €2. SMS can only handle micro donations and cannot deliver a rich content experience. In addition, each SMS has a cost and any donations via this channel have high operator revenue share costs of up to 30%.
On the flip side, mobile apps offer similar interactivity via push messaging but the user experience can be enhanced in the app itself with images, videos, audio, integration with your social media, process forms/registrations, display calendars, charts and more. In fact, the functionality is endless and can be customised to your requirements. Apps can also accept donations, from a single event to a recurring subscription of any domination and the transaction cost is similar to your online donation channel.

App in focus: National Council for the Blind in Ireland

Let’s take a look at an example: NCBI’s app prominently shows a rotating banner of their fundraising events on the homepage followed by a heavy focus on prompting for donations and a way for users to assist in fundraising and volunteering. The app features interaction with all social media platforms to allow users to share and encourage their friends to also support with donations and fundraising. These features really help to boost and automate income streams.

The app goes even further and also helps reduce NCBI’s office admin costs by allowing users to register for volunteering, for events and even sign tax back forms which can be automatically forwarded to It even shows on a map where all the NCBI charity shops are located and provides navigation instructions to users to get there. All these aspects dramatically reduce the admin and overhead costs of the charity. The app keeps users up to date with real-time funding progress bars and NCBI can stimulate engagement by sending push messages to users’ phones even when they are not actively using the app.

Not only are we seeing a lot of demand from non-profits for mobile apps we are also seeing major organisations use apps to coordinate their own internal CSR charity campaigns. For example, eir’s Road to L.A. app has similar features to the NCBI app but also includes mileage tracking for their various run events. They also added some gamification to the app by including a real-time leader board of how many miles/funds each fundraiser was contributing to the campaign.

Charity App FAQs

  • Why does my charity need a mobile app? Having a mobile app for your charity can help you achieve your main goals around donations, fundraising and sourcing volunteers. Apps can also deliver a positive user experience. Here are some examples of charities in Ireland using mobile apps.
  • Mobile responsive site or mobile app? Having both is best, particularly now that responsive websites are the norm. However, while having a responsive website is good it is no match to the benefits that a mobile app can bring to your charity. Apps can deliver superior user experiences and interact with the native capabilities of the phone (e.g. camera, accelerometer etc.). They are also a permanent presence on your supporter’s mobile phones. Most importantly, apps can support push messaging, which can be an inexpensive way to send messages to users’ phones. This can be used to stimulate donations during periods when you need them and communicate fundraising news/activities. Unlike websites, apps don’t rely on users to browse to them, instead they can push content out and act as a new channel to stimulate engagement with your charity.
  • We already collect donations through, and other similar sites, how would a dedicated mobile app add more benefit? Being on those websites is great, however, most of those sites charge a high commission on all donations made. Mobile apps can integrate with your website’s existing payment provider e.g. PayPal, Stripe or Realex, which means you don’t have to loose commission. Additionally having an app allows you to build your own donation business models and stimulate donations and fundraising by reaching out to people’s phones directly and having an instant call to action.
  • Will people forget about the app after they download it? The app will always be present on their phone with an icon, and as mentioned, you can use push messaging to generate app revisits. Push messages are highly effective; they are similar to text messaging but without the associated costs.
  •  Aren’t mobile apps really expensive? Traditionally, if you hired an app developer directly, mobile apps could cost as much as a car or more. Recent innovations though like Smart Fit Apps have automated app development to such a degree that this in no longer the case. These days you can get a free month trial of a mobile app and fund the app with a modest monthly fee for hosting and support (this fee keeps your app hosted, updated and working on all new phones as they launch). Moreover, because of this free trial and the immediate benefits provided by an app, most apps are revenue positive from day one, via enhanced donations, fundraising and volunteering activities all enhanced and coordinated through the mobile app. This means you can get started, trial an app for free and measure the benefits yourself before committing. You can then decide to retain your app once you see these benefits.
  • How do we promote our app once it is downloaded? It doesn’t matter how good your app is, if you are not promoting it, people won’t know it exists. You can promote your app on your website, in the footer of your emails, on your social media posts, and on your existing charity collateral. Doing this would only require you to download images and links (for the website and email footer) and QR codes (for print collateral). Separately, if you have the phone numbers of your existing supporter base you can send a text message with a link encouraging them to download your app. If you use a free Smart URL in this message it will direct the user to the correct app store suitable to their handset. These below-the-line methods can be very effective, but apps can also be used as the call to action for any above-the-line campaigns, or example, ‘download our app’ can be a call to action for any TV, radio or press ads also.
Check out our blog on how to promote your mobile app here for videos and further details of how to promote your app easily when developed. Go to for more.


Mike Creaven is managing director of SmartFitApps, maker of the Smart Appys app builder system []. Mike has 13 years’ experience working for a number of leading telecoms companies in Ireland, including Meteor and Vodafone Ireland, where he held various commercial, local and global marketing roles. During his time at these companies he managed teams for mobile apps, mobile advertising, social media, mobile data and content services, and devices, and was responsible for meeting seven-figure revenue targets on multiple propositions.

Michael has particular expertise in monetisation and mobile payments, including premium messaging, Charge2Mobile and NFC – all enabling factors in generating ROI on apps, web or other digital innovations via identification of new business models.

From Galway, Michael has a Bachelor of Business Studies in Marketing, and has chaired the IBEC Irish Mobile Operator Payments and Innovation forum between all operators in Ireland. Michael has also been a successful entrepreneur and director in two previous ventures.