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American Cancer Society: Mobile more than just a fundraising tool

February 17, 2011

American Cancer Society values the mobile medium

WASHINGTON – Having already launched text-to-give initiatives and two applications for Apple’s iPhone,  an American Cancer Society executive at Nonprofit Mobile Day said the organization is ramping up its mobile efforts to engage potential donors and drive donations.

A year ago, the organization took stock of its mobile initiatives, and found its expertise to be minimal, its vision vague, its resources limited and its sense of urgency lacking. Fast forward one year and ACS has an official mobile strategy plan focusing on seven major project areas, new vendor relationships and staff assignments, support from leadership and a dedicated budget.

“If you don’t have your mobile phone right now, you’re probably feeling really uncomfortable and nervous like you forgot your shoes,” said Miles Orkin, San Francisco-based national director of Web and mobile at American Cancer Society. “For a nonprofit organization, that’s really important, because we’re not just trying to touch people in their pockets books, but in their hearts.

“I actually keep my phone next to my heart, and the ubiquity of mobile is important for reaching out to people,” he said. “You need to understand mobile now, because it does take time to launch initiatives.”

“Mobile programs can help you accomplish your mission goals—it adds credibility to what you are doing in the space and opens up new opportunities for partnerships and even funding.”

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide community-based volunteer health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Its Web site is at

Why does mobile matter?
There are nearly as many mobile subscribers as there are people in the United States.

Mobile devices are rarely, if ever, beyond four feet away from their owners.

Hundreds of millions of Americans communicate and consume content on mobile.

Brands that understand consumer mobile behavior now will ensure success as the channel evolves.

Mobile offers unparalleled ubiquity, per Mr. Orkin.

There are 293 million wireless subscribers in the U.S., compared to the total population of 307 million. That equals a wireless penetration rate of 93 percent.

U.S. consumers are averaging more than 2.6 trillion minutes of mobile usage per month, and 25 percent of all U.S. households are now wireless-only, that is, without a landline.

There was an 85 percent increase in smartphone owners from 2009 to 2010 and a 57 percent increase in unlimited data plan subscribers over that same time period.

More than 89 percent of handsets operating on carrier networks are capable of browsing the Web.

Strategic plan
When crafting its strategic plan for mobile, ACS made it a point to create a programmatic approach, a blueprint to provide structure and vision.

The organization defined its priorities, components and initial projects, making sure to align with overarching enterprise objectives.

Mr. Orkin’s job is to ensure that ACS’s mobile initiatives are coordinated and consumer-friendly.

ACS has made it a point to integrate its mobile strategy into its overall digital strategy, where online and social media also play key roles.

The organization’s objectives for this year are to build up its mobile platform and the process, integrate mobile and educate in the enterprise, engage consumers and improve its mobile fundraising efforts.

In the project pipeline are an SMS platform launch, including special-event SMS and mobile giving, and additional applications for the iPhone.

ACS’s focus is on SMS, the mobile Web and applications, all of which can be used to drive mobile giving.

Best-practice tips
ACS advises taking a step-by-step approach to rolling out mobile initiatives—get started, identify goals, make the case, build the plan and launch the campaigns.

When formulating goals, nonprofits should look at income, list size, downloads, conversion rates, email opens, phone calls, brand awareness and buzz.

When building the plan, include tutorial material, align with the organization’s overall goals, address internal and external communications, provide realistic timelines and check with IT and legal first.

“You can’t base your mobile program on fundraising alone, Mr. Orkin said. “If you have a strong major gift program or a whole bunch of special events, not going to measure up to those at this point.

“Mobile can further your engagement and activation goals as well, which are also really important,” he said. “With mobile you can scale from global to super-local.”

Mr. Orkin

The audience at Nonprofit Mobile Day in Washington

Final Take
Mr. Orkin

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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