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Citymeals-on-Wheels drives 300pc jump in mobile donations using responsive design

July 16, 2014

Citymeals-on-Wheels created an effective nonprofit Website via trial and error

Citymeals-on-Wheels created an effective nonprofit Website via trial and error

NEW YORK – An executive from Citymeals-on-Wheels at Mobile Commerce Daily’s fifth annual Nonprofit Mobile Day said that donations made with mobile devices have increased by more than 300 percent since implementing responsive donation forms last fall.

In September 2013, Citymeals began using responsive donation forms that provides mobile visitors a user-friendly interface and simplifies the mobile giving experience, with over $40,000 raised through mobile devices. The executive said that a responsive Web design was a prerequisite for the program’s mobile success, as the relationship between donations and online engagement is playing an increasingly critical role in fundraising performance.

“To this day we guarantee that 100 percent of every penny from the general public goes to meal preparation and delivery; it’s a real point of interest and can be a challenge for us when we look at marketing dollars and what we can spend on marketing and administrative costs in general,” said Beth Shapiro, executive director, Citymeals-on-Wheels.

Diverse revenue streams
Keeping pace with the fast-growing mobile phenomenon and its global implications is both a challenge and a qualification for charitable success, per Ms. Shapiro. Nonprofits that fail to innovate to meet and exceed supporters’ expectations risk losing business from this large and growing market, as 25 percent of advocates discover nonprofits from their mobile devices, which equates to a mean 30 percent of Web traffic for any given charity, per Citymeals-on-Wheels.

Citymeals-on-Wheels raises private funds that bring weekend, holiday and emergency meals to homebound elderly New Yorkers who can no longer shop or cook for themselves. One of the country’s first public/private partnerships, Citymeals has provided 50 million meals since inception.

The nonprofit generates funds via special events, corporate partnerships, major gifts and now most prolifically, direct marketing and its Web site, which produced $1 million between 2013 and 2014.

The organization’s first non-transactional Web site launched in 1998, which allowed supporters to submit credit cards donations online, however those numbers still needed to be punched manually into a terminal to run the transaction by Citymeals.

A redesign in 2007 made it fully transactional and allowed the organization to begin to understand how to adapt its message to the Web. The revamped platform helped raise $176,000 in 2006, and increased almost twofold the following year, generating $321,000.city1_opt in 2007

The realization of the potential of the Web prompted a second redesign which made the site more user-friendly featuring rich visuals and seamless navigation to keep up with the advances in technology performance and improve engagement which correlated to higher sales.

city2011_opt today, redesigned in 2011

Text-based trial
Citymeals launched a mobile text-to-donate program in fall 2009 called “Text a Turkey,” which allowed anyone to donate $5 through SMS that the organization used to purchase a holiday meal.

Text a Turkey

Despite being tied to a multichannel strategy of print and radio broadcasting, the mobile giving effort was not a success and raised under $3,000. The nonprofit deemed this as atypical, and looked to the Red Cross as a business model. Donations to Haiti for earthquake relief were a watershed moment as $43 million was raised, with the vast majority coming from younger donors who had never given previously to the Red Cross.

“We thought this was going to be an unbelievable success, that we were going to have a room full of people and getting tons of exposure,” Ms. Shapiro said.

“And we did have some concern about the five dollar donation. At the time our online donation was averaging near $80, our offline donation over $150, so we were of course thinking we were reaching a new audience or additional giving from a current donor, but this wasn’t the case.”

Citymeals learned that text-pledging works best with a world, national or significant local emergency which drives both awareness and response, and thrives best in a large contained audience such as a concert, stadium game or other closed event. Broad exposure, preferably through media partners, also was seen as a gateway for success.

Apply lessons learned
Since then, the importance of Web fundraising as a revenue stream has grown to focus on mobile devices. The total value of all nonprofit mobile donations using PayPal was 242 percent higher in December 2012 compared to one year before. On Giving Tuesday alone, the total value of mobile donations through PayPal increased by 228 percent from 2012 compared with 2011.

In 2013, mobile traffic to the Citymeals Web site increased 36 percent compared to 2012, and 15.6 percent of overall Web site traffic came from smartphones and 8.58 percent from tablets. The charity has witnessed so far in 2014 that mobile traffic continues to increase, as 19 percent of overall Web site traffic coming from smartphones and 10 percent from tablets, up 49 and 42 percent over last year, respectively.

Today on mobile

Today on tablet

Over the remainder of 2014, Citymeals will move towards responsive email templates for all online communication, and plan for early 2015 to launch a redesigned and fully responsive Web site.
Responsive email

Nonprofit Web sites have come a long way in the last decade, and the most successful ones utilize a marketing mix of brand recognition and credibility to engagement, revenue and performance. Understanding what questions to ask and the top missions or considerations in a nonprofit Website design is the first step in making it a valuable asset that advances the cause and drives success.

“We have a diverse constituent base that we need to talk to. We need to talk directly to people who need meals, and their caregivers, many of which are not local and may be in other states,” Ms. Shapiro said.

“We have huge volunteer network that we needed to coordinate with and of course the donors, so we had to keep the message and look comfortable for all of those involved.

“The donation aspect was therefore key to our move to a new site and helped us establish what we could do there,” she said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Michelle Saettler is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer, New York. Reach her at

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