October 21, 2013

Can an App Help You Build a Relationship?

It’s opening night. You step into the hall and onto the podium, and the audience erupts with applause.  After your third bow, their thunderous cacophony quiets. Silent expectation fills the space. You pick up your conductor’s baton and begin…

Well . . . not actually. The crowd, the hall, and the applause are all in your imagination. In your hand is your smartphone. On it, you, like 50,000 other people, have downloaded Bravo Gustavo, one of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s apps. The app turns your phone into a conductor’s baton; you set the tempo by tapping your screen. Even though the experience is all in your hand, it draws you into a closer relationship with the Philharmonic.

The Bravo Gustavo app, named after the Philharmonic’s new conductor, was launched in 2009. It is one of a handful of successful nonprofits apps. From their shortage, we know that creating successful nonprofit-sponsored apps is challenging. However, the strategy behind them, or at least the one behind Bravo Gustavo, is not.  This column will help you to develop “experience apps” at your nonprofit.                                                                                                              

What Is an Experience App and How It Works

An experience app is an opportunity for individuals or groups to be involved in a piece of your mission. In turn, the experience provides your nonprofit opportunities to grow relationships.  Experience apps work because they are rich in three ways:

1. Interactive

People are hungry for interesting experiences, learning, and immersion opportunities. Why else would people pay $250,000 for a seat on a space flight? Eat exotic new foods? Tour your site? In the case of the LA Philharmonic, their experience app uses social media to reach new audiences, augment live concerts, and encourage an appreciation of classical music.

2. Mission

An experience app helps draw people closer to your nonprofit’s mission by engaging their emotions. In the case of Bravo Gustavo, what audience member hasn’t imagined the power, joy, and fun of being the conductor?

3. Bottom-Line

Bravo Gustavo is free. However, 50,000 downloads translate into new relationships and enhanced branding for the LA Philharmonic. Increasingly, research is proving that social media involvement predicts other involvement.

Can You Create an App Experience at Your Nonprofit?

In all likelihood, yes. Here are three steps to get you started:

1. Real Life

Identify experiences around your mission to offer potential customers, donors, or community members. To create a list of ideas, think back. When you were new at your organization, what intrigued you? Think about it now. What intrigues current customers, volunteers, and newcomers? Think about the future. What would be fun to share? For example, a modern art museum decides to offer patrons the opportunity to create modern art. Patrons learn that it is fun to make art but not easy to create masterpieces.

2. Intentional Impact

One drawback of experience apps is that they tend to be isolated events. Your nonprofit needs ongoing long-term relationships. Therefore, to succeed with experience apps and reap their full value, plan in advance how your experience app will include invitations to do more with your nonprofit. What will you offer those charmed by the experience app who want more? Gustavo Bravo is helping to grow the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s brand and younger audiences. How will you link your app to your strategy to grow and improve your nonprofit?

3. Use Technology or Not

Your experience app may involve social media or not. Besides the Bravo Gustavo app, the Audubon Bird App, which provides a field guide with 820 bird species, uses technology. Another way to think about experience apps is to think out-of-the-smart-phone-box. In contrast, Heifer International’s travel packages involve attending emotionally satisfying Passing on the Gift® Ceremonies. During them, recipients of Heifer animals give a baby animal to other families. Likewise, Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, creates experience apps without technology. They enhance relationships and their major gifts program by inviting potential donors to interact with visiting guest lecturers.  What can you offer to help people experience your mission, using social media or not?

What kind of baton will you offer to your community?

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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