Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 18 seconds

Location Based Applications & Nonprofits

giant-pinIt seems like everything has an app these days. With the incredible prevalence of smartphones, not to mention the use of the Internet and online social media platforms, there is practically an app for any situation. You can play games alone; you can play games with other people. You can do your banking; you can get paid. You can send virtual gifts; you can send real gifts. And you can tell people where you are and what you're up to the whole time.

Location-based apps, also referred to as location-based services, are those that are somehow related to where you are geographically. They are able to determine where you are and then offer some sort of opportunity to you based on that location. Oftentimes, these come in the form of a "check-in." When you arrive at a destination, you open your app and click on the name of the business or other location where you happen to be.

Location-based apps can provide other services, too, such as providing narration for a guided tour, coordinating an action among many people, or even to let family know where you are in case of an emergency. They can also help you locate businesses nearby that you might find interesting, share pictures with your network, or get travel advice on a trip.

More and more of these applications are being developed all the time, but some popular current examples include:

  • Around Me
  • Crowdmap
  • Facebook Places
  • Foursquare
  • Instagram
  • Urbanspoon
  • Yelp

(There's a really great list of location-based services on Glen Farrelly's Webslinger blog.)

Thousands and thousands of people are supporting this growing trend, so, it certainly makes sense for nonprofit organizations to wonder how they might be able to benefit from the creation and use of their own app. After all, there must be some sort of marketing potential if so many businesses are hopping on the bandwagon, right?


One of the biggest reasons that the check-in apps are so appealing to businesses (and potentially your organization) is because when users check in, they often share that information with others on their social networking accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. This means that the business or organization name shows up in the feeds of all of their friends and followers. Even better, the fact that the person checked in there can come across as an endorsement from someone who the followers/friends obviously trust.

Of course, there is also the advantage of building a relationship between your organization and those who come through the doors. The check-ins can help them take a bit of "ownership" for the organization and its mission. You may also be able to use their check-ins as a starting point for a conversation via social networking. If there's an opportunity, you can also provide something of value for the check-in, such as an instant discount or other promotion. Some businesses offer better and better deals based on the number of check-ins by an individual user.

Pros of Location-Based Apps
Some additional advantages of location-based services:

  • Buy-in from those who use the services builds "loyalty" and dedication to your organization or "brand."
  • Because your organization's information comes up when people are searching nearby, you can get "pull-in" traffic, especially if you're offering incentives or promotions.
  • You can find out who is in the area. When you check in via many applications, it will show you friends of yours who are also at the location. Great for helping people connect with one another at your fundraising events!

Cons of Location-Based Apps
Not everyone is comfortable using location-based services, for a number of reasons. In fact, it's only a very small portion of those online who are willing to utilize them. There are some concerns, not to mention the fact that the idea is still relatively new and therefore meets some resistance.

  • It can be overwhelming. If someone is checking in at a lot of places or using multiple location based applications, he or she can start getting bored with the process.
  • Privacy is a huge issue. Because these apps require an initial login and are able to share user's information, many people shy away from them altogether. There's also the consideration that it isn't always safe to let others know where you are. This is true for anyone but could add a whole extra layer of difficulty for nonprofits who work with confidential or potentially embarrassing issues.
  • It takes some good strategizing to determine what your organization can offer as an incentive for checking in or to come up with another good location-based service to offer.

Should Your Nonprofit Consider Location-Based Services?

Whether or not your organization could effectively use this type of application depends on a few variables. To begin with, you definitely need to take your constituency into consideration. If you work at a shelter for abused women, it would likely be ludicrous to announce your location. Likewise, those coming to get assistance at a food bank would likely not want to announce that activity to their friends and associates.

On the other hand, volunteers at your food bank might be really excited to check in and possibly to earn "volunteer points" that could be saved up for some kind of special recognition or reward. Understanding what you have to offer in this way is also a good consideration. If you run a thrift store for a cancer care organization, you could fairly easily provide a downloadable coupon that is accessed when a shopper checks in.

It's basically up to you to be creative and come up with what might work as an enticement to get people using your location-based service and hopefully building loyalty and increasing your word-of-mouth advertising all at once.

Here are a few more interesting ideas to get you thinking in the right direction:

  • The app CauseWorld allows users to earn "karma points" for check-ins at participating businesses. They can then redeem those points to large corporations who donate actual money to predetermined nonprofits in return.
  • England's Vinspired lets users type in their postal code in order to find nearby volunteer activities.
  • The nonprofit EarthJustice asks users to check in from San Francisco's BART system, and in return, their advertisers donate $10 to fight against unsafe oil drilling practices.
  • Eight Boston-area nonprofits worked together to offer location-based challenges and shopping opportunities to help raise awareness of the area's attractions.
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