Jul 26, 2021 Written by Tamar Barlev
A guide to building a successful non-profit app

Well, you’re doing a good thing in the first place, and now you want to build a non-profit app.

You’re on a righteous path here—creating a non-profit, raising awareness, and sourcing donations for different causes. Be it for the environment, social justice, or animal rights activism, your non-profit organization is bettering things. So thank you.

A non-profit organization may not be motivated by profits, but it still functions as a business. So encouraging donations, building cause- and brand- awareness, and volunteer (user) acquisition are likely all within your goals. And in today’s mobile-heavy world, developing web and mobile applications for your non-profit is a surefire way of meeting those targets so you can further your mission.

Why Build an App for Your Non-Profit?

There are many pros to developing an app for your non-profit. The big two, of course, are increasing awareness for your cause and, in that, donations. Making it easier to inform others about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it motivates others to care and give. And making it easier for them to give…well, makes it easier for them to give. Those two are obvious. 

But what else? Engaging with volunteers is another big one. For those who can’t donate—or are passionate about the cause and want to contribute time and money, keeping them informed, motivated, and participating is important.

The ease of communicating action items is essential to creating a coordinating a significant effort. You can publicize volunteer opportunities, help them communicate with other volunteers, and keep everyone on the same page. 

Managing events—if your organization runs fundraising events and campaigns, an app can help you plan and track your participation, donations, and volunteer metrics. By doing so—and publicizing your efforts and results—you’re boosting morale and encouraging the participants to keep on keepin’ on.

What makes a Successful Non-Profit App?

We got the objectives out of the way. But how do you accomplish them with an app? There are several aspects to a successful non-profit app, and they’re not very different from what makes a successful app for businesses. These primarily revolve around ease of use—aka, user (volunteer) acquisition. If you build an app, but no one uses it, did a tree really fall in the forest due to deforestation?

Ah, sorry. Mixing metaphors here. But you get the gist.


As we’ve talked about in many a Goji Blog, design is pretty much the most crucial tool for user acquisition. A well-designed app has a few different components.

Excellent and intuitive UI/UX

—because no matter how important the cause is, few people will stick to an app that is confusing, slow, or inefficiently designed. UI/UX (and a streamlined workflow) is an incredibly important tool in your toolkit to keep your users engaged and coming back for more.

After all, getting donors and volunteers for a non-profit cause is basically selling a product. Except instead of a product, users are paying in time and money for nothing material in exchange. That’s why it’s important to make their more menial tasks in their larger effort as easy and comfortable as possible.

A Beautiful Dashboard

—to let them know their efforts, impacts, and what more there is to do. Keeping this dashboard clean and effective is essential for messaging critical information. Throw on their volunteer metrics (money raised, hours donated), aggregate progress, and your target metrics (total amount of trash to pick up or meals to be packed). This will demonstrate transparency and keep your members on the same page and motivated.

Data Visualization

—an essential component of a beautiful dashboard. Your messaging needs to be precise, concise, and easy to read…and as we all know, everyone loves cute pie charts. So throw on a panda and color it with a gradient representing total money raised vs. the target. Get creative, but be clear about what you’re communicating.

A Donate Button

—because by the time someone goes to your app to give their hard-earned money, you want to apply that motivation as quickly as possible and make it as easy as possible for them to give. Don’t make someone invest a lot of effort into giving you free money—that’s not in your best interest and also not very polite.

Clear Stated Cause (and financials)

—keep your members, donors, and volunteers as enlightened as you can. People like transparency, and that goes for what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how you’re paying for it. We’ll get into some statistics on that later on, so just trust us for now.

Important Features in Software Development of a Non-Profit App Infrastructure 

Secure Payment Channels

You want the people giving you money to know that their money will get to you and their credit card information won’t get stolen by a group of bandits sailing the Antarctic Ocean.

Robust, Scalable Infrastructure that Supports Large Transaction Volumes

Because when you do run large fundraising events, you’ll be pretty upset if the whole system crashes during a particularly successful campaign

Third-Party Integration

So you can integrate and streamline text message alerts, social media sharing, and email campaigns. 


Using APIs (application programming interfaces)—rather than developing your own tools— will help you cut down on costs and give your users previously acquired familiarity with some of your features.

Device Compatibility 

It’s essential to make your app device-agnostic. Android? Works like a charm, IoS? Beautiful. Blackberry? Well, maybe. Do the research and make that calculation to see if your primary audience is coincidentally a group of zealous Blackberry lovers.  

Harnessing the Power of Mobile to Inspire

Know your users.

We say it in every Goji Blog, and it is always relevant. But, first, let’s, you have to know who you’re aiming for and why you’re aiming for them. What they do like and what they don’t like. And why they’re using your app in the first place.

So, for instance—let’s look at statistics on donors across the generations. There’s a fantastic infographic guide by Classy.org that breaks down the characteristics of each generation as non-profit participants.

Matures have a 24% volunteer rate and 26% donation rate, whereas Baby Boomers have a 43% donation rate and a 25.7% volunteer rate. But, interestingly enough, those with the biggest donor rate (Boomers) are polled at 40% who want to see a non-profit’s financials before donating.

In addition, Gen Z and Millennials prefer to donate over mobile apps and online, respectively, whereas the former prefer to donate by check.

Another critical point—Millenials are most inspired to donate by social media. There’s a collective motivation to contribute and donate publically. And while that might not be the most self-less motivator, it results in a good thing (and a trend you should know about.)

These are all essential points of information for you as you build your non-profit and its technical infrastructure. Who are you targeting, and what is the best way to do so?

How to Build a Successful Non-Profit App

There are several different types of technical functionalities you can build. For instance, online donations can also carry a function of text-to-give. Kind of like those Red Cross text alerts that communicate local action alerts and prompts subscribers to text back a word to donate. Mobile messaging also sends alerts to members and donors.

Mobile Apps streamline the information flow between your org and your members, donors, and volunteers. Whether it’s an action alert, a news flash about the cause, or an organizational update, you’ll be able to get the information to whoever needs to read it fast. QR codes are another good one, allowing passersby or new members to access your communication channels—apps, websites, or whatever else—with minimal effort on their end.

And, if you want to get truly fancy, Augmented Reality is a pretty cool trick. Letting your participants visualize and see the needs the cause poses and their impacts is huge for morale and motivation. For example, if your org works on ocean pollution, and you can simulate the experience of swimming in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—which could be pretty eye-opening.

Partnering with the Right Software Developer

Especially if you’re coming into the software development process with little experience or knowledge about software development, it’s essential to partner with a long-term, experienced development partner who will contribute domain expertise. Those are a lot of characteristics. Let’s break them down. 

Characteristics of the Right Developer

  1. Long-term: you want a partner with a long-term interest in building your app or software—not someone who’s going to make a shoddy MVP based on the easiest (and not necessarily most scalable or best suited) infrastructure.
  2. Experienced: pick someone who has experience building a myriad of products and who has a background in building non-profit apps and software. They’ll be able to contribute their own honed development expertise to your app—tips and tricks you might not know.
  3. Domain Expertise: the ideal product strategy partner will have the bandwidth and willingness to develop their own domain expertise and consult you with it. They should help you research and narrow down the features you need to present your non-profit’s mission most effectively and how its app helps your organization accomplish its mission.

Creating a Fantastic Non-Profit App Strategy

We’ve already mentioned that knowing your audience well is essential for your app’s success and widespread use. But what other factors do you need to think about?

Narrowing Down and Tailor Your Objectives

What are the absolute essentials in your mission, how can you best approach them, and how do they translate to an app? 


What can your org afford, how much do you want to set aside for app and software development, and how can you pitch this most effectively to more significant donors? Then, when you have that information and know your budget, make the best use of it. This comes down to building the best Minimum Viable Product and using software infrastructure that keeps in mind the big-picture, long-term goals. 

Building a Minimum Viable Product

An MVP should include only your most essential app features. These features are the ones that will increase engagement and donations that will fund future iterations and extensions of functionality. And this MVP should be built based on infrastructure that will serve you in the long term: scalable and robust. 

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel—Use Open-Source Code

To save on costs, work with your development partner to use open-source code and already existing APIs. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here—there are plenty of excellent resources to build apps these days, so you don’t have to build everything from scratch.

Branding and Marketing for Your Non-Profit App

Which originates from knowing your audience, first and foremost. Your organization needs an excellent reputation known for its effectiveness in addressing and helping your cause. And your organization needs to build a reputation of excellent management—both of funding and human resources. For instance, transparency with financials, as well as with your executive team, will serve you in the long run. And will increase the use of your non-profit app.

Once your organization has branding tailored to your mission, desired messaging, and audience, market yourself in the appropriate channels. Saving the turtles? Write op-eds in National Geographic. Human rights? Run ads in the appropriate channels. 


Alright. That’s enough for now. 

Sounds overwhelming, yes. But doing enough research and even having product strategy experts on your side makes it much more approachable. 

Looking to develop a non-profit application in Los Angeles, New York, or literally anywhere else? Check out our Non-Profit Case Study with the World Wildlife Fund. 

Or have an app, but you’re in a slight pickle or looking to scale?

Have general questions about who we are and our authority on the subject? 

Contact us at GojiLabs.com.


                 – Goji Labs