Market research firm IDC projected last year that by 2015 in the US, more people will access online content through mobile devices than through wired Internet connections, and many institutions are reporting sharp increases in the web traffic they are seeing from mobile devices. For example, Brett Pollak, director of the campus web office for the University of California, San Diego, reported that over the past two years, UCSD has seen an average increase of 0.5% each month in the number of website views from mobile devices. Now, nearly 20% of their web traffic (counting both prospective students, current students, and alumni) is from a mobile device or tablet.
Curious to see how the majority of shops are responding to this increase in student and alumni reliance on mobile technology, we conducted an informal survey this month of annual giving and alumni relations professionals. The results are indicative of a gap between the technologies alumni are using to interact with their alma mater and the technologies the alma mater is prepared to use in reaching out to its alumni.
Key Takeaways From the Survey
When asked what percentage of their fundraising dollars are received through online giving, nearly one third of respondents indicated they were seeing more than 10% of their dollars arrive through online giving. A little less than 1 in 10 respondents said they were seeing more than 50% of their dollars arrive through online giving.
Only 4 out of 10 respondents confirmed that their giving site is enabled for viewing and navigating from a mobile device -- despite the rise in web traffic from smartphones and tablets. However, several respondents commented on the difference between having their site enabled and optimized for mobile devices. "While our site is mobile-enabled," one respondent cautioned, "I wouldn't say that it is all that mobile-friendly." And nearly all indicated that their website does not use "responsive" css design, which would ensure that the website can be viewed optimally on any screen size, without having to write new code or an app to enable the site for each device.
When asked whether their institution was pursuing mobile apps to engage alumni through their devices:
- Nearly 2 out of 10 respondents had just released an app
- Less than 1 out of 10 were currently developing an app
- 4 out of 10 are in the early stages of "thinking about creating an app"
- One third of respondents indicated that a mobile app is not "on the radar" at all
We asked those who are not developing an app to share with us the reasons behind that decision. Overwhelmingly, respondents cited lack of resources to develop an app internally, the possible compatability concerns and high cost of an off-the-shelf third-party app, lack of clarity around how to determine return on investment, and in several cases, lack of awareness internally of the need for an app.
Mobile Apps: What Are Shops Trying?
We also asked for more detail from those shops who have developed or are developing an app for alumni. We wanted to find out what the key features of the apps were, and how institutions were approaching early ventures into this technology.
Besides the basics of website access and enabling text giving, the responses are all across the board:
- Some shops are simply offering an app that provides a mobile version of the website, or are focusing on translating a handful of simple features into the app, such as the alumni directory, campus map, library and athletics, and the event calendar
- A few are investigating the uses of location-based technology, such as allowing an alum to login to the app and see contact information for other alumni based on their current location
- Only one of the respondents to this survey described an app that uses more of the unique technological features of the smartphone -- such as saving contact information from other alumni into a customized address book on your phone; easily viewing, creating, and disseminating user-created content to Youtube, Flickr, or other social media sites; or even shaking the phone to hear a message from the school's mascot
Most respondents indicated that their institution's app was generally designed for connecting all of the institution's constituents -- students, alumni, faculty, parents -- with institutional resources, but many respondents lamented that they had little input into the goal-setting or planning of the app's features.
While the speed at which the technology is evolving can make it daunting to step into the world of apps, it's important to take the first steps -- at the least, ensuring that your giving site uses responsive design or is otherwise optimized for viewing on devices with small screen sizes. UCSD reports that 20% of their web traffic comes from mobile devices; how high will that percentage be, one year from now?
Mobile technology is rapidly becoming such an integral part of how your alumni manage their daily lives, connect with their friends, and how they engage with their world by both creating and consuming digital and multimedia content. This offers you significant opportunities for reaching alumni in new ways that are more relational than transactional and that connect your alumni more closely with events, services, and people at your institution.
For key examples, watch for our forthcoming edition of Higher Ed Impact: Monthly Diagnostic, entitled "Key Considerations for the Mobile Campus." If you don't currently receive our monthly edition, you can sign up here.