Bright Idea: Advice for Youth Programs That Want to Go Mobile

Photograph of a young woman sitting outdoors and looking at her smart phone.

If you consider your smartphone more of a mini computer than a way to make calls, you’re part of a national trend. Forty-nine percent of all U.S. adults go online using their cell phones, according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The percentage is probably even higher among young people, according to Nam-ho Park, director of mobile services at digital communications firm Forum One.

“This is a generation that hasn’t lived in an age where they didn’t have cell phones,” Park says. “It’s just a natural part of their lives that they communicate with each other and especially with organizations through mobile technology.”

What does all that mean for you? People who want to learn about your youth-serving organization—whether potential volunteers or donors, local policy makers or young people—may be coming to your website using a phone or tablet computer. So it’s a good idea to think about making your site easy for them to navigate.

Seeing Less, Juggling More

The most obvious challenge for people visiting your website from their cell phones, Park says, is reading text on a smaller screen. Even if you can’t overhaul your site, you can help mobile users by limiting each page to only a few paragraphs. All the important details should fit in the palm of a Web surfer’s hand.

Avoid tiny font, too, because it forces people to zoom into the site with their fingers and makes it more difficult to navigate to another section. Park recommends increasing font sizes and adding more links to reduce this problem. The steps for doing so will vary depending on how you manage your site.

Finally, satisfy mobile users’ need to get information instantly as they juggle multiple activities while surfing the Web.

“You have to really optimize it so that people are getting to the information that they’re looking for on the go, really fast and really easy as well,” Park says.

Email newsletters, if formatted for mobile devices, are a good way to direct mobile traffic straight to helpful pages on your website. Social media updates on Facebook and Twitter can also link people to a specific page you want them to visit.

Learning the Lingo

Whether you pay a tech guru to upgrade your website or you plan to make your own updates, Park recommends learning about a few basic tools for going mobile:

  • Themes and plugs ins: Some popular websites and blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr offer free “themes” that can be downloaded to make websites look better from cell phones. WordPress also offers plug-ins that can detect when a visitor is using a mobile device and then redirect them to a customized version of the website.
  • Responsive design: Responsive design is a tool that recognizes what device a reader is using to access a website and adjusts the size of the Web page accordingly. A potential donor working from a laptop would see three columns about your program, for example, while someone searching with a cell phone would only see one.
  • Mobile-friendly “mini” sites: Some organizations choose a handful of the most popular pages from their website to convert into a miniature version of the site.

More Information

Read more of Park’s suggestions for going mobile in an article published by the Nonprofit Technology Network, or NTEN.

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