Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

Four Questions to Ask Before Buying or Building a Mobile App

mobileappsOver the past three years, more than 300,000 mobile apps have been developed, and in 2010, these applications were downloaded 10.9 billion times, according to IDC. Many non-profits don't have to be sold on the benefits of creating mobile apps; by now, most know that the mobile trend is only going to increase in popularity, and that a mobile strategy can serve as another way to engage and interact with members and donors.

However, one important question remains when it comes to creating a mobile app: buy or build? Non-profits need to know the advantages and disadvantages of these options prior to getting started.

Before beginning the process of creating a mobile app, organizations should figure out exactly what they plan on using it for. Today, many non-profits are building apps around specific events or fundraising campaigns, and to give supporters a convenient way to interact with them via mobile devices. Meanwhile, some organizations simply want their apps to serve as another venue for members and donors to access and share content, such as news, videos, blogs, podcasts and photos.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to what non-profits can do with mobile, so once organizations have a clear idea about their app objectives and mobile goals, they can then start to think about how to create it. For most non-profits, it will be a major undertaking to build a custom app from scratch, and the project can end up costing them anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000. On the other hand, some organizations might feel that a "one size fits all" app will not meet their needs. According to ASI partner Artez Interactive, there are several questions non-profits should take into consideration before coming to a decision.

1. What resources are on hand? Non-profits first need to think about whether they have the internal personnel, skills and budget available to undertake and manage the project.

2. What's the timeline for completing the projects? Organizations will have to consider their timelines and when they will need the mobile apps to be launched. If the apps center around events, will they be ready in time for members and donors to get the most out of the technology?

3. How much customization is needed? Non-profits will have to think about what kind of tweaking their apps will require. Do their campaigns have unique needs that can only be met by custom builds?

4. How will the apps be managed in the long term? Finally, organizations must contemplate scalability and what their plans are to handle the apps down the road. For example, Apple requires regular updates and resubmissions at scheduled periods.

After non-profits ask these four questions, they can weigh the pros and cons of buying or building mobile apps, and then move forward with their rollouts. As for the advantages and disadvantages of these options-when buying an application, the core functionality is already built. After non-profits' texts and branded images are added, development and maintenance time is not required, which greatly reduces the apps' cost. Production can be as quick as six weeks from contract to availability. Keep in mind there will be less customization available, but standard features will be included.

Non-profits that need very specific customization might decide to build apps from scratch. However, organizations that build custom applications need to know that they must maintain and manage their apps for future releases and updates. The build of custom apps can be lengthy and expensive for most non-profits, and does require design, development and quality assurance time before the products are submitted to app stores.

With the creation of mobile apps, non-profits will have many opportunities to increase interaction with their communities, and will also be able to offer members and donors an easy way to access information. The decision of whether to buy versus build mobile apps can be a difficult one, but in the end, it will come down to organizations' budgets, their resources and how much customization is needed. By asking these four questions and mapping out their objectives and goals before getting started, the projects will run more smoothly for non-profits, and they can achieve success with their mobile strategies.

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