Questions answered by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the National Military Family Association. This follow-up survey was designed to serve as a resource for understanding how grants serve nonprofits, and what obstacles grant recipients might encounter while implementing projects.
The Project was to add a new, crucial feature to a recently launched mobile app, MyMilitaryFamily. According to the application, this feature would allow military spouses to add content and recommend resources to their peers around the country. This was expected to be an essential tool to capture the more informal community support that was currently happening on platforms like Facebook. The hypothesis was that this social feature would increase engagement and habitual usage of the app.
Q: Did this feature get added since winning the award?
Yes, the feature was added and launched early in the spring of 2015. We worked with a developer to test several versions and used our military family volunteer testers to ensure it was working.
Q: What kind of feedback are you receiving? is it garnering the usage you hoped?
Feedback has been positive, but the military spouse usage has not been what we had hoped for the MyMilitaryLife app. Increasing usage of the app has proven to be a challenge for us. We’ve tested Facebook ads, did a billboard outside a military installation, and were featured in several military family blogs, but have not been able to translate that visibility into app usage and user engagement at the levels we had hoped. As a consequence of our inability to gain more than 10,000 app users despite significant marketing, development, and maintenance costs and staff time needed, our Board decided in late September 2015 to end support of the app. We will be transitioning app users to our mobile website, adding additional content currently found in the app to our website, and expanding our social media, web and email efforts to engage military families in new ways.
Q: Can you talk about programmatic impact? You indicated that this app would give you better target audience data and insights, setting National Military Family Association up for far greater efficiency in service delivery, allowing you to scale support. Have you seen that?
See comment above. We have not gained the usage that we needed from our app. We learned a lot about how organizations can and should measure engagement on mobile apps and applied those metrics to our app evaluations. We did see significant engagement by a few users and determined that we gained approximately 2,000 unique military spouse email addresses from the app over the past year that we had not received through our website or program usage. Because the usage has not been at a high-enough level, the data we have gained from app users has not been rich enough to use in our advocacy work. The biggest benefit from the app has been as a way to do customized alerts that could be sent out to app users about news or programs of interest to them. Also, because of the research we did on measuring the effectiveness of mobile apps, we now have better metrics to use in evaluating all our online platforms and military families’ engagement with them. As part of our preparation for the Board’s decision on the app, we did a survey of several hundred military families and how they use mobile apps and other platforms and what they expect from each. We will use this information as we move forward to guide our efforts to better engage military families in conversation and in connecting them with the resources they need.
Q: Similarly, you indicated this app would allow you to better serve your military families by giving you greater insights into needs and allowing you to provide customized solutions or preventative programs. Do you still feel this is the case? Any anecdotes or examples of impact?
See previous comments. We’ve learned a great deal about how military families interact in the social media and online spaces and, while the user base was small, military families’ questions and comments and what information they accessed on the app have given us a sense of when we might time the delivery of certain information and the types of information they need. Military families tended to seek basic information about military benefits on the app and about what resources were available as they transition from the military. We will be adding more about these topics to our revamped website and also doing periodic social media pushes on these topics
Q: What have you learned in doing this project that might hold valuable insight for other nonprofits seeking to do something similar?
Before going the mobile app route, fully develop the capacity of other platforms. We didn’t have a viable mobile-friendly website when we began our app project. If we had, we might have made different decisions. It is also important to understand how the people you serve use technology and to continuously work to see how these usage trends change. We’ve learned a lot since we started our app project about how military families use technology and what they expect of a mobile platform. We still believe that the goal we set when we started the app project-push vetted customized information to military families when they need it-is important and will be working to leverage our exiting platforms to do what we can to provide the customized information and to be able to push that information to families. It is also important for organizations to understand what apps can do and what they can’t. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Everyone’s learned a lot about apps over the past few years! I could write a book about what we’ve learned!
Q: What has winning the 501cTECH Technology Innovation Award mean to your organization. What have you done to communicate about your win and, perhaps, leverage it for other key opportunities?
Winning this award was a morale boost for our app team, but we were unable to leverage it successfully. The award definitely helped us get the spouse advice feature built and was essential to our learning.
Q: For Joyce specifically, what has judging the TIA mean to you personally?
The judging experience has been a lot of fun and it’s been instructive to see the range of tech insights, skills, and dreams presented this past year as a winner.