Do you need an App or just a good Mobile ready website?

Photo of iPhone

There's a lot of talk about mobile and tablet ready Apps these days, and for very good reason. There are some very impressive and excellent apps out there that are changing the way a lot of us managing information and interact with each other. That said, I just sat in on a webinar for a Mobile Giving app for non-profits and while the technology has certainly come a long way and is pretty darned easy to deploy at this point, I was left wondering whether or not it was what most non-profits need.

To be clear, this was a technology that, via a third party, allows a non-profit to setup a stand-alone mobile giving app that will allow their community of supporters to donate to the organization any time they like from a mobile device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc) by downloading that charity's mobile giving app. But, if all this app does is allow the user to make a donation, is there value in using an app? Put another way, is a user going to go to the step of downloading what is basically a single use app that is geared at them spending money and getting relatively nothing in return? How often are they going to reopen that app? While people seem to have no trouble downloading apps to their phones (particularly if they're free), most stats show that people only use about 5 of them regularly. Is an app that only allows you to donate to one charity going to be the app people come back to? And what is the resource drain on the organization going to be in supporting that app?
So here we come to my real question: do you need an app or just a Mobile friendly website? Would in fact be more strategic for a non-profit or charity to focus on developing a mobile friendly version of their site  that actually reworks your website's layout and content presentation to optimize it for mobile users. This way you can allow the user to easily access information and resources your organization is sharing -- think blog posts, action tools like the ability to sign-on to a campaign or show  your support for an effort, and simple things like quick access to mailing addresses, maps to events and contact information -- while also putting a "Donate Now" button up front to take advantage of the increased comfort that people have with making donations through their mobile device. You could even develop a specific mobile-optimized donation landing page geared at this audience. Would the mobile optimized website approach, paired with a campaign that perhaps includes a specific URL (possibly even using a .mobi variant of your domain) actually be the more strategic way to harness the power of mobile giving while also encouraging your users to come back to your website the next time they have time to surf on their mobile device because they found information that was useful to them, and not just a donation request?
In the end, the answer will come down to the overall strategy for any individual organization, for some having a mobile app will actually be the best choice. And, like with any cool new tools, your best to really think through that strategy before deciding on the course of action that will work best for your needs.