Social enterprise MilkCrate launched in 2013 as a single app that allowed users to track their sustainability efforts and encouraged them think more about their social and environmental impact.
Now, the B Corp has a new mission — building custom apps for nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations.
“What originally started as a company that has built one app to solve one problem by engaging one specific audience has morphed into a platform that allows us to launch versions of that app,” said founder Morgan Berman, “so that every cause, every organization gets to have their own.”
The new iOS and Android apps help nonprofits engage with their communities while receiving user feedback. MilkCrate’s clients can select various interactive app features, including poll questions, events calendars, map check-ins and push notifications.
The apps also use gamification, a technique that incorporates game-playing into apps to boost audience engagement. For participating with an organization’s app, users earn points they can use to obtain incentives. They can even compete in teams to reach their goals and earn more points.
In April, the arts and culture nonprofit Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA) launched the STAMP by MilkCrate app, which lets Philadelphia teens access over 20 local museums for free. The app is part of the GPCA’s STAMP program, a five-year-old initiative to engage Philadelphia youth with the city’s cultural and educational opportunities.
The app replaces the GPCA’s previous swipe card system and lets teens access places like The Franklin Institute, Mutter Museum and Penn Museum. Michael Norris, GPCA’s chief strategy officer, said the old system became ineffective: It mailed thousands of cards only to have teens lose them.
“We also knew that an app would be a much better way to actually engage teens, drive usage in the program and reward teens and incentivize them,” he added. “Also, for our purposes, [it’s a better way to] collect the data that we need to make sure we know that the program’s working, track attendance and help the museums know when teens are coming.”
By using the STAMP app, teens can respond to questions and check-in at museums to earn points for prizes like theater tickets and city mural tours.
The STAMP program’s ultimate goal is to create audiences for arts and culture, develop attendance patterns and encourage teens to participate in the arts while forming their identities.
“By having a wide range of opportunities for them, it gives them a chance to explore their own interests and see what they like,” Norris said. “Then, ultimately by incentivizing them, they become repeat visitors and part of the cultural fabric of the city.”
Other nonprofits that have partnered with MilkCrate to develop apps to connect with their communities in new ways include Committee of Seventy and Concilio. MilkCrate has also built apps for schools such as Temple Universityand the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to help the institutions connect with students and encourage sustainable lifestyles.
MilkCrate charges an initial set-up fee and a recurring monthly fee to build an app, but nonprofits can apply for grants through the company’s site to offset the costs. Berman said MilkCrate aims to foster long-term relationships with clients, and organizations typically invest in two-, three- or five-year app engagements.
“Our goal is to make this so any organization that has an audience that’s large enough that they’re struggling to engage, we can come up with something that they can afford,” she added.
The apps also give nonprofits new opportunities to monetize their audience engagement through sponsorships. Organizations can partner with corporations in title sponsorships, which display a shared “This app is brought to you by” message during app launch, or in-app sponsor messages, like monthly push notifications.
Berman said these partnerships help nonprofits, which often have to pay to promote social media posts to connect with their communities.
“[We’re] flipping the model so instead of nonprofits having to pay to reach their audience, they get paid to reach their audience,” she said.
Along with its mission change, MilkCrate has debuted other offerings, like free workshops and trainings to help nonprofit leaders learn how an app can help them grow, engage and monetize their audiences.
Berman said nonprofits have common goals like trying to collect survey data, encouraging people to visit specific locations and getting people to sign up for events.
“They all want to connect with each other and feel that social cohesion and feel that bond as people who care about a cause,” she added. “Having those templated features ready to go, ready to launch in weeks instead of years at a fraction of the cost, it’s game game-changing for them and that’s just really exciting for us to be able to do.”