A free mobile application developed for non-profit organizations literally places fundraising powers in the hands of smartphone users.

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A screenshot from the Canadian Red Cross's new mobile application for donations. The free app is available through iTunes. ((Canadian Red Cross))

The Canadian Red Cross was the first charity to set up the Artez App, launched this week by Toronto-based online fundraising provider Artez Interactive.

The app allows smartphone users to spread the word on behalf of their favourite charities and facilitate secure donations via the e-payment site PayPal.

"It gives you peer-to-peer fundraising," said Almin Surani, chief information officer for the Canadian Red Cross.

"You can use your contact list, your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, and tell everyone, 'I'm supporting the Canadian Red Cross, and here's a link to support me on raising money this holiday season'."

Artez Interactive developed the application, which offers a template that allows other non-profits to upload their branding details and mission statements and build their own customized app quickly and cheaply.

'Easily customized for individual charity'

"App development is quite expensive, and in the non-profit world, 'expense' is a bad word," said Ian Hembery, senior vice-president of Artez.

"So, we developed an app framework, and that has all the technology embedded there. It can be easily customized for each individual charity.

"We have a small team that quickly and easily customizes the app for the charity, and they can supply the colour scheme, logo, description of their mission statement, a description of the event."

Hembery said the application hearkens back to the days of door-to-door solicitations, "only now, you're doing it all on your smartphone."

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App users can monitor their donations to gauge how close they are to meeting fundraising goals. ((Canadian Red Cross))

The Canadian Red Cross application, for instance, allows the user to access interactive message boards. The user can send out mass memos to email contacts, Facebook friends or Twitter followers with a link requesting donations.

A fundraising "thermometer" also allows users to set fundraising goals and gauge their progress.

"So, you're able to say, 'Aha, I've raised $500, but my goal is $1,000, so I'd better send out more messages'," Hembery said.

Users can also approach friends, hand them their mobile devices and have them donate to their charity instantly through PayPal.

'When a disaster happens, at the forefront of people’s minds is, 'What can I do to help?' Having a mobile app, it’s easy to … make a donation.'— Almin Surani, Canadian Red Cross

This year, Artez will have processed roughly $100 million in donations for Canadian charities through its various technologies. Surani said PayPal helped nonprofits raise more than $1 billion last year.

"More and more people are having smartphones," Surani said. "When a disaster happens, at the forefront of people's minds is, 'What can I do to help?' Having a mobile app, it's easy to go right away to the Red Cross and make a donation through PayPal, which is a safe and easy way to have a transaction."

Smartphone users can download a specific charity's Artez App on Apple's iTunes website.

While the New York Times reported last week that Apple has banned applications that facilitate charitable solicitations, Hembery said the Artez App complies with Apple's guidelines because the app is tied to a specific charity's website.

"If the transaction is completed on a website outside of the Apple environment, then it's fine," Hembery said, adding that the donations completed on the Red Cross app's system use the Canadian Red Cross website's donation form.