Pokemon Go and Nonprofits | Beth's Blog

Pokemon Go and Nonprofits

Tools and Tactics

Pokemon Go, the latest installment in the best-selling Pokémon video game series, launched as a smartphone app using augmented reality. It became an overnight viral sensation and cultural phenomena.  Perhaps its appeal is an escape from all the bad things that are happening the world right now.

Rather than chaining game players to their computer screens inside their houses, it sends players roaming their neighborhoods and communities to play the game.  On the plus side, they are avoiding death by sitting. It has brought augmented reality to a mainstream audience, with millions downloading the app and playing.

I was out hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains this weekend, sans wifi, so I was not paying attention to it until I got home and saw  mentions of it in my Facebook feed from technology observers like Jeremiah Owyang and Robert Scoble.  And early on Monday morning, I started getting queries from colleagues asking for recommendations on a Pokemon Go Nonprofit Brand strategy!

Most of the nonprofits are using it as a form of clever newsjacking — discovering that the nonprofit’s office or program location is a Pokemon stop and have snapped a photo for social media posting.  Others are using it to lure visitors to their location.  Museums, gardens, and parks have jumped on it.  Colleague Stephanie Rudat found this example from the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

I saw similar posts on Facebook brand pages of 92nd Street Y that was hosting the annual Giving Tuesday Summit and  The United Way of Central Ohio that upped its organic reach,  and on Twitter from Nonprofits First.

Centre Foundation, also a Pokemon stop, is adding this to its messaging around several summer programs geared for high school students.

Here’s an account of how a LGBTQ activist is using the app – more to come?

A Few Concerns

As a parent of two teens, I was curious if there were any potential safety issues to discuss with them or if they had downloaded or wanted to play.   Safety concerns for younger children, especially unsupervised have reported in the media.


After reading the articles while waiting to board my plane in SFO and noticing groups of young people walking around in groups using the Go Pokemon app in the airport, I decided to download the app and see what all the hype was about.  This primer helped.

My first attempt to sign up was greeted with “Our servers are overwhelmed, Try Again Later” message.  I was finally able to set up an account.  There were two options: use my google account or go to the web site and set up an account.  The web site also had a message that they could not set up any accounts on the web site due to being overwhelmed.   So I used my google account.

I didn’t fully realize the privacy implications.  I was giving access to all my location data via my phone but more of a concern was that app has complete access to my google account which was a bigger concern.   After catching my first Pokemon in the airport, I decided to revoke access to my Google account and wait to set up an account on the web site. (Update:  Report that the Google login was a mistake and they have now changed it)

While the virtual success of Pokemon Go might just be a fad,  it is the beginning of mainstreaming of augmented reality and time to think about the implications for the real world.   Here’s a good analysis  by Ralph Koster that Robert Scoble point out.

Going beyond Pokemon Go, what are the hopes and challenges of integrating social good into these VR/AR apps?




12 Responses

  1. Kata says:

    Thanks for the great summary.

    Any ideas yet on how to add pokestops and how to edit them?

  2. Beth says:


    The pokestops are based on the ones in the Ingress game – see this

  3. Harold A. says:

    Hello, great article, thanks for sharing, I would like to add that I recently read an article about this where people were getting robbed at real locations through the use of this app, I understand that this things happen, I read something that I really liked from http://getnerdio.com and it said “we’ve entered the age of innovation” so instead of avoiding this innovations we should embrace it and manage it in the best way possible, I am personally a parent and I would not want to deny my son the right to play a pokeman game because of fear, instead I would want to address it properly with him, I wonder if anybody has any suggestions for me, thank you in advance

  4. Hi Harold,
    Yes you are right buddy!!
    I totally agree with you.
    Your son has full right to play pokeman game without any fear.

  5. Brian Young says:

    I’m currently developing a plan to use Pokemon Go as the focus of a community outreach event. I work for a youth-serving agency. Our main campus has 4 Pokestops on our property, as well as several across the street. There’s also a large city park nearby and a number of businesses that could benefit from a Pokemon Go Crawl through our business district. Finding activities that simultaneously engage youth and adults can be difficult. Pokemon Go has captured the hearts of people of all ages. I think this app will be a great way to get people engaged. I have not yet pitched this idea to management. Although it’s fate is unknown, I’m excited about the idea.

  6. Ben Matthews says:

    We wrote up a quick summary of what Pokemon Go is, how it works, examples of charities using the game (including some from your post, Beth) and some of our own ideas for how charities might engage with players:


    Will be adding more examples as we spot them – gotta catch ’em all!

  7. Sorry to sound like such a curmudgeon, but I don’t think fundraisers should spend even a minute on this.

    It’s fine for people involved in community outreach or building awareness. But if you think it will help you raise money, think again.

    For fundraisers, Pokemon Go is a shiny object. A time waster. It focuses on the lowest rung of the ladder. DO NOT chase it!

    Instead, redirect the time you might invest in Pokemon Go and, instead, “go” see half a dozen very important major donors, “go” visit your wealthiest legacy society members, and “go” reshuffle your Major Gift Officers’ caseloads to optimize them for results.

    Do just about anything else that will truly move the needle— fast! But for heaven’s sake, do not run around chasing this fad!

    Folks, if you want to build “awareness”, go for it. If you want to build serious dollars for your cause, focus on the 80/20 rule… focus on your major and legacy donors. Make them feel good. Educate them. Inspire them. Collaborate with them. Advise them.

    “GO” see them.

    Let’s play “Fundraiser GO” instead of Pokemon Go.

  8. […] “I’m currently developing a plan to use Pokémon GO as the focus of a community outreach event. I work for a youth-serving agency. Our main campus has four Pokestops on our property, as well as several across the street,” writes Brian Young. […]

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  11. […] program location is a Pokémon stop and have snapped a photo for social media posting,” writes Beth Kanter on her blog. “Others are using it to lure visitors to their location. Museums, gardens, and parks have […]

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