We had the opportunity to catch up with Megan Cromp, the founder of Key Conservation, a mobile app that is going to revolutionise the way people support conservation organisations! She shared with us her journey and what she hopes the app will achieve for the conservation sector.
Con Con: Could you tell us a bit about your background and how it drove you to develop Key Conservation?
Megan: “I’m a wildlife biologist and it was really my experience in the field that inspired the start of Key Conservation. I was working with different species and different types of organisations but there were always reoccurring themes that kept coming up. I started talking to my friends who were working in conservation and kept hearing the same thing from them.
I was working in the Caribbean on a sea turtle project when one incident kind of kicked off the idea for Key. We had a sea turtle hotline that people could call in if they saw a sea turtle or if there was a problem we needed to address. [One day] we had a call about a nest being washed out that we needed to relocate and we wanted to go and drive down there, which is obviously something we needed to do quickly, and it turned out that the last person who had used the vehicle didn't fill the gas!
We were out of gas and we didn't have any money left in our project’s fund so we ended up using our stipends to pay for the gas and on the drive down there I just kept thinking about how I knew at least ten people that would give us $20 to fill our gas tank because they’d want to help us save baby sea turtles. But they’d never know that this was even going on that day because that’s not something we even talk about usually!
We’re so busy fighting fires that we don't think about reaching out. We needed an easier way to reach out to people in real time about these issues that are happening because I knew from my friends that conservation is extremely unpredictable so we can never plan for these events to happen. And small things can actually derail a small or medium size organisation that’s working really hard when they don't have that planned budget or time or staff to cover it.
I’m one of those people that can’t keep complaining about an issue without doing something about it so I really wanted to actually be a part of the solution. Originally, I wanted Key to be a web-based platform but the more I started talking to people and asking conservation organisations and individuals who supported them what they would like, the more I was getting feedback and I realised that having an app would actually allow people to pull out a map, get alerts about what’s happening in real time, etc…”
ConCon: What exactly is the concept behind Key Conservation?
Megan: “Key Conservation is a mobile app to help conservationists gain support and funding in real time but it’s also a way for supporters of conservation organisations to be able to give more than just funds. The app has a scrolling feed similar to Instagram or Facebook that updates in real time and shows issues that are occurring around the world with conservation organisations.
We’re trying to fill the gap for funding and support that aren't planned, so for example, your vehicle gets stuck in the mud and you need more people pushing it out or 50 pangolins have been confiscated at the airport and they need funds to help pay for food and medicine. You can’t plan for these things!
There are three ways for organisations to get help and three ways for supporters to give it: by giving their professional skills, by giving funds and by helping in-person. One thing that people kept saying was: ‘I would love to be able to give my professional skills cause I’m highly skilled in a certain domain and I’d love to actually give back in a way that’s meaningful to me’. The skill impact side of the app means that organisations can tap into people who have certain skills. They save lots of money by tapping into those skills but also it creates a more intimate connection with people who want to do more. Instead of giving $25 a month and wondering what’s going on, they want to be able to say: ‘I helped with this specific outreach campaign’ or ‘I help this conservation organisation build a better website’ so they can actually let the world know they exist. I always say no matter what you do for a living you can use if for conservation!
For fundings, we are looking at individualised option so instead of those bigger amounts we want to say: ‘This medicine is to help pangolins and this is how much it costs, can you help us put money towards this?’ So you actually see the thing you are putting that money towards instead of it being a vague request. We’re trying to have transparency in conservation so that people can feel like they are a part of it.
Lastly, helping in-person is a really cool feature where you look at the app and it puts you on the map where you can see the conservation organisations around you, what they’re up to, and if they need any help. You can see if there are any local events going on and if there are groups supporting them so you can get involved to help these organisations.
You can also get push notifications about real-time critical needs! If an organisation around you really needs an in-person help right now you can get a push notification sent to your phone and that’s really helping the organisations when they need support and also making sure that people don't miss out on these opportunities to give their help.
I think what people are going to be really excited about as well is that we have a feedback loop so that once the organisation uses the contribution they’ll send people a photo or video feedback saying: ‘This is what you actually helped us achieved’. People will be able to see how their individual help made a difference. It’s kind of a way to put regular people in the frontline of conservation along with these conservationists!”
ConCon: You didn’t have any experience in app design, how challenging was it for you to start from scratch?
Megan: “I started researching how to design an app and started taking online courses in my spare time. I downloaded all the sketches and the different tools and platforms that I needed to start doing that and I started playing around with it. I then downloaded probably about 50 apps to try to test the features and see which ones I liked.
I call Key my Frankenstein app because I took all the features I liked and then put them in the app. It took me a couple of years to really figure out the flow and what was needed for the different features. I really like design so it was really exciting for me to tap into that creative side but not knowing anything about building an app was daunting at first!
Once I started chipping away at it I realised that it’s not that hard. The flow was the most difficult part because every button that you put in the app has to go somewhere so I had to design each of those artboards to make sense. I did a lot of drawings on paper and then I would digitise it and I’d design it with different branding colours and different buttons. Once that was done I put all the sketches into a software where you’re then able to connect all the buttons and to see on your phone how it’d actually work.”
ConCon: How did you select the organisations that will be featured on the app so far?
Megan: “We have a very rigorous vetting process because we want to make sure that those organisations are legit and that they are actually doing conservation work. We want people to know that Key is a trust-worthy platform and that everyone has been vetted properly.
Each organisation that wants to be on the app has to apply and they go through the vetting process. Then we do an on-boarding where we actually make sure that the organisation is going to be on the app with all the information filled out. This step is also to ensure that there is enough training and that the team actually understands how to use the app. Once they are on there, they feel extremely comfortable and they can go ahead.
To be able to test the app we needed to have organisations that wanted to do it and it’s been really important for us from day one to be a global organisation because we want to guarantee that we’re looking at it from many different viewpoints. So we put a call out to say: ‘Hey is anyone interested in being part of our pilot project?’ and we got quite a few applications from people from all over the world.
We’ve been working with them behind the scene to get the app up and running. It’s such a long process because you can’t just build the whole app and then test it at the end. You have to test each side and since the Key Conservation app is very complex we have to work on testing each feature. We also had individuals sign up as beta testers who are going to help test from the supporter’s side.”
ConCon: Last but not least, why did you decide to name your app Key Conservation?
Megan: “We had a whole list of names but nothing felt right and then it just made sense! You’re the key to making a difference, each individual is the key. I wanted something that was one word, something simple that we could shorten. Our tagline is empowering hope and we really want people to feel like they are the ones that can actually make a difference and we can empower the hope that they have inside of them so then being the key to making a difference!”