Pokemon Go Goes Back to School

Smartphone displaying active game of Pokemon Go.

Last month, I saw the oddest sight as I ate lunch on the patio of Good Time Charley’s at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. As usual, the restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived on this summer Sunday. We were seated on the side patio, enjoying the quiet afternoon, but within minutes the tables around us had completely filled up with other patrons. The indoor seating was empty and so were the other patios. Just our patio had filled! We looked around in confusion, until a few college students in our lunch group took pity on us and patiently explained why people were requesting that particular patio (and enthusiastically aiming their phones towards the middle of it): there was a virtual Pokémon ball on the patio, and our fellow diners were players of Pokémon Go.

While some claim that Pokémon Go is a short-lived fad, I believe that as college towns across the country see the return of students, the game’s popularity will continue. New friends will be made through the game and new places will be discovered. Will your organization be one of the places that gets discovered? Could you gain awareness and volunteers through the game? Will there be Pokémon Go players stopping by your nonprofit headquarters to catch Pokémon balls or Pokémon?

A church near the University of Michigan’s campus has embraced the Pokémon Go players searching the church grounds. The church had been designated as a “Poké Stop” due to the high traffic of college students that cut through their grounds during the school year. They welcomed players to use their restrooms and water fountain and to make themselves at home. The increasing visits by players led to the creation of a “Pokémon gym” outside the church. This has made the church an even more desirable location for players to visit.

If your nonprofit organization also wants to embrace Pokémon Go players (and perhaps reap the benefits of increased foot traffic), there are a few ways to get started.

First, if you’re unfamiliar with the game, I recommend that you talk to a person who actually plays Pokémon Go. Your kids, your neighbor, your board President…the knowledge of those who regularly play the game will be very valuable.

Then, determine if capitalizing on Pokémon Go is right for your nonprofit. While some organizations would love to bring more people through their doors, increased foot traffic isn’t desired by everyone. A crowd of people wandering around your building might not be your primary goal - and could even cause a serious headache for some organizations.

If you decide to proceed, you’ll have to think about how you want to advertise. It can be as simple as advertising a nearby Poké Stop on a sidewalk chalkboard outside your office. Use your website and social media platforms to get the word out and advertise that Pokémon Go players are welcome. Make sure to provide tips of what players can find, and where!

Finally, make plans to put this new foot traffic to good use. If you need volunteers or funding, hang posters of your organization’s mission in a clearly visible area, and have sign-up sheets or donation forms handy. Designate a staff member to engage with the players as an ambassador of your organization. The more you can make a player feel welcome and help them understand your mission, the more they will remember you - and maybe even return to donate or volunteer!