Depaul UK: the iHobo dar­ing app to raise aware­ness about homelessness

Exhibited by
January 10, 2014
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Children, youth and family.
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
May, 2010.

SOFII’s view

This app has been described as a Tamagotchi with a social conscience and does, as Depaul UK’s CEO, Paul Marriot, admits, tread a fine line. It’s daring and risky, but it never crosses the line between gimmickiness and telling an honest story.

Depaul UK and Publicis London

Name of exhibitor

Anthony Keating, director, fund development, major and planned giving, Cystic Fibrosis, Canada.

Depaul UK donors are aging (65+) so they launched a mobile phone app to attract new, younger, affluent donors to secure a sustainable donor base in the future. The key objective, though, was to raise awareness of the issue of young homelessness and particularly of Depaul UK because they have quite low brand awareness.


Depaul UK’s mission is to offer homeless and disadvantaged young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential and move towards an independent and positive future. Young people often become homeless through no fault of their own - frequently they are fleeing violence or abuse.

It’s easy for people to ignore a homeless person as they walk past them on the street, but Depaul UK felt that if they could have a homeless person on their phone for three days they woud see that the issues behind youth homelessness are complex and varied.

Special characteristics

An otherwise nameless young person, iHobo, lives on a potential donor’s phone when the free app is activated and makes a series of direct and increasingly desperate appeals for help. He knocks on the screen for attention at any time of day or night. How he fares is the direct result of the nature and speed of the person’s response to the dilemmas iHobo faces – choices that are based on the experiences of the young people Depaul UK works with. If he is looked after, he could make it through. Make the wrong decisions, however, and his life starts to spiral out of control.

At the end of three days the ‘real-time interactive experience’ ends with an appeal by Depaul UK for each user to make a donation, again via mobile, of either £3, £5, or £10.

Influence / Impact

Extensive press coverage, tweets and blogs. The app has won about 30 national and international awards for marketing.


The work was done pro bono by Publicis London with whom Depaul UK has a long-standing relationship.


Within five days of the launch iHobo had become the number one most downloaded app in the UK, with over 20,000 downloads each day. By 2011 the app had been downloaded 600,000 times and generated in the region of £1.2 million worth of coverage (bought equivalent). Fundraising was a secondary aim and £10,000 was raised. Traffic to Depaul UK’s website increased by 59 per cent and had over 68,000 app store ratings, putting Depaul UK just behind Spotify.

An update to the app was launched in April this year to increase data capture and add more gaming and social-sharing feastures, which has pushed the total email addresses Depaul have gained from the app to nearly 6000 – a huge amount for them.  


The iHobo app was considered to be a huge success; it is the first charity app of its type and there hasn’t been anything like it since. Charities throughout the world are struggling with creative ways to engage a new and younger donor audience and this app did just that.

SOFII's I Wish I'd Thought Of That IWITOT Toronto 2013 – Anthony Keating