BEND — Beyond a website, the Bethlehem Inn hasn't tapped into technology much, said Gwenn Wysling, executive director for the Bend homeless shelter.

BEND — Beyond a website, the Bethlehem Inn hasn't tapped into technology much, said Gwenn Wysling, executive director for the Bend homeless shelter.

But a new smartphone app expected to launch this week in Bend will allow the Bethlehem Inn and about 15 other Central Oregon nonprofits to get their messages out through one of the hottest segments of the technology market — mobile apps. "Technology is the way of the future in reaching out and getting people connected," Wysling said. "We are very excited to move into this technology we haven't experienced before."

Since it began about five years ago with the launch of the iPhone, the app economy has taken off, and now employs more than 500,000 people across the U.S., according to a study released last month by CTIA, The Wireless Association and the Application Developers Alliance.

Two Bend companies, RallyCause and Central Oregon, have recently created different mobile apps to help nonprofits, a market with a large potential, according to the head of one Bend tech company. Central Oregon was home to more than 600 nonprofits in 2011, according to The Nonprofit Association of Oregon.

The RallyCause app allows customers to direct a portion of their purchases from local businesses to a charity, nonprofit or other cause they select, said Lisa Flynn, co-founder of RallyCause.

Central Oregon Charities' app still is under development, and its website is in the beta, or development, stage.

When it launches, the app will educate donors about the different Central Oregon charities and their needs, according to its website, and help them connect with charities they care about.

RallyCause officially launched Sept. 13 and has 21 participating businesses, 20 different causes and more than 200 users, Flynn said. This week, she said RallyCause expects to move into its second market, Eugene, and plans to publicly launch the app there before Thanksgiving.

At last month's Bend Venture Conference, the company received a $40,000 investment, which has helped fund additional technology features and marketing, Flynn said.

"We (were) excited to start in Bend, but we're entering our second market now," she said. "After the first of the year, we have plans to expand at a rapid rate into other markets across the nation."

The app is free for donors and beneficiaries. It tracks how much customers give and how much money has been raised by the community for a cause, Flynn said. Causes can be nonprofits or "microcauses," such as helping a family with medical bills.

Businesses can choose their donation rates, and usually offer between 15-20 percent. Flynn said RallyCause gets 5 percent to pay for administrative and technology costs, and the remainder goes to the cause the shopper has selected.

Central Oregon Charities is a joint effort of St. Vincent de Paul Social Services and InstantMobile Solutions, a technology company headquartered in Bend, according to its website.

Plans call for the app to provide users a list of items that charities need and will accept, according to the Central Oregon Charities website. It's also expected to create a file allowing users to track donated items, provide digital receipts for tax purposes and allow donors to post their donations on social media sites.

For the Bethlehem Inn, Wysling said, the app has the potential to increase donations, create awareness of the organization's mission and how it serves those in need.

John Murphy, president and CEO of Zuri Group, a Bend-based company founded in 2007 that helps nonprofits use technology, said a small investment could lead to greater returns. "Anything a nonprofit can get for free or next to free that can help them further their mission is beneficial," he said. "(A nonprofit's) mission is not technology focused, but the use of technology helps them achieve their mission."