Why Your Nonprofit Should Use QR Codes (Even If Your Donors Don’t)


There has been a lot of talk this year from np techies to fundraising pros alike about QR (“quick response”) codes – those blocky looking codes that, when scanned by your mobile device, take you to a URL or send a phone number or text to your smartphone. We’re seeing more and more case studies of nonprofits using QR codes to successfully mobilize constituents. And for every new case study it seems that there are dozens more ideas waiting on whiteboards everywhere.

But for the most part, it needs to be said, the vast majority of our donors probably aren’t equipped to use QR codes, much less know what they are.

For instance, to read a QR code, you need a smartphone. While the number of smartphone users is increasing, according to Nielsen, smartphone users currently comprise only 28% of the mobile phone market. And it’s the younger part of the mobile market. For example, half of all Andriod users are under the age of 35. Do your donors fit this profile? If you’re like most nonprofits, chances are most of your donors, and your most valuable ones, don’t.

Even if you’re a donor who owns a smartphone though, you need to be sufficiently tech savvy and interested in QR codes to install a reader on your phone. Some Nokia models come pre-installed with a QR reader, but the top selling smartphones – the iPhone and Droid – don’t. At least not yet. True, readers are free, and easy to install, but again, awareness and perceived need are the crucial precursors. You know how your mother has a cell phone, but doesn’t text? Not surprisingly, 25% of U.S. smartphone users don’t even use their data service, according to another Nielsen report.

Are these reasons not to experiment with QR codes in your membership program? No way. The mobile web is predicted to be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015. Though your donors may still be getting there, that’s no reason not to be ready for them when they do, or better yet, help show them the way.

But you need to recognize and understand that simple fact – your donors are still getting there – so that when you do test QR codes in your own program, you do so in a meaningful way.

So have I gotten you thinking about the fact that your donors aren’t using QR codes? Great. Then now is an excellent time to make a list of ways your forward-thinking nonprofit is going to test them. Just start your brainstorming the same place you always do, no matter what the medium:

What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What do you want to have happen?

And then imagine how this new medium might be uniquely helpful in achieving those goals, now, next year, and the year after.


8 Comments on Why Your Nonprofit Should Use QR Codes (Even If Your Donors Don’t)

  1. Moria,

    I’m the community manager for Microsoft Tag and I wanted to see if you’ve heard about us. If you haven’t hears some stats that you might be interested since you seem a little weary of QRcode adoption. If you have any questions or need some help setting up a Tag account just shoot me an email.

    • 1 billion Tags have been printed in the past four months, bringing the total to 2 billion Tags printed since its January 2009 launch.
    • The number of Tag users per month increased three fold in the first quarter since emerging from beta in May; the number of Tags scanned per month increased four fold during the same time period.
    • To date, more than 100,000 Tag accounts have been set up to add interactive digital experiences to brand advertising and marketing campaigns.
    • Since August, Tag has been used in more than 100 million magazine issues.
    • In the largest known barcode campaign to date, Allure had 450,000 scans, using Microsoft Tag for its annual Free Stuff Giveaway issue in August.

    • Moira says:

      Thanks for reading and for the great stats Elliott! I’m all for nonprofits integrating QR codes into their membership development, advocacy and marketing mix. I think the important thing though is for nonprofits to think carefully about when, how and why to use them.

      For instance, if a nonprofit is holding a high dollar gala with an older crowd, a QR code-based component integrated into this type of event probably wouldn’t have much of an impact. On the other hand, I see great potential for a nonprofit park, zoo or museum to use QR codes effectively to convey information about plants/exhibits to visitors as they move through the space. Of course once the visitor is on the URL via the QR code, the nonprofit now has the opportunity to engage the visitor further with the organization via additional links and offers.

      I think keeping expectations in check is an important thing too. While the number of QR codes being generated is increasing exponentially, scan rates are a question mark (though I’m encouraged by the increase in scans that you noted). That is, just because you use a QR code in a campaign, it doesn’t mean someone will scan it. Case in point: about 300 people have viewed this post since yesterday, but not a single viewer outside of my office has scanned the QR code at the top of this post. (Too bad for campy sci-fi movie fans who like opportunities to win contributions to the charity of their choice!)

      But this won’t prevent me from using QR codes in future posts to engage readers. In fact, it gave me valuable guidance on how to use them better in the future (codes with no explanation = FAIL.) Likewise, emerging usage rates shouldn’t prevent nonprofits from exploring QR codes in their programs. But perhaps we shouldn’t stand by quite so breathlessly with our checkbooks open, or deposit slips at the ready. At least not yet.

      Thanks for connecting and for the valuable stats. I hope you’ll keep reading and stay in touch! – Moira

      • Moira,

        I agree in many of the points that you brought up but I first want to clarify that QRcodes and Tags are different technology and the stats that I posted are just for Tags not QRcodes.

        For instance I agree that if there is no explanation of what the Tag is why would people scan it. With Tags though you can customize the design so the Tag itself pretty much explains what the Tag is all about. Where as QRcodes you’re pretty much stuck with the same black and white design. Here’s an example from a new book that is using Tags throughout it. http://nowrevolutionbook.com/ What if you designed the tag to let people know what the cause was about? Or made the Tag an image that impacted people?

        More importantly though is the content behind the Tag. If the user experience isn’t good or the content is lousy people wont continue to scan them.

        Good stuff I’m enjoying this conversation!

      • Moira says:

        Thanks Elliott for the good points — and clarification! QR codes and Microsoft Tags: different things. If you have any favorite resources on the differences between QR codes and MS tags, please feel free to post them here. (Interested nonprofits reading this thread should research this on their own, and will find varying points of view.) So not only do nonprofits need to think long and hard about how best to integrate codes into our programs, we need to bear in mind that there’s more than one type of code to consider, and associated pros and cons. Either way, we need to be willing to experiment and define best practices as we go along. And I really like your point that it’s the content behind the tag (or code for that matter) that really matters. As they say, you can lead a horse to water … Thanks, Elliott, for your valuable contributions here! I think this would be a great topic for a future post.

      • Frank says:

        Are you honestly promoting microsoft’s closed proprietary ‘tag’ over an open sourced, open standard QR code? This is the kind of fragmentation that kills emerging market innovation like QR.

      • Moira Kavanagh Crosby says:

        Hi Frank – Hardly! There’s just more than one type of code and nonprofits need to understand the differences, pros and cons. You bring up a good consideration – I’m glad you posted it. Thanks for reading! Cheers, Moira

  2. Hi Moria,

    I’m one of the co-founders of JumpScan.com, an “all-in-one” customizeable QR code. We’ve seen a number of non profits use our service since it aggregates their contact information and social feeds in one convenient online profile. So you don’t have to generate several 2D codes to go to different places. One JumpScan code will take your supporters to a mobile optimized page with all your digital contact and social info. Would love to have you give us a try.


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