QR Codes - Can Your Nonprofit Use Them?

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QR code for the URL of the English Wikipedia Mobile main pageQR codes, two-dimensional bar codes that can be read by smartphones, are popping up in a surprising number of places. What you may not have realized is how they can be used by social benefit organizations.

Quick Response codes are similar to the traditional bar codes that one finds on products, but with an added dimension that allows much more information to be stored in the code. A number of smartphones have apps that read the code using the phone’s camera and then carry out a specific action like opening a web site, dialing a number or sending a text message. It is a bit like clicking a link on a website by taking a picture with a cameraphone in the physical world. For example, a person could see a poster for a blood drive in the area, snap a picture of the QR code on the poster and get more information from the blood drive’s website - all without sitting down at a computer.

QR codes are a growing phenomenon, but, as Idealware points out, one that hasn’t quite made it to the mainstream yet. Should your organization consider experimenting with them? According to Nth Factor, absolutely. They argue that fundraisers in particular should position themselves now to smooth out the kinks in using QR codes before they become pervasive. The low-hanging fruit of jumping into using QR codes is that there has to be a mobile-friendly version of the website. These codes are being read by cameraphones and the websites they are opening will also be shown on the phone.

QR codes can be generated for free. There are several options for generating QR codes. Services that do nothing but QR codes, like Kaywa, delivr and QR stuff are one way to do it. URL shorteners are also adding QR code capability. Any link that is put into bit.ly or goo.gl can also generate a QR code. SImply add “.qr” to the end of any short-link from either of those services to get the QR code. This means that you can create specific codes for different segments of the target audience and track how they perform through bit.ly’s records.

Nonprofits are already starting to get creative in using QR codes. Netwits Think Tank covered a number of organizations with innovative ideas for QR codes, including a scavenger hunt by the South Carolina Aquarium and a petition drive by The Big Wild, a Canadian conservation organization. The Fundraising Coach shared some examples of how QR codes have been used at conferences and for cause marketing. Frogloop has five examples of the experiences of nonprofits using QR codes. Be sure to check out Fast Company magazine’s review of QR codes used for marketing to crib some notes from the for-profit sector.

Once a code has been created, the placement and usage of them is limited only by your imagination. They could be used as part of a scavenger hunt; to check in at volunteer events or rallies; or to trigger donations through sending text messages.

As smart mobile devices become ubiquitous, QR codes could become a very effective way for nonprofits to connect with their audiences and leverage online communications in the offline world. Where do you see QR codes being useful for your organization?