Is there any real future for QR Codes in fundraising?

Any future for QR Code Fundraising?

The news last month that Microsoft has decided to discontinue Tag, its proprietary alternative to QR Codes, has sparked a fresh debate as to whether there is really any future in them at all.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of QR (Quick Response) Codes – you’re not alone, based on the lack of success being achieved incorporating them into campaigns. In short they are the little square maze-like icons that you may see on press ads, posters, or product packaging that smartphone users who have downloded a relevant App can use to open a related webpage simply by snapping a photo of the code.

Sounds great! Just one-click from a press ad or poster to your website – what could be better for things like emergency appeal donations? That’s certainly what I had hoped when I first blogged about these neat little response icons back in 2008.

However, five years on QR Codes really haven’t caught-on with smartphone wielding consumers and are more often the focus of ridicule than the basis for great campaign results. Just last week Econsultancy commented on how hard it was to find any recent success stories to update their list of QR Code case studies.

This really is a great pity. As the idea of users being able to respond online through their phone to any physical advertisement without the need to type a URL into their mobile web browser remains a good one – especially with so many people now carrying smartphones. Unfortunately, a couple of key issues have combined to seriously restrict successful QR Code adoption to date.

Firstly, there is the issue of the user having to download a QR Code reader app and open it before they can scan a code. If only the in-built Camera Apps pre-installed on smartphones made scanning them easier then adoption would have been far faster.

Secondly, for those consumers who have bothered to equip their phones with an App the experience of using QR codes has generally been very far from satisfactory. The ease with which the codes can be created and linked to existing websites has led to them generally being thrown in to campaigns as an afterthought – often placed in stupidly unscannable places (from the top of buildings to footballers heads) or linking to non mobile-optimised websites. The end result being that many of those who did bother to adopt the technology have now generally given-up on it.

Recent research by Global Web Index apparently showed “Scanned a QR Code” as the mobile behaviour showing the greatest increase from Q2 2012, with 30% of respondents globally saying they had used them. So perhaps there is a future in them – if advertisers and fundraisers start to use them properly.

But, for now, I see no evidence of any successful fundraising application of the technology at all – while the use of good old SMS response on advertising has seen such a resurgence in the UK that it has led to restrictions on the number of charity ads being allowed on London trains.

Anyone out there seen any successful examples of QR Codes in fundraising? Do leave a comment to let me know.


American Red Cross Hurricane App wins Digitals 2013 Not for Profit Award

A diverse range of campaigns and projects were shortlisted for the Charity and Not for Profit Category of this year’s The Digitals Awards, including the WaterAid Big Dig campaign I worked on in Malawi last summer. However, when the winners were announced last night it was the American Red Cross Hurricane App that took the prize.

Developed by Dorset-based digital agency 3 Sided Cube, the Hurricane App was launched in June 2012 and became the third most downloaded app in the US (only beaten by YouTube and National Geographic) when Hurricane Sandy hit in October that year.

Providing everything from a live location-tailored hurricane tracker and preparation checklists, to shelter maps and an ‘I’m Safe’ messaging service, it’s a great example of when Mobile App technology can really meet a need in a way that no other solution can (which is sadly not the case with the majority of non profit apps I see).

A worthy award winner!

Barclays trials ‘stick-on’ NFC credit cards to help accelerate mobile wave-and-pay adoption

One of the 12 Digital Fundraising Trends for 2012 that I wrote about in January – Contactless Mobile Payments – looks to have continued to develop in the UK with the news that Barclays are to trial a ‘stick-on’ NFC-enabled mini credit card called PayTag. The plan is that Barclays Visa account holders will be able to attach a PayTag to their mobile phone, enabling them to ‘wave-and-pay’ for items of up to £15 (£20 from June) using contactless payment terminals at over 100,000 different retail outlets across the country.

This is an interesting move from the company that pioneered contactless payment cards back in 2007 with its OnePulse card, and a clear attempt to overcome the barrier to smartphone-based contactless payment adoption caused by most smartphones not yet being enabled with the NFC chip needed to make ‘wave-and-pay’ transactions. But with the related report on the BBC News website receiving a mixed response through the several hundred comments it has generated, it remains to be seen how customers will feel about sticking a mini credit card to their phones to be able to join-in the contactless payment revolution.

An initial trial of the cards is to be conducted next Month, and then we’ll have to see whether it has been sufficiently successful to justify a full roll-out to all account holders.

I remain convinced that we will see mass market adoption of contactless mobile payments for low cost transactions – including donations – at some point. However, with a research study released last month reporting that of 2,000 British adults questioned, 60% said they would avoid mobile payments altogether, it may be that it will become important to fundraisers over a 3 to 5 year timescale rather than over the next year or so. Mind you – Visa and Samsung are still set on making the forthcoming 2012 London Olympics a showcase for contactless payment, in the hope that they can use their sponsorship of the event to help accelerate adoption. So, perhaps I should wait until later in the year before flagging this as a slow burn trend?

The fast growing potential for Smartphone Fundraising

Last week, Ericsson analysts announced that, according to their estimates, the world’s 5 billionth mobile phone subscription was reached on Thursday July 8th, and they illustrated the pace of growth with the fact that there are now more mobile subscribers in China alone than there were globally in 2000.

While such a milestone is a clear reminder of the growing ubiquity of mobile phones, it’s actually the parallel growth in mobile broadband subscriptions that Ericsson also report in the same news release that I think is all the more exciting from the fundraising point of view. They forecast 3.4 billion mobile broadband subscribers by 2015, up from 360 million in 2009 – which is in-line with other market estimates and represents the level of growth that has led analysts at Gartner Research to announce earlier this year that mobile phones will actually overtake PCs as the most common web access device world-wide by 2013.

This might seem like a crazy forecast, given the relatively low levels of mobile web use we see today. But with multiple studies showing month on month exponential growth in mobile web user numbers and eMarketer analysts predicting that there will be more mobile internet users in China by the end of this year than the entire population of the US it’s already looking like the technology adoption curve to beat them all.

All of which is why, when I was asked to present the Hot Topic: Digital Fundraising session at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention here in London last week it was Smartphones and the incredible range of new fundraising opportunities their mass adoption looks set to offer us that I took as my hot topic subject.

You can see my full presentation above or view it on Slideshare here – and if you’d like to read more about some of the emerging new fundraising opportunities then you can also take a look at my article in the April edition of the Resource Alliance’s ‘Global Connections’ e-newsletter.


Square brings credit card fundraising to a smartphone near you (if you’re US-based)

A couple of months back I heard about the trials of a great smartphone-based service called Square that allows anyone with an iPhone or Android smartphone to take credit card payments – or donations – simply by registering, downloading an application, and plugging a little square card reader into their phone’s headphone jack. At that time, as I mentioned in an article on Smartphone Fundraising, a beta version of the service had been tested for fundraising at events by Charity:Water and also by Reshma Saujani, a democratic congressional candidate for New York’s 14th District whose fundraisers were using it for door-to-door fundraising – and it struck me what a fantastic service this could be for any fundraiser looking to raise donations at events.

Essentially, a Smartphone version of the traditional charity collection tin – for credit cards!

The great news is that the trials seem to have gone really well, and Square is now available for anyone who wants to take credit card payments – and has an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or Android Phone.

The bad news is that it’s only available in the US, with no current plans to bring the service to Europe. Although the question is being asked quite a bit on the @Square Twitter feed – so here’s hoping they do expand it sometime soon.

For a full write-up on the service, have a read of the coverage in the latest issue of Fast Company – or take a look at the Square site at


New digital tracking study reveals UK consumer views on promotional email and social media use

Last Thursday I was out at the launch event for the DMA’s Digital Tracker Study, a research initiative (backed by online research company FastMAP and email marketing company SilverPop) that aims to provide regular insights into some of the key questions online marketers are asking in relation to using email and social media use.

I’ve embedded a copy of the main research presentation above, so you can take a look at the top-line findings (or click here to view on SlideShare).

As is always the case with such research, some of the observations just confirm what most good online marketers know already – like the fact that traditional sales promotion techniques (money off or free delivery) work well in email.  But I did find some of the insights related to people’s use of Spam flags and also the difference between use of mobile devices to access emails and social media sites of real interest. Plus, there are also some great headline stats – like almost two thirds of recipients finding less than one in ten promotional emails of interest (which might explain some of the dismal click through rates many email marketers see).

Here are some of the insights that jumped out at me – but do take a look yourself and see if the results confirm or counter your own experience or current thinking:

  • 43% of UK adults receive over 20 promotional emails a week – so there’s lots of competition for attention in their inbox
  • 64% of people find just 1 in ten (or less) of these emails of interest to them – suggesting that if you can be truly relevant than you can really stand-out
  • 19% of people will flag your email as Spam if they feel they receive too many and 18% will Spam flag emails they don’t recall signing-up for- so make sure you send a memorable ‘welcome’ email in response to every sign-up and then watch your frequency if you don’t want your email campaigns blacklisted (although the more relevant and thus ‘valuable’ your email, the less frequency should be a concern)
  • A further 8% use the Spam flag instead of opting-out if the opt-out process seems too slow or unclear – so, again you’re risking blacklisting if you don’t make it as easy to opt-out as you did to opt-in
  • The majority of email is still read on desktop (67%) or laptop (49%) devices – but 11% of adults now also read them on mobile devices
  • Interestingly, this contrasts with 18% of people using mobile devices to access their social networks – suggesting a very different mode of use between email and social networks, which marketers need to take into account


Getting excited about smartphone mobile fundraising

Back in October last year when I was over in Holland giving an online fundraising session at the International Fundraising Congress (IFC), I was asked to give a short comment to camera on what I was most excited about in terms of the future of digital fundraising.

At that time, I’d just started to research new ways for fundraisers to make use of the incredibly rich functionality becoming available on the latest generation of ‘smart’ mobile phones, so that’s what I chose to chat about. You can see the result in the video above, this being the first of 30 such short videos being used by The Resource Alliance to promote the 2010 IFC.

For a rather more detailed introduction to the sort of new things fundraisers may be able to do as smartphone adoption continues to grow, I’ve also just written an article for the April edition of the Resource Alliance’s ‘Global Connections’ e-newsletter. Entitled ‘The emerging opportunities for smart fundraisers to use smartphones’, you can read the full article here.

This is a fascinating new area for digital fundraising, so you can be sure that I’ll be posting more about it over the coming months as well as talking about some of the latest examples at the UK Institute of Fundraising National Convention in July.

Meantime, if you are working on any smartphone fundraising yourself, do let me know by leaving a comment below or sending me a message through the ‘Hello and Welcome’ page.