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.


Riding the Digital Fundraising Hype Cycle

Earlier this month technology research company Gartner released their latest Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report.

The Hype Cycle is a very interesting way of considering the evolution of new technologies as regards their hard business benefits, taking into account the common stages of over enthusiasm and hype, followed by negative PR and disillusionment, leading – for some technologies at least – to the realisation of mass market business benefits.

I first started using it as a strategic planning tool for digital fundraising back in 2009, when E-book Readers were right at the Peak of Inflated Expectations (just after Amazon launched its first Kindle), Microblogging was heading down into the Trough of Disillusionment (as the mass market struggled to get to grips with Twitter), and Web 2.0 was heading-up the Slope of Enlightenment. You can see a flashback to the digital world in 2009 in my August 09 blog post about that year’s Hype Cycle here.

Looking at this year’s Hype Cycle (summarised in the chart above) there are a number of technologies with clear relevance to digital fundraising: Gamification is headed for the Peak of Inflated Expectations; Augmented Reality and NFC Payments are just over the Peak and slipping into the Trough; and Media Tablets (think iPad or Galaxy Tab) are fast heading into Enlightenment. Meanwhile, despite the great work done by those involved in the SecondLife Relay for Life annual fundraiser (raising $350k for the American Cancer Society in 2012), Virtual Worlds remains pretty well stuck in the Trough of Disillusionment.

For a quick reference to what Gartner’s full list of technologies mean (including such wonders as the Internet of Things) you can check their online IT Glossary here.

While the main Gartner report is excellent food for thought, I find a more useful strategic planning exercise is to apply the Hype Cycle concept specifically to the application of digital technologies in fundraising. In a digital world where it is all to easy to be attracted by the bells and whistles of new technologies which have yet to prove real fundraising value, simply mapping-out where you feel different opportunities lie on the Hype Cycle curve can be a handy way to help you focus on those areas most likely to generate returns within defined timescales.

Every organisation is different with regard to its vision for and experience of digital fundraising, as well as the audiences they might engage with and resources available for implementation, and as a result each might come-up with a slightly different placement of technologies. However, here’s a rough generic Digital Fundraising Hype Cycle I’ve drawn-up listing some of the key opportunities with us today and coming-up over the horizon to help get your thinking started…

WaterAid’s The Big Dig Appeal brings supporters closer through Instagram liveblogging world first

Since writing my last post on what makes for great digital fundraising content, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to Malawi with a small team from WaterAid and Misfit Inc, who were training WaterAid field staff in the use of smartphones to live blog from the remote communities they work with. All with the aim of enabling them to create fantastic digital fundraising content for WaterAid’s ‘The Big Dig’ Appeal that launched earlier this week.

The Big Dig (#thebigdig) aims to raise the £1.2m needed to provide safe water and sanitation for over 134,000 people in some of the poorest communities in rural Malawi, with all money donated by the public over the three month appeal (to September 18) being matched pound-for-pound by the UK Government.

But WaterAid also wanted to use the appeal as a unique opportunity to bring supporters closer to the real work their donations make possible in Malawi, by enabling them to follow progress day-by-day throughout the three months of hard work that needs to happen before the ultimate highlight of drilling safe water boreholes for the communities in September. To achieve this two WaterAid field officers, Michael Kalawe and Nathan Chiwoko, equipped with Smartphones running the wonderful Instagram photo sharing App, have become the eyes and ears of the appeal – recording the highs and lows of their day-to-day work with the villagers of Kaniche and Bokola, live as they happen.

It’s an incredible fact that while the people in these villages have no access to clean water, instead being reliant on filthy scoop holes in river beds which make them and their children sick, through the wonders of the mobile internet as you stand in their village you can take and upload an Instagram photo in under a minute – and see it shared globally through Facebook and Twitter just minutes later. As I did with this photo of the scoop hole at Bokola.

As far as I know, the use of Instagram in this way by a development non-profit’s field officers to share their day-to-day work with supporters in support of a rolling fundraising appeal is a world first (at least @ajleon from Misfit Inc hasn’t heard of it being done before – and he should know!). However, given the compelling authenticity of the content that results – telling the real story of the need being faced and the impact your donations can have, day-by-day, as it happens – I’m sure it won’t be the last.

For more of a feel for The Big Dig appeal, take a couple of minutes to watch the great appeal promo video below and then click-on down to their website at (and perhaps even give them a donation? Remember every pound you give is doubled – and it is a great appeal!-)


Then, have a think about how you can come-up with your own innovative fundraising approach using some of the wealth of digital storytelling tools available to us today.

Instagram was used in this case because it proved to be by far the easiest way to share stories from these remote communities, live. We would have loved to use live video, but while the mobile internet there is good – it’s just not that good. So video content like this has to be uploaded separately.

Your cause might not be the same as WaterAid’s and the situations you work in may be very different – all this means is that the tools you can use and the approach you take to bring your supporters closer is likely to be different. But used in the right way, the positive impact on your fundraising should still be the same.

And one last thought. Just incase you think this type of digital storytelling is too much to ask your front-line workers to help you with, I’ll leave the last word to Nathan in Malawi (that’s him liveblogging in my photo at the top of this post). When asked if he was happy to keep-on liveblogging throughout the project he replied “How can I stop? I feel the future development of Kaniche and Bokola is in this phone”.

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?

Does QR = Quick Response or Quite Ridiculous?

I first posted about the potential for QR Codes to be used by fundraisers back in early 2008 and, while it’s been some time coming, it’s been interesting to see how their use has started to take-off over the last year or so.

However, as explained by Scott Stratten in the fun video clip above, right now QR Codes seem to be coming-out like a rash in a range of places where they make very little if any sense.

I’ve now got used to seeing QR Codes at the end of some emails, linking back to the sender’s website. Clearly offering no advantage at all over a standard clickable link and presumably stuck there in the vain hope that I’ll scan their email on my computer screen with my Smartphone, or scan my Smartphone with a notional ‘other’ Smartphone when I’m reading my email while on the go. That just makes me smile at how daft some people can be.

However, what prompted me to mention this whole subject here is that a week or so ago I saw QR Codes under each of the prompt values on the proposed screen designs for the donation pages of a new charity website. When the client questioned this with their agency, the designer apparently wasn’t sure where these might link to but thought it might be good to offer the option. Good to offer a diversion away from perhaps the most important point in the transaction journey to an unspecified location viewed on another device by scanning the computer screen? No wonder almost half of all potential donors give-up without completing transactions if that’s the sort of thinking going into donation page design these days.

For more such examples of where QR actually stands for ‘Quite Ridiculous’ take a look at this list from eConsultancy (Top ridiculous points go to Bromley Town Football Club for shaving unreadable QR codes onto players’ heads).

The moral of the story – while everyone knows that mobile is becoming increasingly important in our new digital world, there is still a very important place for good old-fashioned common sense when it comes to how you should try to capitalise on the new opportunities on offer.

Also, never be afraid to ask your agency why they are recommending something that seems wrong to you. You never know, it might well be that what they are recommending is simply wrong – and by asking the question you can save yourselves both some embarrassment.

12 digital fundraising trends for 2012 #8 Contactless Payments

According to the people at Visa Europe, 2012 is going to be the year that ‘contactless payments’ take off here in the UK – heralding a new era when we will all be purchasing low cost items (£15 or less) with a wave of our payment card or NFC equipped mobile phone. No need to type-in a pin number – just ‘wave and pay’.

The technology to enable this has been available here for a while now, with Barclaycard launching their ‘OnePulse’ card using Visa’s contactless system back in 2007 and partnering with Orange to launch the UK’s first NFC mobile phone payment system in May last year. But it seems that a combination of lack of consumer trust and lack of bank and retailer interest has kept the take-up at a pretty small scale to-date. Two thirds of the UK population are currently unaware of which banks offer the service and only 20% of people with suitable payment cards have ever actually used them, according to recent YouGov research.

However, this is apparently all set to change – with Samsung and Visa capitalising on their sponsorship of this year’s Olympics here in London to make it “the world’s first contactless games”. Plus a growing number of retailers joining early adopters like McDonalds with the introduction of suitably equipped tills; and Transport for London planning to equip all buses and Tube stations with contactless payment units by the end of 2012. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but certainly on that basis it looks like you won’t be able to escape the Contactless Payment trend if you’re anywhere inside the M25 this year.

If all this takes off, then we will be running to catch-up with the US where the introduction of Google Wallet and the launch of a number of NFC-equipped Smartphones (no sign of an NFC iPhone as yet though) have led to contactless payments growing apace. Although, in turn, they are some way behind the world leaders in contactless mobile payment – who are the Japanese, where over 10% of the population were already making NFC-based mobile payments by the end of 2010.

What’s in all this emerging ‘wave and pay’ technology trend for fundraisers? Well, it offers a very simple additional form of mobile donation opportunity beyond the current SMS or web-based transaction. While I guess it won’t offer the equivalent contact data collection, thanks to the simplicity of contactless payment perhaps at last we could see the cash collection tin come into the digital age – with street and event fundraisers able to take ‘wave and pay’ card or mobile donations at a rather higher value than the traditional coin in the bucket? This Christmas the Salvation Army in the US started accepting card payments using Square card-swipe readers attached to Smartphones as part of their seasonal red kettle collections, to overcome reductions in the number of people carrying cash. So an NFC red kettle can’t be that far away!

Depending on just how the NFC reader technology is implemented, we might also be able to have donations made through charity show windows (good for emergency appeal donations) or by waving a phone across a suitably equipped poster or in-store fundraising point.

This is the eighth of twelve posts that I’ll be publishing throughout January on trends I think will prove to be important for digital fundraising in 2012. You can find the previous trend post, on Getting Smarter With Email, here.

12 digital fundraising trends for 2012 #5 Mobile App vs Mobile Web

It was back in September 2010 that Wired featured the cover story  ‘The Web is Dead – long live the Internet’, explaining that the traditional means of engaging with data on the Internet by browsing pages on the World Wide Web was fizzling-out as we increasingly turned to Apps to make the connections and access the information we want. This demise being driven by the incredibly rapid adoption of Smartphones – with finger-driven smaller screens on which traditional web browsers typically offer a less than ideal user experience. More heat was added to the debate just last month when the CEO of Forrester Research presented an interesting argument at the Paris LeWeb conference for why the shift from Web browsing to what he termed ‘App-Internet’ is the next natural evolutionary step for all computing.

Based on the sustained hype around Mobile Apps over the last couple of years, including in the non-profit sector, you could easily be led to believe that this evolutionary step has already been made and that if you don’t have a Mobile App at the heart of your next digital campaign then you really can’t be taking digital engagement seriously.

However, the truth is somewhat different and, looking ahead to a year when supporter engagement through mobile digital devices will continue to grow in importance, it is important for non-profit marketers and fundraisers to understand that Apps aren’t always where it’s at for all of their digital engagement needs.

Mobile App use has certainly soared over recent years, but announcement of the Web’s demise remains somewhat premature based on the mobile usage data available. The first signs of the two approaching parity only came at the end of last year, when comScore released data showing the numbers of US mobile device subscribers using Apps just passing those browsing the Web on their device – at 44.9% (up 3.3% in 3mths) vs 44.4% (up 2.3% in 3 mths):

Interestingly, this data was taken by many of those in the App world as evidence that the war was over and Apps had won. But I read it somewhat differently – as the two are both still growing faster than any of the other uses listed (as an aside – you’ll see that texting is still growing apace too, so fundraising growth opportunities continue to be available there). For those interested in the equivalent data for Europe you can read comScore’s EU5 Mobile Benchmark Data for Sept 2011 here – which shows a similar picture

Examining other data helps shed some light on the growth seen in both mobile Web and App use, as it appears that at present consumers are actually using them for somewhat different activities:

If it’s online shopping (the closest category to donating) that you’re into then Mobile Browsers still apparently dominate, as they do for Search. It’s when it comes to users communicating with each other in the ‘Inform’ and ‘Connect’ categories that Apps take the lead (e.g. Twitter and Facebook Apps). This will undoubtedly change over time, with retailers launching App-based catalogues at the same time as HTML5 offers more mobile-friendly options for browser-based UIs – but for now there seems to be a clear Browser/App divide between Spending and Connecting.

With this in mind, when you reach the point of considering mobile opportunities and requirements in your digital fundraising planning this year – don’t just be led off blindly to invest your time and/or money on another charity App to add to the pile of rarely downloaded and even more rarely used vanity apps created over the last couple of years (I know there are some exceptions to this – but I’ve found them sadly few thus far). Stop to think about just what role a mobile Website might play in your strategy as compared to a Mobile App.

It may be that you need one, or both, or neither.

Because, of course, it’s also useful whilst in the midst of the whole Mobile Web vs Mobile App debate to remember that while both are growing apace, Mobile browsing still only makes-up a small proportion of all Web browsing – still under 10% according to recent data from Net Applications:

So perhaps you should begin by focusing on getting your main website and key landing pages performing better – and once that’s underway come back to the question of Mobile App vs Mobile Web?

This is the fifth of 12 posts that I’ll be publishing throughout January on trends I think will prove to be important for digital fundraising in 2012. You can find the previous trend post, on Microdonations, here.