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.


When was the last time you actually tried to give yourself a donation?


Network For Good has announced that this Wednesday, October 24th, is its inaugural Be Your Donor Day – when they’re hoping to inspire nonprofits to set aside time to put themselves in their donors’ shoes and test the experience being provided for them. Whether it’s calling your main office phone line to see what they make of new donor questions, or enduring the trial by tick box that far too many online donation experiences turn into, it’s an opportunity to highlight any problems in time to get them sorted before the peak time for donations over Christmas.

Given how much effort and budget is invested in getting people to visit donation pages, I’m amazed by how many organisations still focus minimal effort on ensuring their donation process is as simple as possible for the potential donors who reach them. This explains why 47% of potential online donors in the UK apparently give-up before making a donation because the website journey is not intuitive or engaging.

In the light of this, ‘Be Your Donor Day’ is a great way of bringing the real donor experience to the fore and identifying both quick fixes and areas that might require further thought and investment across all of your donor touchpoints.

In support of the day, Network For Good has created a range of resources including a Be Your Donor Day Checklist, and a simple guide to website donation process testing.

Go on. Give yourself some time to see how it feels from your potential donors’ point of view. It needn’t take-up much of your day, and if you can rope-in some colleagues then you can share the testing around. I have no doubt at all that you’ll discover something that you can fix to help improve your donors’ experience – and your fundraising results.

Don’t forget to test your website on different browsers (not everyone runs the old version of Internet Explorer that your IT department forces you to) and different devices (get those smartphones and tablets out) – and also test-out the donation journeys for any SMS shortcodes you might have live.

Rest assured – whatever issues you discover, it won’t be as bad as the customer experience in the great Google video above! (Or will it?)

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…

Great online advocacy and membership campaign by Amnesty in Norway

I’ve been meaning to mention this great campaign ever since I heard about it when I was over in Oslo for the Norwegian Direct Marketing Association’s @Norge Conference in November, but lots of fun client work and then the Christmas break has kind of got in the way of my blogging.

Anyway, better late than never…

Rather than me explain the campaign details, just sit back and watch the great video case study above and all will become clear… right from the thought process behind the campaign; through its clever use of offline promotion to drive website visits; to the wonderfully engaging online user experience and approach to capturing responses.

(Special Norwegian hat tip to @BeateSorum from the Norwegian Cancer Society for telling me all about it)

SMS fundraising ideas


If you’re interested in SMS fundraising then take a look at, which promotes the use of mobile phones for all forms of civic action.

As well as providing lots of data relating to worldwide mobile phone use (usefully split by country) and a very active blog, you can also download a number of strategy guides – including one on using mobile phones in fundraising campaigns.

You need to register to use the site and download the guides, but it’s completely free and well worth a look if you’re thinking of adding mobile communications to your fundraising or advocacy programmes.

You might also have a think about the potential of t-shirts that text back – which I spotted a while ago.

Fashionable SMS fundraising


I originally mentioned this on a couple of months back, but it’s such a fun idea that I thought it worth mentioning here too.

Reactee is a great online t-shirt site which not only offers shoppers the opportunity to share their views on any subject that takes their fancy through a personalised t-shirt – but takes t-shirt communication to a completely new level by creating clothing that “texts back”.

Every Reactee t-shirt displays the wearer’s personal slogan plus a keyword and SMS shortcode. Anyone interested in knowing more about the slogan – or the wearer – can text-in the keyword and will automatically receive a response set by the wearer. The responses can be updated as often as the wearer wants, and they receive a notification each time someone texts their t-shirt.

So far, Reactee t-shirt wearers apparently range from those just looking for a personal response (“Am I hot?” seems quite popular) to those wanting to raise awareness of charities or political campaigns. One young Democrat has created an “Obama for President” t-shirt and updates her text response each week with a new reason to support him.

Seems like there could be real potential for charities with their own shortcode services already in-place to replicate the idea in support of their own campaigning or fundraising.