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How Nonprofits Can Use QR Codes

You see them everywhere – an array of black and white squares situated on a bar menu, billboard and even in TV commercials. These QR codes, short for “quick response,” encode scannable data that is easy to access via your smart phone’s camera. Many may remember QR codes as a gimmicky marketing ploy in the 2010s and some might think they sprung up during the depths of the pandemic, but the truth is, they’ve been around for quite a while.

In fact, they can be traced back to 1994. That’s the year when a Japanese engineer working in the automotive industry at a Toyota subsidiary came up with QR codes as a more efficient way than barcodes to track parts during the assembly process because they can store more information and be read more than 10 times faster. Outside the manufacturing process, however, QR codes lived in relative obscurity until the 2000s when companies began exploring ways to use them in their marketing. They didn’t get much traction, though, because accessing the data in the QR was clunky; even though you could use your phone, you first had to download a QR scanner.

But as time went on, the cameras on smart phones evolved to the point where they could scan QR codes. Then, COVID-19 engulfed the world marking the beginning of our touchless society, and suddenly, QR Codes provided a viable way to provide information and engage with our audience in a safe yet effective manner.

Access at Your Fingertips

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a 750% increase in QR downloads, according to Bitly, making it fair to say that the pandemic has helped revive the QR code as a practical marketing tool. Along with giving easy access to menus at restaurants, companies like the quick and convenient way its audience can instantly access information in the palm of their hands using QR codes.

Depending on its application, a business can use one of two different types of QR codes. Static QR codes are hardcoded and cannot be overwritten, making them best used for things like sharing contact information, email addresses and other information that won’t change. Dynamic QR codes redirect the scanner to a destination like a webpage, PDF, video link or somewhere else. Dynamic codes are used if the data or content within may change and you don’t want to create another QR code, making them the best option for marketing campaigns.

How Nonprofits Can Use QR Codes

You may remember the Coinbase Superbowl TV commercial featuring a bouncing QR code on the screen and nothing else. Not only did that spot cost the company a reported $13 million for 60 seconds, but also it almost broke the internet. So many people scanned the QR code, which brought them to a promotional page offering a limited offer and the chance to enter a $3 million give-away, that the webpage crashed.

As a nonprofit or higher ed organization, you don’t need to spend anywhere near that amount of money to use QR codes in your marketing, but you can use them just as effectively. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Encourage donations – organizations that depend on donations should embrace QR codes as an effective way to solicit donations. By placing them strategically throughout an annual report or impact story, you meet your audience where they are with a donation request and give them easy access to oblige.

2. Tell stories – stories are one of the most effective methods for connecting your audience; they also are more memorable. Consider using a QR code to direct your audience to a video that shares your story or the story of someone you helped.

3. Gather feedback – Harvard Business Review found that 88% of non-profit organizations questioned said that gathering feedback was a priority in measuring impact. Still, getting that feedback from a wide audience can be challenging. By using a QR code, you can direct your audience to a feedback form and give them the opportunity to provide feedback easily and potentially, in real time.

4. Grow social channels – organizations are always looking for ways to gain new fans and followers on their social media channels. It’s easy to embed all your social links into one QR code so when a user scans it, they see the different profiles on the screen and can tap through to whichever they want to visit. At the same time, a QR code can bring a user directly to profile page on any social media channel and even to a specific post.

5. Check-ins to an event – if you are hosting an event, whether it’s a fundraising gala or 5k race, consider providing a QR code that allows the user to check-in remotely, thus eliminating long lines.

Making Sure It Works for You (and Your Audience)

While QR Codes look challenging to create, they’re not. In fact, there are several QR Code generators available ranging in cost from free to a few dollars a month. Keep in mind the more your monthly fee is, the more your QR code may provide, like advanced analytics, retargeting, etc.

To make sure you and your audience are getting the most out of your QR code, there are a few best practices to incorporate:

1. Include a Call to Action (CTA) with your QR code – help your audience understand what they get when they scan the code. It doesn’t have to be a long or even unique CTA but include something to compel someone to act.

2. Send your audience to a page that is optimized for mobile – this may seem obvious, but if you send your audience to a page that isn’t optimized for mobile users, you will most likely lose users, fast.

3. Warn your audience if you’re sending them to a page that automatically plays an audio or video clip – this is not only common courtesy, but also will give warning to the user to turn their volume down (or up).

4. Know your audience – while most people today have smart phones, there still is a subset of those who don’t, and thus, can’t scan a QR code. If that’s your audience, QR codes aren’t an appropriate tool.

5. Measure results – depending on your QR code generator, you will be able to see who’s scanning your code, when and on what kind of device. This information will help you determine the effectiveness of your codes and what – if anything – you need to change.

What do you think – are you curious about QR codes and how they could work for you? Give us a call and let’s discuss creative yet effective ways to use them in your marketing!


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