QR Codes: What Are They? Why Are They Interesting?

There's a lot of buzz around QR codes lately in the nonprofit community, if the nonprofit tech sites are an accurate reflection of interest. I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.

To answer the question, "what is a QR code", it is, quite simply, a Quick Response code. There is more to this, of course. They are 2 dimensional codes that are readable by electronic means. For a better definition, visit the ever-popular Wikipedia for a definition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code).

QR CodeNow let's answer the second question, "Why are they interesting?" There are many answers to this question. The primary reason I find them interesting is that they offer a very specific value normal barcodes don't: They're appealing. They appeal to a wide range of technically savvy, current and potential donors. They are almost "toy-like" in the joy they bring the people who focus their smart phones on them. Assuming that this novelty doesn't wear off in the next few months, are there effective ways nonprofits can use (or continue to use) these codes? I decided to try out a few tests of my own. These are only tests, and I have no data on whether or not they'd be effective. If you've implemented QR codes in campaigns at your organization, please share where you've had success and where you've learned what not to do. Both experiences are really valuable!

If you'd like to take QR codes for a spin, here are the primary tools I used for my tests:

  1. I used an existing version of our product (you can use any donor management software) as the data source for test data.
  2. Microsoft Word.
  3. An Add-In for Word to generate QR Codes (I downloaded a demo of it here: Tec-IT web site ).
  4. Our public web site (The above image is the QR Code I used for my test. You can put your smart phone up to the screen and test it in 30 seconds.)
  5. An internal test web-site (I embedded test data like constituent IDs, campaigns, appeals, etc. and observed that the data was embedded in the web page. The tests for this are likely too tricky for a 5 minute test drive.)
  6. I don't have a smart phone. So, I walked down the hall and borrowed one from a friend in our technical support department.

And I made up a new rating system, the niftiness scale (1-5). This scale is completely biased, but it was fun. Here are my 4 test cases.

  1. I created a QR Code that opened a specific page on our web site. It's the QR Code above in this post. On my niftiness scale, this ranks a 2. Here's the code, in case you have a smart phone and are curious where I sent myself. (Hint: I read the newsletter.)
  2. I created a QR Code that took me to a specific page and populated a campaign and appeal value that got submitted along with the test donation I added from the page. On my niftiness scale, this ranks a 3. (Sorry, I'm not displaying the code for you, because it goes to an externally inaccessible test system.)
  3. I created a QR code that took me to a specific web page that pre-populated constituent information (the unique ID in a fundraising database for a given constituent), the campaign and appeal. The constituent ID was not displayed onscreen, but the form had it as a hidden value. Then, upon submission of a donation, all 3 values came along for the ride. This is a 4 on my niftiness scale.
  4. I created a code that did everything in test 3, but also said "Hi" and then used the constituent's name. It also had the last donation amount and date in it, so the constituent could see that for reference. My ranking on the niftiness scale for this is 5, but it made me think that I need a second scale, creepiness. And this gets a 4 on that scale.

There are many uses that have nothing to do with displaying web sites, as well, but I used these tests because they were easy to identify. The point of all this is that QR codes, if you can entice people to use them, may provide your constituents with a wonderfully personalized experience, while helping you maintain and gather pristine data in your donor management system.

What are your thoughts on QR codes? Are they a fad to be ignored? Are they worth some effort? Do you have hopes and dreams for what you could do with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.