Reports of the death of QR codes may be greatly exaggerated!

Some readers will recognize this quote as paraphrasing Mark Twain’s humorous retort after newspapers falsely reported his death.  The quote might be equally applied to QR codes in North America and Europe today.

QR (Quick Response) codes were first created by Toyota as a two-dimensional black and white bar codes for inventory tracking. They are now widely used in various contexts in China and Japan and apparently enabled $1.65 trillion in mobile payments in 2016.

barcode cellphone close up coded
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Codes come in various shapes and colours and represent text and numbers, including website URLs.  A QR code is read by a scanner downloaded to a smart phone, which either triggers an action or leads to a destination site.  As a consumer, you might make a purchase or SMS donation, go to a social network or access additional information or a video.  All with no internet connection.

For businesses, QR codes can be used on a variety of real-world items such as clothing, signage and packaging.    Business contemplating adopting QR codes should make it easy for customers to undertake actions without excessive reading or typing.  And a QR code at an airport, subway station or theatre makes more sense than a billboard on the highway, as smart phone users in the case of the former can easily and safely pull out their phones and scan the code.

apple applications apps cell phone
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

For various reasons, QR codes were not widely adopted in the West and many observers predicated their total demise in recent years.  But there are some indications that this is changing.  In 2017, industry leading Apple installed an active QR code e-reader in the camera app of its phones.  WhatsApp now allows users to confirm a contact’s identity with a QR code.  And 34% of US smart phone users have scanned a QR code.  Juniper Research predicts that 5.3 billion QR coupons will be redeemed by mobile phone by 2022. 

And QR codes will also benefit consumers, non-profits and small businesses still using email in the immediate future (or as long as email is in use.  Some analysts have predicted that social media will eventually prevail.)  Codes for sending emails will help read and monitor newsletters, email marketing and emails’ performance rates.  And consumers can scan a coupon and redeem in-store or on-line.

This author thinks that some of the forecasts are a little optimistic, ones we have heard before.  And much will depend if major traditional media such as newspapers and television climb on board.

Get your own QR Code!

Have you ever scanned a QR code in the airport or to redeem a coupon?  What was your experience like?  Does your phone have an active QR code reader?   Can you see other applications for QR codes?  If you are interested in getting our own QR code, click here!

SMS Fundraising: Is it really the answer?

Many consider SMS to have eclipsed more traditional methods of marketing such as direct mail, voicemail, social media posts, newspapers or TV.  Although SMS is primarily used to reach customers for commercial purposes, it is apparently being adopted increasingly by non-profits for fundraising purposes.

woman sitting on sofa while looking at phone with laptop on lap

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

But how does SMS really work?  And is it effective?

What’s it all about?

SMS is an acronym which stands for “short message service”.   Simply put, they are text messages sent to a phone by a phone or computer.   Generally, all that is required is a catchy keyword (like SUCCEED or BUILD) to punch on a keypad, a short code number (like 33333) and a link to a secure and mobile-friendly donation page that donors use  by using their credit or debit cards.

balance business cobblestone conceptual

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Proponents trot out all sorts of arguments and statistics to back up their claims.  Service providers such as the Canadian TTAG SystemsMobile Cause and Zip Give say their platforms make it fast and easy for donors to give to non-profits of all types and sizes.   The system does not require registration.  Texting is discreet and quicker than making a phone call. Messages can be delivered even if the phone is turned off or out of range once service has been restored.

And fees to the non-profits are low.  In addition, text messages are a useful tool for reaching existing and potential donors with customized content.  Donors can be apprised, for example, of progress being made at school by their “own” foster child, thus engaging donors and ensuring lasting loyalty  and repeat donations.

And 90% of the population have mobile phones.  Americans send and receive 32 texts per day.  98% of text messages are opened.  94% of smart phone users 70 and older are sending text messages on a weekly basis. 76% of supporters appreciate text messages and reminders, which encourages donors to come back and give again.  SMS is second only to web donations in the USA, although it is worth noting that SMS is not popular among Boomers and Matures.

pexels-photo-669615.jpeg

One use of  the SMS approach is where UNICEF is using test messaging to raise money for the children of Syria during the bloody and costly civil war (http://childrenofsyria.info/).

grayscale photo of girl leaning on tent

So, what are the drawbacks?

I have to confess that I have never engaged in an SMS non-profit fundraising campaign, but as someone who has undertaken more traditional fundraising, particularly grants, I can offer some observations.

Before launching into these, I should say that my interest is as a non-profit fundraiser on behalf of non-profits in developing countries, where realities are quite different from what we experience in Canada.

little boy carrying can

Photo by Dazzle Jam on Pexels.com

In no particular order:

  • the non-profits utilizing the service providers mentioned above are usually required to have their own subscriber lists from which solicitation can be undertaken.
  • Asking a developing country non-profit to develop a subscriber list of  Canadian phone numbers would be challenging but I could investigate having a Canadian partner act on their behalf to undertake this.
  • While American service provides argue that non-profits have  the authority to send text messages without receiving permission, I would need to investigate this in the Canadian context.
  • traditional means of promotion (such as media advertising, e-mails or direct mail) are  still required to reach potential donors in Canada not already on subscriber lists.  Or a Jumbotron will have to be used at a concert of sports venue to promote the campaign.  All of this will cost money up front, which developing country non-profits often do not have.
  • the non-profits may not have the expertise or budget (likely upward of $5,000 per annum) to maintain the fundraising campaign once it has been set up.
  • non-profit fundraising for a non-Canadian organization would not entitle donors to any tax benefits, which may be a significant deterrent; andperson holding black pen
  • the size of donations from the SMS approach is often relatively small ($5-$50) compared to funding potentially available through traditional granting sources, although admittedly the latter are difficult to obtain.  This would suggest the need for a comprehensive approach to fundraising utilizing various platforms.

From a technical perspective, Tiesha Whatley has identified various problems, not the least of which is that SMS technology can be easily attacked.  In addition, too many messages at once can overpower control panels and hinder users from receiving phone calls.  There is often a cost-per-call to users.  And there is frequently a long hold time before receiving messages. 

The above observations are drawn after a quick analysis and some very basic research.  But even some techies seem to recognize that the platform is not unanimously supported within the fundraising industry or might even be outdated. A Tech Soup Canada guru recently wrote in a somewhat apologetic and qualified tone, “Although there are many misconceptions around SMS marketing it is still (sic) an effective and affordable tool to reach donors.”

What do you think?  

Over to you now.  Have you ever used SMS as a donor or fundraiser?  If so, what was your experience like? Do you think SMS is an effective fundraising tool?  Could it be used by a developing world non-profit for fundraising among Canadian  donors?  Let me know what you think.