We asked, you answered: How can nonprofits use QR codes?

Recently at the Social Media for Nonprofits conference in NYC, as Andy Steggles talked about developing mobile strategies for nonprofits, I tweeted: Is your nonprofit using QR codes? How?”


Have you seen a compelling campaign that involved QR codes? (Photo: Brian Suda, Flickr/Creative Commons)

For those who aren’t familiar, QR (short for “quick response”) codes are those pixel-y little boxes you might have seen popping up on store windows or in magazine ads. If you have a smart phone, you can use it to snap a picture of the code and it will take you to the web address of, say, a coupon, a video, or any number of things.

My pal Emily Goodstein wrote a long post about QR codes for Convio’s Connection Cafe blog recently. Check it for a much better explanation than mine, and for an example of how the National Partnership for Women and Families used a QR code to occupy conference attendees as they waited in a long security line. There’s also a helpful intro post up at Nonprofit Tech 2.0.

I was curious about the ways that organizations like yours might be using this technology. Here are some of the responses to my tweet, from folks with lots of different goals.

Spread awareness

  • CAMBA Inc., a Brooklyn-based human services organization, recently included QR codes on transit posters for an HIV anti-stigma campaign. (Click that link to see the Facebook note that accompanied the campaign as well as the poster.)

Inspire an action

  • Hope & Heroes, the children’s cancer fund at Columbia University Medical Center, is considering adding a QR code to a save the date postcard for an upcoming walk event. Anyone who sees the postcard could scan the code and go straight to the registration page.
  • Miss Representation, a documentary film and nonprofit aimed at raising visibility of women leaders, tweeted: “We used QR codes to help spread a petition! Check it out: http://j.mp/mOBrgV.” They posted the codes around San Francisco and, though it was hard to track, found that it increased the number of signatures.
  • Larry Schooler of Austin, TX, noted: “We’re a city government, not nonprofit, but we use QR codes to send people to websites where they give input on city policy.”

Share a video

  • Independence First, an organization that serves people with disabilities in greater Milwaukee, WI, said: “Honestly we use them on almost everything now. Ads, flyers, event invites, brochures. Love em!” A second tweet clarified that for each of those examples, the QR code takes you to a video – one might be an invitation to a big event; another a more general “About Our Work” video.
  • Small Change Fund, a collective giving campaign based all over Canada, added a QR code to the backs of their staff business cards. The code “links to video of our founders explaining who we are & why we exist!”

More ideas, plus a caveat

  • Rebecca Saidlower, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at The Jewish Education Project, wrote “we discussed using them on conference badges as mobile business cards.”
  • And finally, a word of caution from social media manager Josh Ness, who says that if you’re thinking about developing a QR code, you should “try to avoid these QR mistakes!”

Your turn! Have you ever bothered to snap a photo and see where a QR code might take you? Has your agency or organization incorporated QR codes into your campaigns? I’d love to hear about it.

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This Wednesday: Two invitations for NYC-area Idealists




In NYC? Come meet friendly people from grad programs around the world! (Staff photo/Julia Smith)


This Wednesday, June 22, is a big one for our team in New York City. Come hang out!

  • Idealist Grad Fair, 5:00-8:00pm: Thinking about going to graduate school? Join us at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for this free event! Meet recruiters from 60+ grad degree programs from nonprofit management to education to urban planning. From 6:00-7:00 youcan also sit in on a Q&A session and learn more about admissions and financial aid. Learn more, sign up, and help us spread the word: http://bit.ly/SummerFairNY
  • Focus group for people who think Idealist should be more mobile phone-friendly, 4:00-5:00pm: Do you have a smartphone? Do you wish you could browse Idealist more easily via your phone? Do you like snacks? If so, join us just before the Grad Fair for some treats and idea-sharing. Learn more and sign up here: http://svy.mk/mobilefg


    Last year the fair was the night of the NYC tornados! Hopefully this Wednesday will be calmer...but mingling with admissions recruiters in a huge, strong building is a pretty great way to wait out a storm. (Photo: Anthony Quintano.)

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Idea List: Personal toilets, powerful rice husks, and more


Photo of Peepoo by Sustainable sanitation (Flickr/Creative Commons)

I like ideas. Luckily for me, my work at Idealist is all about helping to spread ’em.

Here are some interesting, and potentially replicable, solutions I’ve come across lately that make me happy to be in this field:

  • Rice husks in India power rural villages. (Sierra Club)
  • Mobile internet cafes run out of buses in Rwanda help bridge the digital divide. (Dowser)
  • Hollaback! encourages women all over the world to share their stories of sexual harassment on the streets, and puts them on a public map. (NY Times)
  • Detroit’s Soup at Spalding event invites community members to eat soup while learning about projects that need funding. (Shareable)
  • The Peepoo, a personal single use toilet, uses waste to fertilize crops in Kenya. (GOOD)

Did you read, see, or experience something lately that you think deserves more attention, and maybe a copycat or two? Leave a comment below so we can add it to the next idea list!

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Haiti: Technology in a Time of Crisis

From Flickr user Allen Harper (Creative Commons)

By Scott Stadum.

Over the past week I’ve been keeping track of the technological and web-based aid initiatives related to the Haiti recovery. A number of groups—some previously related, some disparate—have quickly come together to leverage their skills, technologies and communities in this time of crisis. I want to highlight a number of these projects to give you an idea of what is happening in this sector.


The Drawing Together campaign, including OpenStreetMap, the International Community of Crisis Mappers, Crisis Commons, Ushahidi and others, are working together to map the crisis and share the information with people working on the ground.

Finding People

Google has created a people finder tool using Google AppEngine, which you can access here. Google is encouraging other people finder tools to contribute their data to the project and are making all the data publicly available. Google and Skype are also offering free VOIP calls to Haiti.

Interactive Tools

The Google Earth Blog has highlighted a number of interactive tools you can use now, like the New York Times tool showing some of the hardest hit locations in Haiti, and Microsoft’s Photosynth tool mapping damaged areas in Port-au-Prince.

Building Tools

Last weekend the Sunlight Foundation held a hackathon, bringing “together specialists in database creation, visualization, geospatial data and other fields in order to build reliable tools that field workers and other volunteers will be able to use on laptops and mobile devices.”

Sorting the Missing

The Extraordinaries are using microvolunteering opportunities to sort and tag disaster images and to submit, sort and tag images of missing persons.

Bridging Technology

Telecoms Sans Frontieres, MapAction, InSTEDD and others have people on the ground bridging technology like mobile telecom rigs and satellite phones with information and virtual volunteer initiatives.


HaitiVolunteer.org is working diligently to aggregate volunteer opportunities and volunteer information. You can also check out what InterAction partners are needing and and related volunteer information at Tonic.com.

If you know of other projects, please leave a comment below.

Previous Haiti-related posts:

Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

Haiti Earthquake Response

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

This post has three sections: Donations; Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti; and Volunteering in Haiti. Idealist staff Jeremy MacKechnie, Amy Potthast, Erin Barnhart, Eric Fichtl, Scott Stadum, and Julia Smith contributed.

The outpouring of support for the victims of Tuesday’s natural disaster in Haiti has been overwhelming. As we look for ways to help, there are a few things to keep in mind.


From news reports and our organizational contacts, it seems the logistics of sending aid and support to Haiti is compromised by electrical outages, gas shortages, and destroyed roads. Most organizations have sent small teams of staff and are assessing needs on-the-ground at this point.

As our Director of Volunteerism Initiatives, Erin Barnhart, wrote on YP Nation yesterday: While many are willing and able to volunteer today—ready to hop on a plane to Port-au-Prince and lend a hand however they are needed—the reality is there may not yet be appropriate ways for most people to pitch in, especially in the days immediately following a disaster of this magnitude.

Thus, the fastest and most efficient way to assist disaster victims at this time is to donate money to a reputable charity that is responding to the disaster. Many charities like the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam specialize in providing relief in acute disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies to the affected regions. Other organizations like Partners in Health, UNICEF, and the Grameen Foundation have a long history in Haiti and are positioned to make a huge impact in the aftermath of this week’s disaster. Find other organizations supporting Haiti relief efforts on CNN.com or at Network for Good.

Your donation, no matter how small, helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help victims recover. Be sure that you are taking precautions to donate to a reputable organization. You may want to review this article on internet scams that have arisen surrounding the tragedy in Haiti.

Note that organizations are asking for financial donations—not supplies—because they prefer to purchase exactly what they need from secure supply chains, using delivery means that can ensure the safety of the shipment. Where possible, purchasing materials available locally is also a boon to the local economy in the wake of a natural disaster. Read more about why cash donations are preferred.

Some organizations have organized text messaging donation drives: you can text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross; text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele; or text “HAITI” to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee. Organizations should send you a text to confirm that you want to donate, and if you accept, the amount will appear on your next cell phone bill — which you can use as your receipt for tax purposes. These have been very popular and successful; however, it is worth considering that the money may take up to 90 days to reach the people and efforts on the ground, as there are processed through the cell phone company and possibly other parties. Read more here.

Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti

If you are not in a financial position to donate, you can still help the relief effort in a variety of ways, often right in your own community. Most organizations don’t want to receive supplies such as clothing, but you can post a donation banner for an organization you support on your blog or website, volunteer at the local office of a charity that has sent staff to the affected area, or organize initiatives in your community that raise awareness about, and funding for, the relief effort.

Such efforts shouldn’t be downplayed: raising money, spreading awareness, or lobbying community leaders to support the relief effort can all generate tangible results for disaster victims. Check out our section on DIY volunteering for tips on how to create your own volunteer project, or visit Idealist in NYC for a list of drives and events being organized in New York City.

Volunteering in Haiti

If you are mainly interested in volunteering on the ground in Haiti right now:

  • Please be patient. Volunteer managers are likely overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodwill and may be unprepared to receive the numbers of people stepping forward to help out. It will take a long time for Haiti to dig out from this disaster, and the long-term volunteering needs will become more apparent as the months (and years) pass. We recommend that you continue to check Idealist.org over the coming weeks and months for these kinds of opportunities. You can search for volunteer opportunities on the site by clicking on Find Volunteer Opportunities, and/or read more about Disaster Relief Volunteering.
  • [UPDATE] As far as we know, Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders are faced with long waiting lists of physicians who want to travel to Haiti. They ask that you please consider a monetary donation for now instead.
  • Volunteers with “needed skills” can also register for possible volunteer positions at the Center for International Disaster Information’s registration page.

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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