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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Discount code for Social Media for Nonprofits conferences

“Forget concepts and theory,” say the organizers of Social Media for Nonprofits, “this is all about practical tips and tools.”


Beth Kanter and co-author Allison Fine speaking at an event last year. Photo: Marc_Smith (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The conferences are coming up in seven cities—San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Atlanta—this summer and fall. They’ll feature workshops and panels, plus keynotes by (depending on your city) Beth Kanter, Guy Kawasaki, Alexis Ohanian, our own Ami Dar, and many others. Each conference will be followed by a book launch for Darian Heyman’s Nonprofit Management 101 (read Ami’s foreward here).

And if you decide to attend, you can use the discount code “idealist” and get $20 off registration!

Visit http://socialmedia4nonprofits.org/ for more info. And let us know if we should keep an eye out for you at the NYC event!

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Hey "accidental techies," Idealware has free trainings for you.


The friendly team at Idealware.

Idealware‘s tagline is “helping nonprofits make smart software decisions.” They make good on that promise through books, webinars, and other resources. And starting next week, they’ll offer a free monthly training, too!

The first webinar in their monthly series will cover Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines. When people search sites like Google with keywords that relate to your work, does your organization’s name come up on the first page of results?

There are lots of techniques you can use to make this happen, and Idealware’s Executive Director, Laura Quinn, will break them down in this free training. Learn more and sign up here.

Other free eLearning courses include The Technology Pyramid (“Does your organization have its technology priorities in the right order?”) and Facebook vs. Twitter (see also: The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide).

And you may remember that last year we reviewed Idealware’s Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits. Now they’ve released a 2011 edition, packed with new insight about topics from productivity and collaboration to constituent management, fundraising, and outreach.

Go forth and make informed software decisions, nonprofit techies!

Note: despite the similarity in our names, Idealware and Idealist are two separate entities. We like Idealware, and we like to promote free and cheap resources that can help you do your work better! Let us know if there are other organizations or resources we might want to share here.

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Book review: The Networked Nonprofit

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

With the advent of social media, we are all living through a tremendous technological revolution. Have we all been so busy using the new tools—or learning to use them—that we haven’t stopped to think how they are changing the way we work?

Alison Fine and Beth Kanter’s book The Networked Nonprofit offers insights into the way socially-networked organizations look and work differently – and better.


From Beth Kanter's Flickr page

The book is about social networking but it’s not an instructional book about how your organization can use a specific social media tool more effectively. On the one hand, it’s a philosophical treatise on the changing nature of nonprofit being — peppered with true, vivid stories that make a person proud to be a member of the nonprofit family.

On the other hand, the book is a friendly travel guide for traditional organizations and experienced professional communicators and managers who cut their teeth in an age that pre-dated Twitter and Facebook. A travel guide that says—in the nicest way possible—that organizations must change in order to survive in our socially networked age.

Their main points are that networked nonprofits are decentralized and draw strength from diverse and widespread support (rather than a small, pinpointed centralized leader); that networked nonprofits are less needlessly complex and sleeker in their transparent and simple functionality; and that networked nonprofits listen to the public conversation regarding their issues, themselves, their community.

The book goes out of its way to be accessible to all generations of readers.

  • It offers a glossary in back — and bolds the first time a new glossary word appears in the text.
  • It offers clear and specific tips for becoming a more networked nonprofit and what to do as a networked nonprofit.
  • It busts the most common myths about engaging in social networking online.
  • It illustrates new points with stories from the sector.
  • Each chapter concludes with a fabulous, succinct summary of the main points and reflection questions.

Just as I’m rounding the learning curve on social media tools, Fine and Kanter’s book has given me a new approach to social networking well worth embracing. I loved reading the book so much that I am refusing to send it back to my colleague in New York who sent it to me. I told her she’d have to get her own copy for the New York office. (I’m in Portland.)

My only concern about this book? It’s that the people at nonprofits who need it the most will be the most resistant to reading it.

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Does social media really mean the end of social revolution?

“The revolution will not be Tweeted,” claims Malcolm Gladwell in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. Bringing us back to the early 1960s and the U.S. Civil Rights Movements, Gladwell writes that huge upheavals coming from social unrest that led to major change happened precisely because of a lack of texts, tweets, and Facebook friends. The social change mini-revolutions that happen today are smaller scale and have less impact than ones like the Civil Rights Movement due to the fact that the tools that drive them rely too heavily on the weak bonds between members of social networks. Further, being that online social activism is based on ease of participation — people end up making very little personal sacrifice, a necessary component of any social change movement.


Via flickr user david_shankbone (Creative Commons)

Gladwell seems to think that these aspects of social networking might have hindered the civil rights movement by decentralizing the authority of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the N.A.A.C.P., destabilizing the strong, in person bonds of the movement’s members, and letting people “participate” without having to make the huge sacrifices that were required to stage sit-ins, march, or speak out in public, risking abuse, jail time, and even death.

But what about the large scale social revolutions that are happening today?

Social networks don’t seem to have eliminated protests, even if it might be true that they are not being driven by them. Look at the extremely well organized students of Buenos Aires, Argentina who have essentially taken control of 30 city public schools to protest deteriorating conditions. These students became highly organized offline, inside their classrooms. But, when thousands of people gathered to march in the capital earlier this month, information was shared via social networks, increasing participation and pushing the protesters’ message to government officials and traditional media outlets.

Yes, movements that have a lasting societal impact are going to happen offline. For every hundred thousand people that “like” an initiative on Facebook, nothing is going to change unless at least a fraction of these people show up at rallies, donate, or vote in upcoming elections. But, didn’t only a fraction of people participate in the Civil Right’s Movement? Hopefully, the real power of social media is making information about a movement’s progress and how to participate more visible and accessible — hopefully increasing the percentage of people who will take things offline, and make real sacrifices for their cause.

[This blog entry 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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Trends in Nonprofits' Use of Social Media

Use of social media has surged in the nonprofit sector in the past year, according to the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and ThePort Network. Most interestingly, social media use is becoming much more varied as organizations commit more staff time and resources to their presence across various social networks.

Facebook headed up the list of most popular social networks with 86% of the 1,173 small to large sized nonprofits that were surveyed saying they maintained a page there. That’s up 16% from 2009. Twitter was second with 60%, and was the social network with the highest percentage growth with a year-over-year increase of 38%.

Via NTEN.org

Almost 85% of organizations are committing at least one-quarter of a full-time staff member’s work hours to the management of their social networking accounts, demonstrating the importance that nonprofits find in using online social networking as a tool in an overall media strategy. Overwhelmingly, organizations are using their social networks for traditional marketing purposes (92%), but increasingly they are starting to delve into fundraising (45.8%), program delivery (34.5%), and market research (24.3%).

Although it’s gaining popularity in the nonprofit sector, there are still a lot of unknowns in social networking. Since social networks are often housed with marketing or program staff, instead of development or fundraising-focused staff, there’s little data about their return on investment when it comes to donations. Although social communities are thriving around nonprofit issues, it is very difficult to quantify how organizations are engaging their members or increasing the reach of their message.

Here at Idealist, we’re working on some new features to make our site more social; it’s one major way we hope to strengthen the connections among organizations, people, resources, and ideas.

[This blog entry 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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What Does Foursquare Have to Do with Nonprofits?

From Flickr user Walter Elly (Creative Commons)

Foursquare is a web and mobile application that allows its users to share where they are—down to the specific building, park, business, etc.—with their friends. Users earn points and badges for locations that they frequent, and can even become the Foursquare Mayor if they have “checked in” to that spot the most. For many users, it’s like a game (or scavenger hunt?) that helps them explore their city.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofits? At first, I was skeptical, too. But then I read a post on the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog and began to see the connection. Heather Mansfield recommends that organizations that are visited frequently by the public (like museums, theaters, libraries, parks, and zoos) should be sure to have a presence on Foursquare. Makes sense.

But Mansfield also lists some types of organizations I wouldn’t have thought of: food banks, homeless shelters, health clinics, hospitals, gyms, schools, and religious institutions. Think how valuable it could be to have Foursquare users effortlessly sharing information about how they’re dropping off donated goods, showing up for their volunteer shift, or making use of your organization’s services.

For tips on how your nonprofit can make the best of Foursquare, see these blog posts by Big Duck, Kyle Lacy, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Seeing Foursquare’s catch phrase, “unlock your city,” I couldn’t help but think of the project going on in New York City right now called Key to the City. Thousands of New Yorkers received actual keys that they can use to unlock 25 rooms, boxes, and spaces that have been set up throughout the city. The hosts of the locked surprises include museums, parks, community gardens, religious institutions, a library, a school, and a community development organization. It’s like an on-the-ground version of the online game, and offers a fun and creative way for organizations to interact with and educate the public.

Has your organization been a part of any location-based activities like these? Please share your experiences!

[This blog entry 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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The Making of Our New Social Media Posting Policy. Like?

By Flickr user Beck Tench (Creative Commons)

One of the biggest changes coming when we launch our new website this year will be how our members—individuals and organizations—will be able to interact with each other. With dynamic new connections soon to be possible on our own site, we thought it might be time to better define the interactions we are hoping to foster across our larger community.

We have profiles on a several sites—including Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others—each with its own personality and its own community. We want our new public posting policy to serve as general guidelines for all of our online fans, followers, and friends.

Our first steps in creating this policy: introspection, and then research, research, research. What kind of communities are we trying to encourage? What is the focus of having a given profile? What possible issues might come up? How do other, similar organizations address these points? What policies are already offered by the hosting sites? What tone do we take?

We found an impressive compilation of published social media participation policies listed at http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php. After all of our reading, we ended up being most inspired by the guidelines issued by the American Red Cross and by Easter Seals.

We reworked our past internal procedure (which dealt primarily with offenses and consequences) into more understandable, reader-friendly language, and stated explicitly what our goals for our communities would be. We followed this writing by a few rounds of intense revision. After much discussion, and much finessing, we have a final (for now) draft of our public posting policy that we are adding to each of our profiles this week.

We intend for these guidelines to be as vibrant and evolving as our communities are. We welcome any questions, comments, or proposed revisions you might have. Let us know what you think!

[This blog entry 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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Our Bookbags Overfloweth: Zilch, Share This!, and The Networked Nonprofit

Now that it’s summer, have you found yourself with more time for pleasure reading? Want to throw some guides to organizational effectiveness and digital organizing into your beach bag amid the crime series and romance novels? Consider one of these three books by some sharp and talented pals-of-Idealist:

By Flickr user Wonderlane (Creative Commons)

Need more inspiration? See our recent reviews of Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose!; Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue!; Shirley Sagawa’s The American Way to Change; and more — and stay tuned for a review of Sarah Durham’s Brandraising next week.

[This blog entry 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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Personal Democracy Forum Discount for Idealist Community

From PDF 2009

From PDF 2009, via Flickr user neotint

Personal Democracy Forum is “the world’s leading conference exploring technology’s impact on politics and advocacy.” This year, the conference takes place in New York at the CUNY Graduate Center on June 3rd and 4th, and attendees will take part in the conversations that are driving real changes in technology, governance, and the non-profit world.

Non-profit and government rates are available, and the PDF organizers have offered a special discount for Idealist users. Visit http://www.personaldemocracy.com/conference to find out more and use the coupon code “idealist” to get an extra 15% off your registration.

If you go, you’ll have the chance to learn more about how to use technology and social media to mobilize support for your cause. You’ll also have the chance to hear from featured speakers Allison Fine and Beth Kanter, authors of the forthcoming book The Networked NonProfit; Deanna Zandt, author of the forthcoming book Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking, and the founders of OneWebDay, Craigslist.org, Ushahidi.org, MoveOn.org, and more.

[This blog entry 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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