Scanning for Good – How Nonprofits Can Use QR Codes

I’m sure you’ve noticed QR codes by now – those funny little black and white squares that are appearing on posters, business cards, and event lanyards everywhere. These next-gen bar codes are most often used by marketers who want to link to a website or landing page from a visual appeal. If you’re looking for a fun, interactive, easy-to-implement hook for your nonprofit’s next campaign, you might want to check out QR codes.

Before I show you some easy ways to generate QR codes, here are some examples of how nonprofits are using them:

Be Rare Contest, South Carolina Aquarium

When the South Carolina Aquarium found out it was getting an albino alligator, it wanted to make sure people had their eyes wide open. They created the Be Rare Contest, which used QR codes as the focus of a city-wide scavenger hunt. If you found one of the albino alligator posters, you could get a point by scanning it. When the contest ended, the person with the most points was given a 1-year membership and got to meet the Aquarium’s albino gator in person (yikes, is that a prize?!?) The contest generated a ton of interest, helped drive traffic to the new exhibit, and was very inexpensive to implement.

Do Something Small Petitions, The Big Wild

The Big Wild is a Canadian conservation group who used a QR code campaign to raise awareness and get people to sign a petition. The group placed posters all over Canada featuring a giant QR code and the text “Do Something Small To Save Something Big.” When people scanned the QR code with their smart phone, it opened a mobile-friendly petition aimed at saving British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley. This was an easy way to get people engaged and provided a simple way to take action.

Product (RED) has been using QR codes at Starbucks to raise awareness, and Greenpeace Netherlands humorously integrated them into one of their campaigns. Hopefully these efforts will spark an idea that makes sense for your mission, audience, and goals. QR codes are great for a techie support base who is running around with smart phones, but that doesn’t sound like your audience then they may not be right for you. But if it does sound like your audience, and you have a campaign idea, it’s time to get your QR code.

Creating a QR Code

There are a lot of QR generators out there, and using any of them will probably work for you. Kaywa is a well-respected non-commercial service, and delivr and QR stuff also work well. These services allow you to create a QR code that can have any number of things associated with it: simple text, website URL, telephone number, SMS, contact details, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can put this QR code on any print item or web page, and let your supporters scan away.

If you’re already using, the popular URL shortening service, you’ve been been creating QR codes all along and I bet you didn’t know it! When you visit the info page of a URL (simply put a plus sign after any URL), you’ll notice a QR code in upper right corner. That’s the QR code for this link! You can also get the code by adding a “.qr” after any link ( is the QR code for this blog post). is a great option, as it will tie into your existing metrics and give you an integrated, real-time view of clicks. You can also check out, which offers the same service as plus a future promise that it might be tied into the Google universe.

That’s all there is too it – now it’s just up to your creativity to get a QR code-enabled campaign going! Happy scanning!

Is your nonprofit already using QR codes? Let us know in the comments…

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  • Anonymous

    Great post!

    The nonprofit I work at is currently rolling out it’s first QR code for a huge media event with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. The QR code will be on a piece of collaterol that all LA Kings fans will receive. I am looking forward to seeing it’s performance post game.

  • Chad Norman

    That’s very cool Allison – QR codes seem to work really well when integrated with an event. Be sure to let us know how it goes. And don’t forget to document the whole thing (pics, video, etc), as there aren’t too many nonprofit examples out there yet. (c:

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be doing social media reporting from the event on Twitter (@PanCAN) and I’ll certainly be taking pics, Twitvid and posting great updates.

    Part of my role at the organization is social media reporting at big events and when we advocate on Capitol Hill every summer for Advocacy Day.

  • Chad Norman

    Very cool…keep us posted!

  • vasha

    The non-profit I work for is incoporating them with a number of our adoption and fundraising events. They’re a great way to tap into the younger, cooler demographic. :)

  • Chad Norman

    That’s great to hear Vasha. What kind of “adoptions” are you talking about…pet? I could see QR codes definitely being used to promote pets that are up for adoption. A giant QR code with the phrase “Who could say no to my face?” – I would scan that just to see where it pointed!

  • dbarefoot

    Thanks for mentioning The Big Wild–we were pretty pleased with our results on that campaign.

  • Chad Norman

    Thanks for the comment Darren – that was a very cool campaign. Do you have any specific results that you can share?

  • David Whitney

    A fact: If you’re fundraising using a JustGiving page and print out your page, the donate button is replaced with a QRCode that takes you straight into the donation process if snapped / visited on a smart phone.

    (Full disclosure: I work for JustGiving and implemented this particular feature!)

  • Bsomusic

    Yes, we are using QR codes in the symphony world. We’ve put the codes on the posters and newspaper ads. Thus far, the QR codes have taken people to a video of our Conductor talking about the concert.

  • Ash Shepherd

    Thanks for this article. I just heard about how the Heifer International volunteer group here in Portland is using the QR codes in lots of new creative ways. Very exciting stuff and nice to see how nonprofits really are making some headway into the mobile market.

  • QR Codes Offer Potential for Increased Interactivity at Zoos and Aquariums | Beyond Nines

    [...] to NetWitsThinkTank when the “South Carolina Aquarium found out it was getting an albino alligator they created [...]

  • Chad Norman

    That is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Thanks for sharing!

  • Chad Norman

    That sounds really cool! What symphony are you working with, and can you post a link to an example?

  • Patrick Donnelly

    I like the idea of a mobile-friendly petition .

    patrick donnelly, QrArts LLC,

  • Joanie R

    So am I getting this right……QR codes are free to use? I just create one using Bitly and then print it on whatever marketing materials I want? It’s that simple?

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