I read an article in Mobile Marketing Watch predicting: “Vanity Short Codes Soon to be Irrelevant in SMS Marketing.” 

Before I go any further, I want to ensure we’re all on the same sheet of music. 

o SMS refers to text marketing; sending text messages via mobile devices.
o In text marketing there are “random” short codes and “vanity” short codesRandom is any combination of 5 or 6 numbers and the client has no control over what the numbers will be (e.g., 59648, 235786, etc.).  Several clients have the same short code.

Vanity short codes are numbers the client chooses for one reason or another.  Maybe it’s to make it easy for people to remember a sequence (e.g., 56789, 123456), or it’s a zip code (57785), or the client wants a “phoneword” (e.g., 466453 spells “Google” on a mobile keypad).

o Finally, it is common for ads (whether print or digital) to have a call-to-action like this, “Text RALLY to 57785.”  The keyword (RALLY) and the short code (in this example a vanity short code which is a zip code). The combination of the two – keyword and short code – is what makes each call-to-action unique for a given client.  

Just to be clear, when your nonprofit is using signs, newspapers, direct mail, email, TV, radio or anything else to post a mobile call-to-action … you’re asking people to respond on their mobile device by typing in the keyword and short code.  They end up on a landing page where you deliver what you promised.

So why does Mobile Marketing Watch think the days of vanity short codes are numbered?  That they’re in danger of become obsolete?

It’s because of the QR code (Quick Response). 

Point your smartphone’s QR tag scanner here to get help on ALL the ways nonprofits can use mobile. HINT: It goes far beyond fundraising.

QR codes can make ANYTHING interactive.

And it’s easier to use the QR tag scanner on your smartphone than it is to type in a keyword and short code combination … there’s nothing to remember and no chance of making an error typing!

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to QR codes is that mobile devices don’t come with the software.  You need to install it on your smartphone.  Well, check out the resources below for two sources to do just that.

But the good news is that vendors are beginning to pre-load the scanner software on their mobile devices.  Soon when you purchase a new smartphone you’ll be all set.  You may want to ask about this when buying one.

Nonprofit Example of QR Code

You’ll notice in the example above that I didn’t show the QR code by itself.  In the United States these codes are still new enough that I believe you need to add a bit of explanation: What to do AND what they’ll get when they do it

And even though in a year or two scanning QR codes will likely be second nature to us, you still ought to let people know what they’ll get when they scan.  If you don’t it’s as bad as putting up an email sign-up box on your website without telling donors and members the benefits they’ll get by signing up!

Here’s an example of a nonprofit (an association) who did it right. In the July/August issue of “Aviation for Women, International” they have this full-page ad:

Look in the lower left-hand corner and you’ll see the QR code with copy to the right of it.  Here’s an enlargement of that section of the ad:

I don’t know whether vanity short codes will become extinct, but I do agree that they’ll fall in the tall shadow of QR codes sooner rather than later. 

Also, I STRONGLY recommend you start adding QR calls-to-action in your nonprofit marketing and fundraising campaigns TODAY.  And make certain you follow the example above: Include a brief statement on what you what the donor or member to do, followed by what they’ll find when then do it.

Has your nonprofit used QR codes? Let me know.  I’d be happy to feature your organization in an upcoming post.


Still not sure whether mobile is right for your nonprofit? Overwhelmed by the technology and not certain where to begin?  This guidebook deciphers the jargon and shows the multitude of ways mobile can help your nonprofit – especially with stewardship: Mobile for Nonprofits  

Two websites (out of dozens) where you can download QR code reader software for your smartphone if you don’t already have it.

QR code reader software – one source

QR code reader software – second source

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How to build your nonprofit email list – 18 ways — Karen Zapp - Nonprofit Copywriter
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