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NFC: there’s another fundraising revolution about to happen. Are you ready?

Near Field Communication, or NFC to offer you a new acronym for your word bank, is a step change in how people will interact with objects and things around them. You may have heard the term “The Internet of Things”. NFC is the technology that will allow everyday objects to exist within the context of the internet, from flowerpots to event tickets. But first, let’s go over the basics.

What is NFC – Near Field Communication?

NFC or Near Field Communication, to give it its full title, is a small chip surrounded by an antenna. It’s so small it’s nearly flat, allowing it to be placed discreetly into everyday objects. The chip can store data, how much data depends on the size of the chip, typically starting at 64 bytes and at the top end 4k of memory. You won’t be storing films on NFC chips any time soon.

How does NFC work?

The NFC chip or tag as they are more commonly known, has no power of its own and is essentially dead until it receives a charge via an electromagnetic field. In most cases, an NFC- equipped mobile phone like a Samsung Galaxy S3 or Nokia Lumia 920 can generate a field and read the contents of the NFC tag. When the mobile device is placed over the top of the NFC tag, the device generates a field that powers up the tag and the device can then read whatever data it contains.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

How you can use NFC for Fundraising

NFC has a lot of uses, not just for marketing or data collection purposes, but as an enabler to quickly move NFC enabled users into your fundraising tools. Anything you are using QR for should be suitable to be NFC-enabled as well, providing you with another way to engage supporters. It can also help you with your fundraising events by providing more secure ticketing and crowd control. Give every attendee an NFC-enabled wristband with a unique ID coded up and as they move around your event looking at stalls, or moving between key areas, scan them so you know who was engaging and with what.

If you’re running large scale events, consider adding NFC to your tickets. It can provide an extra layer of counterfeiting protection, and with larger NFC chips you could securely encrypt a photo ID directly into the ticket, allowing for any authorised device to scan the ticket without the need for a local copy of every photo and ID (it would be stored securely on the ticket).

What can you put NFC TAGS into?

You remember I said flowerpots could have an existence within the internet? With NFC stickers or even baked-in NFC, everyday objects can store a unique URI (uniform resource identifier) and be given function in the cloud. Currently, we have NFC baked into pens, beer mats, window stickers, key fobs, stickers, magnets, business cards and credit cards.

Consider for a moment that an NFC sticker can be attached to any object and then given a unique URI that ties it to something in the cloud… let me give you an example with our friend the Internet of Things Flowerpot. Our flowerpot has no internet connection of its own, but it does have a sticker on the front that says “Do I look thirsty? Scan me and let the gardeners know”.

When scanned with an internet connected mobile device, a URI is returned by the NFC chip, directing the user’s web browser to that address.

Two things happen at this point. A tweet is generated by the flowerpot’s Twitter account asking “@TheGardener Drink please, people say I’m drooping” and the user is shown a website offering more information about the flower and its history as well as that all important “Donate now and support my friends and I”.

Less friction, more action with NFC

All of this could have been done with a QR code. The key bit we want to focus on is not the cool actions that happen after the NFC has done its job, but that exact moment when the user and the flowerpot share a moment together.

QR codes are awesome but they have a major problem, they require the use of the device’s camera and a steady hand and good lighting and a reasonable camera. Then there’s the faff of having to fire-up the device’s camera, not always a quick experience and all the while other people are pushing past you.

With NFC, all the user has to do is turn their screen on and hold their device a couple of centimetres above the NFC tag and a second later they are done. The NFC tag has fulfilled its mission and the user can carry on with the desired action. In tests I’ve done, NFC reduces the time to action vs QR by an average of four seconds, against some older devices it was saving close to 10 seconds. Less friction, more action… it’s as simple as that with Near Field Communication.

The low friction nature of NFC really opens up the idea that everyday objects can be brought into our online world, where speed and quick access are key to adoption. If it’s as quick as, say, a handshake, how many more actions will you be able to generate per hour compared to other methods? No one begrudges the time to shake someone’s hand, NFC is a digital handshake between you and any NFC-enabled object.

I would suggest giving it a try yourself. Rapidnfc.com offers starter packs of NFC tags so you don’t need to commit to ordering thousands to try out the technology. Then you need an NFC-enabled Smartphone like a Samsung Galaxy S3 or you can buy an NFC reader / writer that plugs into a PC or Mac, although I would recommend going down the smartphone route so you are using it like your supporters will be.

NFC Fragmentation

Here is where things get a bit sticky. We have a basic set of NFC actions that are common to all devices and apps you may use. We generally know how the device will handle the action and what the end result will be. After that things become fragmented by what third party apps support and how they support them. Standard actions are:

Standard actions allow a wide range of use cases, especially with URI, but if you are thinking about providing an NFC action that allowed people to turn their device volume off when going into a museum, you will find the wide range of devices and software stacks make it impossible from a single NFC tag.

As more and more devices receive NFC technology over the coming few years, more people will become accustomed to the speed and simplicity of NFC, even if they know it as “swiping”, “scanning” or “waving one’s smartphone about”, the speed of interaction will leave a lasting impression on society that can only progress to exciting new developments.

The future is Near Field Communication, welcome to The Internet of Things!

John is the founder & former CEO of Bullying UK and is currently exploring the sharp edge of mobile technology. You can find him on Google+ and through TellaMedia.com.