(1) How Crowdsourcing Helps Your Nonprofit (2) Crowdfunding Opens Doors for Grassroots NGOS
Since the earliest days of the Internet, people have used crowdsourcing to solicit and organize others to participate in projects in small ways. In an early example of crowdsourcing, nonprofits would post questions to a Usenet discussion board seeking answers from the community — for instance, asking how to write a particular policy or for recommendations about recognizing and rewarding volunteers. That "open call" approach is what distinguishes crowdsourcing from outsourcing, in which you'd send a task to a specific person or organization for help.
Crowdsourcing can be done at an organizational or individual level, and nonprofits have used it for everything from marketing and fundraising to volunteerism and activism. It's a great way to enlist help from a wider knowledge base and to engage people in your work.
How can your charitable organization harness the power of the crowd to help achieve your mission? We asked nonprofit experts for crowdsourcing best practices and techniques that have worked for them.
The Whys and Hows of Crowdsourcing
Nonprofit organizations can use crowdsourcing for a number of purposes, including cultivating new volunteers and donors and spreading the word about their work to a larger audience.
At its simplest, crowdsourcing is a community engagement tool. It can provide you with ideas, feedback, and contributions you might not otherwise get. It can also demonstrate transparency and openness in decision-making. Whoever is in charge of your nonprofit's Facebook and Twitter management should keep an eye out for questions to regularly ask followers about activities and events and help keep them engaged.
But there are some cautions to keep in mind, the most important of which is to keep crowdsourcing simple and meaningful. For example, if your organization is drafting a social media policy, your volunteer manager might share a draft with an online community of volunteers and ask for their feedback. If your organization wanted to come up with new plans for an annual fundraising event, your fundraising manager might email all your organization's supporters to ask for ideas.
We've identified five categories of crowdsourcing and found some real-world examples of nonprofits that have used them successfully.
Pooling Collective Knowledge
This type of crowdsourcing can be used to share and aggregate information to help solve problems. For example, Ushahidi is an open-source software platform that plots a set of particular incidents, submitted by people via text messages, onto an online map. Ushahidi (which means "testimony" in Swahili) was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya. It has also been used for disaster relief in Pakistan and to map crime incidents in Atlanta.
In another example, a public radio station in New York City asked listeners to check the price of milk at their neighborhood store and enter it online. Several hundred submissions later, the station had created a detailed map of food prices showing inequities across the city.
By breaking large tasks into tiny ones, it's possible to delegate repetitive jobs to the crowd. For instance, The Seed Company enlisted more than one thousand residents of a remote village in Asia for help in translating the Bible into their native language, with each participant translating a small piece of text. The project was made possible using the crowdsourcing translation platform Lingotek. Through sites like Sparked or Amazon's Mechanical Turk, organizations can ask people to perform a small task, such as tagging a picture, finding a phone number, or typing a piece of text in a specific format. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, thousands of volunteers manually entered over fifteen thousand records to consolidate dozens of information sources about lost or missing people.
Tasks of this nature use crowds to help create original works of art. The Royal Opera used Twitter to crowdsource a new "people's opera" that drew more than nine hundred contributions, resulting in a twenty-minute production in London performed by professional composers. Similarly, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra crowdsourced musician auditions for a mashup performance over YouTube. The end result was a symphony orchestra of more than ninety players representing more than thirty countries.
Most people like to express their opinions by voting on or rating something or giving feedback. By tapping into that desire, you can increase awareness for your cause and draw in new audiences for your message. A great example of this is the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which launched a campaign to encourage locals to submit and vote on projects designed to improve their neighborhoods. More than three hundred and fifty projects were nominated, and the number of votes totaled well over three hundred thousand.
Art museums also have used crowdsourcing to let crowds curate and plan exhibitions. A good example is the Brooklyn Museum's "Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition," which used an open call for people to submit photographs. Nearly thirty-five hundred people participated, evaluating more than three hundred and fifty images and selecting a number for a final exhibition of the photographs.
This category opens the collective pocketbook, encouraging crowds to fund projects that benefit others. Perhaps the most widely known is Kiva, a microlending Web site. By allowing people to make micro-loans as small as $25 to entrepreneurs in developing countries, the site has benefited more than eight hundred thousand people in sixty-three countries.
Across the United States, communities are harnessing crowds to provide funds for nonprofits on special "giving days." In Minnesota, Give to the Max Day raised more than $13.4 million in November 2011, and GiveMN, an affiliated Web site, has raised more than $48 million.
Any of these categories can be used on its own or combined with other approaches to achieve your goals.
Tips for Successful Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing and crowd-funding projects are within reach of any organization, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will help ensure your success.
Plan ahead. Figure out what you're trying to achieve and find the best way to do it. Make sure you choose the right crowd, too — setting up a crowdsourcing campaign is the easy part, but getting the word out to the right people is not. Create a fully developed outreach plan, and use a combination of social media and e-mails to current supporters. These people, in turn, will have access to networks of people with similar interests and help you pass your project along. If you're using a crowd-funding site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, make sure you choose the one that most closely matches your goal — each has a different approach.
Keep it simple. Make it very clear what you want the crowd to do and break down your goals into smaller tasks people can help with. Keep your message easy to communicate to help it get passed along. In order to help meet your goal, set reasonable expectations. Crowd-funding is an easy way to ask for donations, but it creates the illusion that hordes of people with large amounts of money are sitting at their computers looking for some place to give it away. Most successful crowd-funding initiatives rely on friends, family, and colleagues rather than total strangers. Traditional fundraising rules still apply: you must have credibility, a strong network, and a track record of success, and you have to be transparent about how the money will be used.
Engage the crowd and reward participation. Approach crowdsourcing as an opportunity to engage new potential supporters. Be as creative as possible in your outreach and plant your campaign in places that you hope will reach new audiences. Think about how to regularly engage with your current supporters and start doing it. Consider giving incentives to reward participation: What do people want in exchange for their help? Do they just want to be heard, have fun, or learn something new? In these cases, a simple acknowledgment might work, but otherwise, consider cash or other incentives.
Stay positive — both publicly and privately. Throughout the campaign, it's important to remain personable with people who might contribute. A little personal interaction can increase the likelihood of a donation or action. And if an activity doesn't obviously support your mission, forget it.
Crowdsourcing provides many opportunities for nonprofits to tap the power of crowds. If you have a task, question, or idea you want to explore, there are many ways to reach and involve people. Always look for opportunities to ask questions or seek feedback from your volunteers, donors, newsletter subscribers, clients, and community.
Crowdsourcing is a mindset. Want your community to be a part of your decision-making process? Don't get mired in top-down thinking, and don't be afraid to take risks or listen to criticism from your constituents or the public.
Running a crowdsourcing project is a lot of work. The best approach to accomplishing it is to take your time and just chip away at it. Read through all the necessary steps and complete one task at a time. What's important is coming up with meaningful ways to engage, learning from other organizations that have successfully used crowdsourcing, and having faith in the process.
The following nonprofit technology professionals provided recommendations, advice, and other help for this article:
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Indiegogo, one of the world’s leading crowdfunding platforms, has introduced new features that will enableNGOs to leverage the power of the website for the first time. The site has already raised tens of millions of dollars for campaigns around the world, but up until now the Indiegogo has only offered services in the English language and in US dollars. The expansion of their services include new currencies, languages and localised homepages that are set to empower a whole host of NGOs from across the planet to participate.
“Indiegogo puts our customers first, which is why broadening our international offerings is a priority, enabling us to bring our unique experience and open and inclusive business model to more people than ever before,” said Danae Ringelmann, Indiegogo co-founder. “We remain committed to localizing our international platform to empower campaign owners for success and give funders a satisfying discovery experience. We’ve laid a great foundation to continue global growth in the months ahead.”
Previously, both fundraisers and donors would be responsible for the exchange rate fees which can, depending on your country, become quite expensive. Now, Indiegogo has introduced options to use euros and Canadian dollars which will increase the return on investment in the site for both donors and fundraisers outside of the US.
“To truly unleash people and remove all the friction from fundraising, you want to experience to be as seamless as possible. If there is any friction around asking your funders to use a currency they’re not comfortable with, or asking your funders to read your pitch in a language they’re not as familiar with, that friction will no longer be there.”
The website has also began rolling out additional language packs for French and German speakers, which will be of particular benefit for many French speaking countries in Africa and other parts of the world. This will open up new opportunities for both donors and fundraisers as the changes will tap into new markets of hundreds of millions of peoplewho previously would not be able to use the website.
Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of Indiegogo, says “We’re really excited because Indiegogo has been global since the beginning. We had a mission since our start, which hasn’t changed, to democratize fundraising across the world — to really empower everyone, wherever you are, to raise money for your passion”
Ringelmann explained that the new features are just the start of a more international focus with an aim to facilitate crowdfunded fundraising in every corner of the globe. “This is just the beginning of a deeper [plan] to roll out more international features in countries across the world and to make Indiegogo as customized as possible,” she said. “So, there will be more to come [and] other currencies in the future.”
Despite the fact that Indiegogo only accepted the U.S. dollar before now, 30% of all campaigners have been from outside the United States. “I think that’s a testament to how needed our platform is for [crowdfunders] around the world,” Ringelmann said.
Indiegogo prides itself on its customer happiness, and has long had a policy in place to respond to questions within 24 hours. The company has hired full-time staff to provide assistance in French and German in order to make the question and answer process more seamless.
Crowdfunding has become a pivotal piece of the fundraising ecosystem, and Indiegogo has garnered internationalsupport through campaigns such as the bullied bus monitor, the Tesla Museum and Hurricane Sandy relief. The arts,education, philanthropy and other areas benefit greatly from crowdfunding, which bolsters (and often replaces) traditional financing and allows the community to decide which projects reach success through merit.
Since the site launched in 2008, people have used it to fund a broad range of creative, charitable and entrepreneurial projects. Its biggest success, “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum,” raised more than $1.37 million this year to build a museum dedicated to influential inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla.
Another popular initiative established by Toronto’s Max Sidorov raised over $700,000 for New York bus monitor Karen Klein after cellphone video of her being bullied by four seventh-graders went viral.
“What crowdfunding really is, is people-powered finance,” Ringelmann said. “It’s people voting with their dollar. And when people vote with their dollar, there’s no stronger indication that they want something to exist.”
Indiegogo is the largest global crowdfunding platform, empowering anyone, anywhere, at any time, to raise funds for anyidea. Since launching in January 2008, Indiegogo has enabled campaign owners to launch campaigns from every country around the world. With millions of dollars distributed globally each week across the site, Indiegogo is democratizing the way people raise funds for any project—creative, entrepreneurial or cause-related. Indiegogo is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles and New York. For more information, visit www.indiegogo.com and follow them at www.twitter.com/indiegogo and www.facebook.com/indiegogo.