June 29, 2011

How nonprofits can use crowdsourcing to work smarter and save money

  • Buffer
  • Buffer

Greenfunder funds socially responsible projects and businesses.

Target audience: Nonprofits, social enterprises, NGOs, foundations, businesses, educators. This is part one of a two-part series on crowdsourcing.

By Lindsay Oberst
Socialbrite staff

Lindsay OberstHigh-quality work at a low cost. That’s what crowdsourcing can achieve for nonprofts that wish to save money while pursuing their mission.

Crowdsourcing refers to harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of those outside an organization who are prepared to volunteer their time contributing content or skills and solving problems, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. An offshoot, crowd funding, describes the collective efforts to pool their money together on behalf of a cause, project or business. Kiva (loans to entrepreneurs), Crowdrise and Kickstarter (raise funds for creative projects) and Greenfunder, which launched in May as a site to raise funds for socially responsible projects and businesses, are among the burgeoning number of crowd funding sites. (See a few others in our roundup of 24 tools for fundraising with social media.)

Crowdsourcing, a bit of a catch-all term, can be used to gather information, solicit advice, save money or get stuff done. It can also help to inform decisions, demonstrate inclusiveness and bring a whole new meaning to collaboration.

We’ve seen the rise of community crowdsourcing with the advent of social media, but it’s always been part of the way society works. And nonprofits have always been at the forefront of crowdsourcing long before the term was coined in 2006. The idea simply fits in with the way small organizations work.

Here are a few quick, low-key ways crowdsourcing works

Say you’re a nonprofit looking to improve your services. You ask your Facebook fans and Twitter followers — people who have chosen to connect with you — how they think you can become better. They feel included in the process and want to answer, and then your organization has a solution to its problem. That’s what crowdsourcing can do — it can get a job done.

Or take blog posts. Studies show that people respond better to posts with images, so your organization seeks to include a photo along with the information you provide on your website. Where can you find images? Two good starts are Socialbrite’s Free Photos Directory and Flickr’s directory of Creative Commons photos, with 160 million photos available under various licenses. Both can be used to find free photos that you can use for your website, blog posts, reports, presentations and more — just give the photographers proper attribution.

Or maybe you’re wondering if your idea has been tried before — say, if someone has already learned lessons from running a fundraising campaign using Twitter? (Yes.)

Organizations are already using crowdfunding, crowd voting and crowdsourcing to gather information and improve the way they work. You’ll find that there are a handful of companies and services that offer crowdsourcing as their core business, such as CrowdFlower and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, while other companies use crowdsourcing to deliver other services, such as Elance (a marketplace for freelance services), All Our Ideas (a platform for crowdsourced suggestions) and GeniusRocket (a logo and Web design service).

3 examples of nonprofits using crowdsourcing


A number of nonprofits have taken the plunge and begun taking advantage of the new landscape. One of our favorites is Samasource, a nonprofit whose entire model is based on crowdsourcing dignified work to a workforce based in developing nations. Here are three other examples of nonprofits using crowdsourcing.

1All Our Ideas (“a suggestion box for the digital age”). This open source software is free to use and allows viewers to vote on ideas and add their own. Matthew Salganik, who created the project and works in the department of sociology at Princeton University, says it “allows the best ideas to bubble to the top.”

Catholic Relief Services, a nonprofit, is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. They wanted to evaluate all the workers in each of their offices around the world. All Our Ideas gave them an internal platform to source ideas from their workers, the people who know best about how everything works.

This idea platform is not limited to nonprofits or work evaluation. Others using it include the New York City Mayor’s Office and The Washington Post, which used it to increase reader participation.

2GeniusRocket (“the first curated crowdsourcing company”). According to GeniusRocket president Peter LaMotte, two forms of popular creative crowdsourcing exist. The first is what 99Designs offers. They outsource logo and Web design services to the public.

The second is what he calls “curated crowdsourcing.” His company creates solutions using vetted professionals and everything is kept private. They began using the first method and then realized some nonprofits didn’t want their messages blasted across the Internet, nor did they want to sort through hundreds of submissions.

“We make it a lot more affordable for nonprofits to source creative marketing content, yet we have a professional community,” LaMotte said.

Nonprofits use GeniusRocket primarily for the creation of videos and customizable content.

3Spot.us. “Community-funded reporting” is the tagline of this crowdsourcing service. United Roots, an Oakland-based nonprofit that uses music to help kids heal and learn entrepreneurial skills, is one example of how crowdsourced reporting can be used to create community-based coverage. Five of their stories were funded through Stories for Good and Spot.us.

For other similar services, see this answer on Quora. The Techsoup.org blog also has some good examples of nonprofits using crowdsourcing services.

As you can see, the possibilities of crowdsourcing are extensive. It still has limits, and it may not be the best solution for every nonprofit or organization, but it’s worth considering in the right circumstances.

Want more crowdsourcing?

Coming Thursday: Look for our interview with Mollie Allick of CrowdFlower.


Samasource enables socially responsible outsourcing (Socialbrite)

Tap into the collective power of your community (Socialbrite)

Crowdsourcing a presentation at SXSW (Wiser Earth Blog)

Social good crowdsourcing (Mashable)

An app to support refugees working in Africa (Socialbrite)

10 kickass crowdsourcing sites for your business (Econsultancy)

6 Great Crowdsourcing Sites For Freelancers (Sitepoint)

Crowdfunding: Investment for Good (Care2)Lindsay Oberst is a freelance writer who writes about art, culture and topics that relate to social and environmental good. Follow her on Twitter at @LindsayOSocial for social good discussions or at @LindsayOWrite to chat about writing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

2 thoughts on “How nonprofits can use crowdsourcing to work smarter and save money

  1. You know, it’s funny, I was just listening to a recent NPR episode about how the New Yorker gets more than 10,000 caption entries for its “you-write-the-caption” cartoon contest each week, with one or two winning entries published in the magazine.

    That’s crowdsourcing too, though they never used the word!