GuideStar International's Blog

December 15, 2010

Crowdsourcing: A Value to Nonprofits?

Crowdsourcing the landscape - Beta Version 1, Ross Dawson

By Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International

This post is cross-posted from the TechSoup blog. You can read the original post and any comments here.

Who can help? Has this been done before? What is the best route? How can this project be sustainable? Crowdsourcing is being used to help find the answers to these and many other questions. According to Wikipedia, “crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” Organizations are crowdfunding, crowd voting, crowdsourcing jobs, and even crowdsourcing films (see Life in a Day). Presentations illustrating its use have also been made available at this year’s CrowdConf2010.

So Why Should Nonprofits Care?

Though there are both pros and cons to its use, the nonprofit sector can also learn many valuable lessons from the ways that it is already being used. Crowdsourcing is used to gather information, have service needs met, get advice, and save money.  It can also help to inform decisions, demonstrate accountability and inclusiveness, as well as increase publicity. Given the voluntary nature of the nonprofit sector, crowdsourcing creates a host of new and exciting opportunities. According to Peter H. LaMotte of GeniusRocket, “the reality is that nonprofits have been at the forefront of crowdsourcing long before Jeff Howe coined this popular term.”

Have a look at this crowdsourced presentation and read Amy Sample Ward’s blog post Crowdsourcing: Community vs Crowd. There she talks about how nonprofits may be able to benefit from crowdsourcing, while also taking care to highlight when it may not be useful. She also provides some examples of ways that organizations are already using it and gives some tips on how to evaluate its success.

A few of the many examples of organizations using crowdsourcing to help nonprofits and the public include:

  • Ushahadi: This nonprofit technology company develops free, open-source software and uses crowdsourcing to find information which can solve problems related to disasters, voting and the environment to name a few.
  • Crisis Commons: This uses crowdsourcing to help countries in the wake of disasters. In 2010, they helped to mobilise workers and support for the Haiti earthquake, Gulf oil spill, Chilean earthquake, and Pakistan flooding.
  • Kiva: This nonprofit provides micro-loans and uses crowdsourcing for their work. They use a P2P money lending model.
  • Crowdflower: Using crowdsourcng they connect organizations that want to get “labor on demand” with a round-the-clock workforce in 70 countries.
  • Aiddata: Their Wisdom of the Crowd project is utilizing crowdsourcing to provide additional information, which can complement the aid data on their database.
  • Ashoka Changemakers: They utilize an open-source and crowdsourced approach to aid social innovation. This year they partnered with the G20 to help them identify innovative SME finance models in the emerging world.
  • Inspired by crowdsourcing, Microsoft is running an Imagine Cup Solve This programme, which aims to inspire students to help intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), and nonprofits solve problems. This year’s theme is
    “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems” and an Imagine Cup competition is being held in 2011 to encourage students to participate.

Organizations are also collaborating to improve the success of crowdsourcing. For example Samasource, Frontline SMS, and Ushahadi worked together with support from the U.S. and Haitian governments to set up a hotline (Mission 4636) to be able receive and translate text messages from mobile phones following the Haitian earthquake this year. This proved essential for Haiti’s earthquake relief efforts and more about this initiative can be read in the article Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief. Crowdsourcing can help to provide valuable information in a cost effective way.

It follows that crowdsourcing can be very valuable to nonprofits, but they must explore ways to make it work best for them.


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