It’s well established that crowdsourcing and nonprofit organizations go together like tacos and Tuesdays. For a minimal investment nonprofits gain awareness, information, and a work force. There is, however, a massive hurdle to overcome before cashing in– harnessing this power and directing it properly.
It’s the quintessential engineering problem– come up with the logistics to turn resources into concrete results using tools like social media and data analysis. This is a challenge that can be tailored to one of the various types of crowdsourcing1.
1 Crowdfunding for nonprofits
In addition to raising money, crowdfunding aims to remove the roadblocks that prevent contributions from achieving maximum impact. This means reducing the amounts dedicated to operations and administration.
Take Kiva2, a micro-lending website that has reinvented fundraising for nonprofits. Kiva connects donors and loan applicants to support projects around the world. The nonprofit doesn’t take a cut, but accepts donations to cover their costs. Separating the nonprofit’s goal from operating expenses allows 100% of the microloans to reach borrowers.
Data aggregation is more than merely collecting information. It requires volume management, analysis, and organization.
Consider the nonprofit Ushahidi3. Ushahidi is an open-source software platform that charts incidents like natural disasters or social unrest, submitted by users via web or mobile. This allows the organization to create a temporal and geospatial account of events.
The key for Ushahidi’s success is simplicity– something as quick as pinning one’s location helps to build a complete picture of a crisis situation.
Someone starting a career in crowdsourcing for nonprofits should consider how collective knowledge can benefit their organization and how a contribution should work (think minimum effort, maximum impact).
Only 25 percent of Americans volunteer. The most common excuse among those who don’t is lack of free time.
Only 25 percent of Americans volunteer7. The most common excuse among those who don’t is lack of free time. Crowdsourcing addresses the issue by breaking large tasks into bite-sized ones– an approach that outsources repetitive jobs like tagging a picture, finding a phone number, or typing a piece of text in a specific format.
Be My Eyes offers a clear example4. The nonprofit connects blind and low-vision individuals with sighted helpers for visual assistance through a live video call. Microvolunteers can assist callers by checking expiry dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions, or navigating new surroundings. The nonprofit has almost 1.8 million supporters in over 150 countries.
The engineering challenge is to decide the best size of the contribution and determine how all the pieces come together. Too large or time intensive may discourage participation, but too small a contribution and progress will be slow.
Nonprofits can shape crowd participation into marketable, intellectual goods. Art and music, a piece of software, an open source operating system– there are practically no bounds to what can be accomplished via crowd creation.
Take the Citizen Science Alliance5: The nonprofit’s mission is to allow anyone to create online science projects and involve the public in academic research. The goal is to tackle research tasks that can’t be automated that require creativity, planning, or execution. The results of these tasks can then be used as open-source datasets for the wider research community.
CSA’s projects can be found in the Zooniverse8, a community with more than one million volunteers. The research tasks have been drawn from disciplines like astronomy, physics, biology, and climate science. This application of crowd creation has led to the publication of over 100 scientific papers.
To increase awareness, nonprofits can draw in new audiences by inviting them to participate in their decision process. Designing a crowd voting procedure starts by resolving what kind of voting system would serve the project best. Engineering teams advise the decision makers of the impact of each alternative (e.g. simple majority, ranked voting, contingent voting, and multiple-round systems).
The nonprofit Citizens Foundation has widened the possibilities of crowd voting6 by creating open-source digital methods for local and national governments in over twenty countries. Projects include solving for participatory budgeting initiatives, policy crowdsourcing, and using AI to provide better information.
Crowdsourcing requires engineering to make the most of every input– whether money, knowledge, or labor–, support user flows to capture the inputs, and organize the output to successfully support the mission’s goals. Career starters should recognize this opportunity to break into the field and make an impression.
(2) Thorpe, D (2018, September 24th). Kiva Is Really a Crowdfunded Bank for Refugees and Other ‘Unbankables’. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/devinthorpe/2018/09/24/kiva-is-really-a-crowdfunded-bank-for-refugees-and-other-unbankables/#56286ffb220a
(3) Shapshak, T. (2018, May 21st). Kenyan Tech Star Ushahidi Releases iOS, Android Apps. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2017/03/21/kenyan-tech-star-ushahidi-releases-ios-android-apps/
(4) Curtis C. (2018, November 14th). Be My Eyes App Lets You Lend Your Eyes to a Blind Person in Real Time. Retrieved from https://thenextweb.com/tech/2018/11/14/app-lets-you-lend-your-eyes-to-blind-person/
(5) Citizen Science Alliance. Why Citizen Science? Retrieved from https://www.citizensciencealliance.org/philosophy.html
(6) Citizens Foundation. About the Citizens Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.citizens.is/about-cf/
(7) Fritz, J. (2018, June 29th). What Is Microvolunteering (and Should Your Nonprofit Do It)? Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-can-microvolunteering-help-your-charity-4171775
(8) Zooniverse. About. Retrieved from https://www.zooniverse.org/about