Consider Crowdsourcing as an Alternative Fundraising Technique
At risk of stating the obvious, your organization can only achieve its objectives with the support — financial and otherwise — of its supporters. You ask them, and they respond to the need. That's the way it's worked ever since the first nonprofits started fundraising. But what if you were to ask them to help shape your organization's strategy as well? What if you opened up a debate on how to spend their donations?
We've all heard of donor fatigue — whenever supporters hear from you, it’s because more money is required. Even though the Internet has helped change that (online updates about funded projects help keep information flowing), there is still a sense that it’s accompanied by the begging bowl. Imagine the effect of getting your supporters to decide which projects they would like to fund. It would certainly take some of the guesswork out of fundraising, as there would be natural ownership and support of the idea among those who suggested it.
In recent years, a new way of consulting the masses has emerged: crowdsourcing. It’s a way of outsourcing something, such as a decision or a solution, to a crowd through an open call for its participation. By crowdsourcing opinions, you can spot an emerging consensus. By crowdsourcing ideas, you may find extraordinary solutions and innovations from ordinary people. Recent high-profile examples of crowdsourcing include BP crowdsourcing solutions to the recent oil spill, the British government crowdsourcing ideas for which laws and regulations should be axed, and President Barack Obama crowdsourcing his resolutions for 2009 as he took office.
Crowdsourcing differs from traditional surveys in that, apart from the initial call for participation (i.e., asking the main question), there are no other boundaries. So, you encourage thinking outside of the box. What’s more, surveys are often constructed with an end in mind, whereas crowdsourcing can reveal answers to questions you hadn’t even considered.
Online charity contests, such as Pepsi’s Refresh Project or Chase’s Community Giving initiatives, are crowdsourcing the answers to which causes they should support. Donors have even used crowdsourcing to work out where to direct their own donations. But within a cause such as yours, what could you discern from the sound of the crowd? How donations get used? Ways to save money?
In order to crowdsource you need two things: a crowd and the means by which to register its ideas and votes. One thing most charities have is access to a crowd. It’s always good to start close to home, so begin by asking staff colleagues, and then move on to volunteers, service users, your supporter database and eventually your organization’s wider circle of friends via social media.
Then you need the means to capture everyone's thoughts. A number of online solutions have emerged in recent times. Take a look at IdeaStorm; participants can create new ideas and/or vote on existing ones. Similarly, Google Moderator does the same kind of thing and was used to track the 4.7 million votes and ideas cast in one week for the Obama transition plan in 2009. These tools provide some facilities for analysis and ranking of ideas according to their popularity, which is an advantage over using, say, Twitter, where you’d have to read through the responses.