Crowdsourcing for Organizations

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social fish

This is a guest post by Aliza Sherman,  whose new book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, is a basic primer about the concepts, processes, and techniques of crowdsourcing.  Get the book here.

Aliza is a “web pioneer and social media innovator. She cofounded Conversify, an early social media marketing agency, and founded Cybergrrl, Inc., one of the first full-service Internet agencies in the ’90s. Aliza provides forward-thinking commentary on technology and its impact on communications, marketing, and customer relations. She is an international speaker, and author of The Everything Blogging Book, Streetwise Ecommerce, and PowerTools for Women in Business. Her ninth book, Mom, Incorporated, will be released October 2011.”

When it comes to resources, many nonprofits and associations feel strapped or constrained by budget and capacity. Whether you’ve got administrative tasks, marketing efforts, or other time-consuming or costly initiatives, there are ways to get things done by leveraging the Internet and tapping into large pools or talent, volunteers, or other interested individuals. Crowdsourcing is one of those ways.

What is crowdsourcing?

Simply put, crowdsourcing is a set of principles, processes and platforms to get things done and includes putting out an open call to a group and managing the responses and output. Think of outsourcing where you assign tasks to an outside company or contractor who you hire directly. Crowdsourcing can be like outsourcing on steroids because instead of contracting to one known entity, you are putting a call out to a bigger group, often a global online community, to either get many to participate or to find the person you need by casting a much wider net.

What can an organization crowdsource?

Let’s focus on Action and Work as two broad categories where crowdsourcing can be applied.


You may be familiar with the term “crowdfunding” and the new ways of raising money because of social media. There are many platforms that have been launched to help organizations raise funds entirely online with friends, fans and followers in social networks making the ask and contributing smaller amounts but in larger quantities. We first saw crowdfunding in action with the Obama campaign where people were giving as little as a few dollars, however, in aggregate, the contributions were significant.

Keep in mind that crowdsourcing through platforms like Facebook Causes don’t have to involve raising funds. Crowdsourcing efforts can also be around actions including volunteering, signing petitions, and other efforts that take both wide reach and careful management to happen successfully. Often the common denominator in those efforts is that they can be done online or through the Internet.


There are crowdsourcing companies that have formed to perform specific types of work such as translations (MyGengoSmartling), transcription (CastingWords), SEO keyword marketing (Trada), even design and marketing work (Prova99DesignsCrowdSpring). Each company operates differently. In the case of transcription or translation, you give work to a company like CastingWords or MyGengo, and they in turn put the job out to their “crowd” of workers from around the world. They are like the middleman to helping you get the work done, and their distributed workforce can be less costly to them so they pass on their savings to you.

In the case of design, you can submit a creative brief to a site like 99Designs or Prova that is broadcasted to the site’s avid designer crowd and offer an “award” for the winning design. Within days, you can begin to receive design samples from which to choose, often numbering in the dozens or even more.

While the process isn’t always a quick one, you have more choices from a wider range of designers, many of whom are either just starting out and looking to build their portfolios or are in other countries looking to break into bigger markets to grow their businesses.

In many cases, you can get design work for several hundred dollars versus thousands or for a few thousand versus tens of thousands. The same holds true for other types of creative work such as website design (SquadHelp, and any of the design sites already mentioned) and even audio and video (Tongal). Check each of these sites for their offerings because they often overlap services.

There are also creative and marketing agencies that use crowdsourcing principles and platforms, and you see the cost savings as well as the fruits of many minds contributing to the process including companies like blur GroupGeniusRocket and Whinot. Another interesting site specifically geared to serve nonprofit organizations looking for creative work is Sparked where creative professionals volunteer some of their time and talent to completing meaningful assignments such as designing a poster for a wildlife protection organization or crafting a press release for a children’s safety initiative. The creatives are performing “microvolunteering” while the organizations get the work done for free.

There are many other ways that companies and organizations are casting wide nets across the Web or tapping into online communities to get something done. Crowdsourcing success starts with matching your need with a company or site that manages an online crowd willing to fulfill that need, either for free or often for an affordable fee.

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