Crowdsourcing can be defined as enlisting the services of a number of individuals for a particular cause usually via the internet. It is also very reflective of common community organizing techniques where you trust the established network or community has all the experts it needs to accomplish a goal. Additionally, crowdsourcing, as with community organizing, allows a community to come together for the purpose of working towards a common goal using their own skills and their own ideas. Most importantly, it can be a method of empowerment, albeit a digital enfranchisement.
You’ve probably heard of ‘Crowd funding’, a fundraising side to crowdsourcing. Websites such as Kickstarter, Crowdtilt, IndieGoGo, and others exist to pool funds from many people to create something- a new product, a realized idea, t-shirts for a community center, or whatever else. There are even nonprofits that exist solely on this crowd funding model: Benevolent, Watsi , and others.
How Does this Apply to Nonprofits?
Nonprofits use crowdsourcing in many ways to accomplish the same goals in the digital world that they would have otherwise used in more traditional methods. The upside of crowdsourcing is that it’s free and requires much less time and effort to track down the experts or resources you need. The only requirement is that you must have access to an online community infrastructure ready to call upon. In this digital age, many (should be all) nonprofits have some sort of online presence. Websites such as VolunteerMatch or Idealist also help with gathering people who have very particular skills and knowledge.
How Can You Start Using Crowdsourcing?
The simplest way to get what you need is to ask for it. The fundraisers in the audience will know exactly what I’m talking about. If you want people to donate $500, you don’t have a default option on your mailing cards to donate $5. You start at $500 and work your way up. You have to ask people for exactly what you want if you want to get it.
In order to ask for what you need, you must have a way to communicate with people. Email campaigns or social media are the correct venues to do this. But, in order for those to work, you have to know who your supporters are and why they support you. This will require data gathering and analysis. In addition to spending face-to-face time with your supporters, you will also need to study their online habits. When are they most likely to donate? Is it after a press release, or during the holidays? How should you word your emails in order to get the best response? You need to connect increases in exposure to tangible events that you can test by repeating. Mention is one great way to practice some online- listening for free.
This online listening infrastructure will be the most difficult task for you to complete. Not because setting it up is hard, or because understanding what you’re looking for is difficult. It’s easy to see a sharp spike in website page views and know that something good happened. The hardest part of this is the discipline that it will require in order to be effective.
You cannot just set this stuff up and leave it alone. You have to spend a few hours a month making sure that what your supporters found interesting before is still interesting. Or, if a new social media platform comes out, you’ll have to adapt. You’ll have to pay attention to the news and respond if relevant media coverage might affect you or your services. These things are not difficult to do, or overly time-consuming. It’s much easier to check your Google Analytics page once a week than it is to keep pumping out press releases and social media posts that have zero views and get you nowhere.
In a nutshell, the steps to beginning crowdsourcing are:
- Establish an online presence.
- Establish data collection and analysis tools.
- Get people to look at your stuff and sympathize. (Get more people using step 2.)
- Ask them for something.
Examples of Successful Nonprofit Crowdsourcing:
Any volunteers ever found through VolunteerMatch, Idealist or any other online platform.
A community center needs its roof repaired. It asks its newsletter subscribers.
A New York radio host wants to know the cost of food in different neighborhoods across New York City. It asks its listeners to comment with the prices and where they live.
A Charter School attempts to raise enough funds to open.
The American Red Cross uses digital volunteers and social media to talk to and track disaster victims
Amanda Palmer TED talk: The Art of Asking
What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning
The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.
The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”
Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”
The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.
— 💜Bored Bougie Bianca💜 (@RealKHiveQueenB) July 22, 2020
A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.
With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”
While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.
Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.
Operation Surf Uses Surfing to Help Veterans
Every day roughly twenty veterans commit suicide. It is estimated that 22% of all suicide deaths in the US are veterans. Former professional surfer Van Curaza wants to change that.
Curaza originally founded the nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures (ASA) as a way to help at-risk youth by getting them into the ocean and off the streets. He expanded ASA to help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war with surfing – a program dubbed Operation Surf.
Operation Surf is a free program “that offers week-long adaptive surfing trips for wounded-veteran and active-duty military men and women.” They pair veterans “with their own individual surf instructor and develop a goal-based curriculum around their unique abilities. Operation Surf offers an environment of camaraderie and healing to its participants by giving them a shared experience in the water each day.”
Curaza and Operation Surf are featured in the award-winning Netflix documentary “Resurface.” The film is about Marine Corps veteran Bobby Lane. Bobby was planning on committing suicide, but he wanted to check surfing off his bucket list first. He ended up participating in Operation Surf and it changed his life. Not only did Bobby decide he wanted to keep living, but he decided he wanted to work with Operation Surf to help other veterans.
The first time I volunteered for Operation Surf I briefly met a young man named Tommy Counihan. He was learning how to kiteboard. With his long blonde hair and slender build, he looked more like a surf hippie than a veteran.
In 2011, while on deployment in Afghanistan the armored vehicle Tommy was in drove over an IED. It exploded directly under Tommy’s feet. His right foot ended up needing to be amputated. But it was more than a physical injury, “I felt like when I made that decision that day to amputate my foot that I lost more than just a physical part of myself,” he said. “It plays tricks on your head. It brings you to a really dark place that’s almost impossible to get out of on your own. I remember the times when I would sit there by myself and contemplate whether or not I should commit suicide.”
On the advice of his therapist, Tommy participated in Operation Surf. Even though Tommy had surfed when he was a teenager, he was skeptical that it would help him now. Then he caught his first wave, “I was just so ecstatic that I was able to stand up on that board because in that one instant I knew that everything that I thought I had lost was just something I was creating in my head. That I was going to be able to do it all. I just had to push myself to overcome these barriers that I placed in front of myself.” Tommy won the wounded warriors division at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championship last year.
Surfing can have a profound impact on veterans’ mental health. Dr. Russell Crawford, Air Force veteran and licensed therapist, conducted a research study on Operation Surf participants and found that surfing decreased PTSD symptoms by 36%, decreased depression by 47%, and increased self-efficacy by 68%.
Surfing can help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war. It has given Bobby, Tommy, and hundreds of other veterans a new lease on life. You can show your support by volunteering or donating to Amazing Surf Adventures and Operation Surf by visiting their website.
Why Efforts to Hire and Maintain the Best Staff Can Be Critical for Nonprofits
Employees, workers and professional associates who are able to generate the momentum needed to enact real and lasting change are often the heart of any successful nonprofit. The conventional business models that are so often utilized by commercial businesses place often place the bulk of their focus on the mid and upper-level managers and supervisors who are tasked with creating and implementing new policies. Nonprofits stand to benefit by shifting their focus to the workers who do the actual heavy lifting and who take on the more mundane day to day tasks. Dedicated workers can provide their employers and organizations with the momentum and inertia they need in order to continue operating effectively.Going the Extra Mile Finding employees who are willing to go the extra mile can be a difficult proposition for any organization that lacks the funds and financial resources needed to provide a more competitive salary. Individuals who are committed to reaching loftier goals or unlocking their full professional for reasons that extend beyond mere financial reward are not a resource that nonprofits can afford to take lightly. A little extra effort is often the missing component when it comes to finding solutions to a stubborn problem or overcoming an obstacle that might otherwise end up limiting other opportunities and future success. Workers who are determined to keep their organization going and employers who need their employees to give it their all both need to understand the value of going the extra mile. Optimizing Existing Resources Having to make due with shortages of finances and other key resources is often a concern that is all too familiar to many nonprofit organizations. While boosting efficiency and finding ways to curb waste can help commercial organizations to enjoy greater profitability, such efforts are often essential for ensuring the very survival of a nonprofit. Whether it’s finding the best accounting software for nonprofits in order to ensure more accurate bookkeeping or identifying the ways in which financial resources may be best utilized, making the most of their existing resources is a concern that organizations would do well to prioritize. Long-term Success Begins During the Hiring Process A nonprofit is only as good as its employees and being able to identify the right fit or a good match often means a great deal. For employers, educating prospective employees and applicants regarding the nature of nonprofit work is often a smart move. Applicants, candidates and even unpaid volunteers who wish to see their organization succeed need to recognize that their passion, aspiration and drive can often be just as important as any skills or expertise they may bring to the table. Cultivating the right staff and making the most out of their existing employees can allow organizations to more easily overcome the obstacles created due to limited funds and resource scarcity.
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