Crowdsourcing: Measuring the Impact of the Crowd in Funding and Doing | Beth's Blog

Crowdsourcing: Measuring the Impact of the Crowd in Funding and Doing


Over the past two years, as part of my work as Visiting Scholar for nonprofits and social media at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, I have had the opportunity to participate in The Network of Network Funders (NNF) ,  a community of practice for funders who are intentionally investing in and working through networks.   The focus has been to develop practice and share insights on networked effectiveness.   I’ve had the pleasure working with Diana Scearce, from Monitor Institute, who has been facilitating and weaving this network.

There are several learning cohort groups, including one on better understanding network impact.   Recently,  I presented a high level overview of crowdsourcing, including examples from the lens of funding and doing.   It was good opportunity for me to look back at the crowdsourcing chapter in our book, The Networked Nonprofit, and update the examples and thinking.    The presentation was  followed by a discussion about how one might evaluate efforts to engage crowds. What do you track? What domains of impact should be considered (e.g. impact of the crowd-produced product, impact on the crowd / community)?

What comes to mind when you think of the word crowdsourcing either for funding or doing?

Crowdsourcing  is defined broadly as:

The process of organizing many people to participate in a joint project, often in small ways.   The results are greater than an individual or organization could accomplish alone.

Last month, I heard a talk by author Jonathan Salem Baskin about his soon to be published book, “Histories of Social Media.”  The book looks at social media concepts and ideas, asks is this really new?    The technology tools certainly are, but history provides a context  for every behavioral quality of new media.   Therefore,  my new question in presentations about social media has been to ask:  Is this new?

Collective activities are not new to social media.    The Audubon Society organized the first Christmas Bird Count to inventory all the birds in the Western Hemisphere in 1900.    But now using social media enable the Society and (anyone else) to increase this activity with less effort and less cost.   Over a century after its inception, over 52,000 people in 1823 places across 17 countries participated in the Christmas Bird Count – using email, web sites, and social media tools.   Social media accelerates  the crowdsourcing process – it can happen faster.  Crowds are powerful, but you must know how to effectively use them or it can be more work.  The key is breaking down the tasks into bite-size pieces and engaging crowds in the process.

There are four different models of crowdsourcing activities: wisdom, creation, voting, and funding. There’s isn’t one best way to do it – and many organizations use a combination of these models to meet their objectives. Social media tools for engaging and capturing the work of crowds include: wikis, custom platforms or web sites that facilitate voting, rating, giving feedback, adding content, or funding. And, you can use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, to support engaging crowds to participate in the activity.

Here’s an overview of the different types and some examples for each in philanthropy and doing.

(1)  Creating collective knowledge or wisdom

A group of individuals has more knowledge for solving a problem than any single individual.   Collective intelligence creates a quilt of knowledge that many people can distribute.

Public Insight Network in Minnesota is a network of 100,000 people who help make Minnesota Public Radio News by sharing their observations, insights, and experiences with reporters and editors who may share these insights through a story or on the web site. The measures of impact for this project include diversity, deeper and more relevant reporting, and better connection with listeners.

Maine Health Access Foundation did an experiment on Facebook, including it in its channel to promote a funding opportunity but also posted the initial letters of inquiry on their Facebook page to get feedback. The measure of impact is to determine whether the comments and feedback strengthened or improved the final proposal.

Crowdsourcing for knowledge creation can include “mashups of data.” Ushahidi is an open source platform that facilitates crowdsourcing through the use of SMS/cellphones and online mapping. It has been used in disaster relief, for example, in Pakistan, and other scenarios from London Tube strike to election monitoring to mapping crime incidents Atlanta.

(2) Crowd Creation

Crowds create original works of knowledge or art.      The Royal Opera used Twitter to crowdsource a new opera.   They encouraged Twitter users to send suggestions for the plot.  The opera staff collected the suggestions and summarized them on their blog.    Opera is not the only art form,  there’s been crowdsourced choreography – Dance Theatre Workshop. Each week they asked their Twitter followers to contribute a movement and then the company performed them and posted a video on YouTube.   And, a symphony orchestra, made headlines when they crowdsourced musician auditions for the Youtube Symphony orchestra.

How do you measure the impact of the crowd here?   Does being engaged in the creation of the work spur more appreciation for the art form and hopefully attention and participation?   Does crowdsourced creativity reach a different (younger) and new audience segment?   While it is probably difficult to absolutely prove cause and effect,  implementing a crowd artistic creation requires a discussion about letting go of control or at least being explicit about how creative contributions will be accepted or curated or added to the work.  Do you accept everything or is there curation?

(3)   Crowd Voting

The crowd votes, rates, or gives feedback and tips on ideas, products, places, and even people.  Internet platforms make it is easy for crowds to vote, rate, and provide feedback.     Think Yelp, eBay, or Amazon.

Crowd voting has been used in Cause Marketing.    There has been an explosion of “Vote for Me” contests that have become contests in techniques for vote getting and inspired cause fatigue at worst.  At their  best, they spread the awareness of a commercial brand and provide an opportunity for small nonprofits that don’t typically receive large amounts of funding to win dollars.

Crowd sourced philanthropy, on the other hand, does not typically select the best idea or project to fund by popular vote.    Many foundations have taken   a hybrid approach, acknowledging a role and place for expertise in addressing a “wicked problem” or spurring innovation.   Hybrids include a mix of openness and curated decision-making by experts.   The design might include a sequence of:

– Open call for submissions, public vote/commenting and a group expertise select the finalists
– Open call for submissions, experts select a smaller group of finalists,  public vote/commenting to select winners

How to structure crowd sourced philanthropy  based on voting or feedback depends on the outcomes of the project, a theory of change.   The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge,  Case Foundation’s Make It Your Own awards, and Island Collaboration Fund are examples of the hybrid process and linked to a clear theory of change.    Key in the implementation is being clear and transparent about how funding decisions will be awarded.    An impact question is – “How innovative are the ideas as a result of using a crowdsourcing process?”

Voting, rating, and feedback crowdsourcing projects have applications beyond philanthropy and marketing.   It can help organizations make a traditionally closed process more transparent and ultimately improve the level of feedback.    Conferences have taken this approach to shaping their agenda.   NTEN used a hybrid crowdsourcing approach to solicit panel proposals for its NTC 2011, similar in design and approach to the method SXSW has used.   Looking at impact is a question of how the crowdsourcing broadened the diversity panelists and topics as well as how this approach increase awareness and registrations for the conference.   And, reaping that value also depends on using an efficient way to crowdsource the decision.

Brooklyn Museum implemented a crowdsourced photography exhibit experiment called  “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition.”  Using a hybrid approach, there was an open call for photographs that attracted 389 entries.   The entries were ranked by 3,444 people, including both general public, museum goers, and expert curators.    You can compare the ratings by level of expertise.    One of the surprises, was that the sverage amount of time that people looked at the online images was 22 seconds – compared to in-person in exhibit studies that found 6 seconds.   Measuring impact is how did the crowdsourcing process attract a more diverse selection of art works, but also how it might have encouraged more people to appreciate the works.

Next Step Design is an experiment in “Crowdsourcing Public Participation in Transit Planning.” Traditionally, government agencies ask for public input on planning projects by holding open meetings and workshops. The purpose of this project was to get this public input in a different way: online.    Did the use of crowdsourcing enable them to get more and more in-depth feedback compared to the traditional method?   Was it more efficient?

(4) Crowd Funding

This category taps the collective purse, encouraging groups to fund an effort that benefits many people.   The idea is to leverage the funds of the crowd to complete a project they support.   For the funders side, we looked at the America’s Giving Challenge from the Case Foundation.  Impact measures not only looking at the total amount raised, but also the adoption of new online social fundraising tools which was a key objective.

There are a variety of platforms for crowd funding, including Causes, Crowdrise, Razoo, GiveZooks and others.

Crowdsourcing Resources

Crowdsourcing 101 by Beth Kanter
Some Truths About Crowdsourcing by Geoff Livingston
Social Good Crowdsourcing by Geoff Livingston
Crowds Can Not Be Trained Like Seals by Beth Kanter
How Does Your Nonprofit Work With Crowds by Beth Kanter

My takeaways from the discussion: A big takeaway for me was that you have to very clear and intentional about what you want the crowd to do – and your design has to facilitate the crowd’s work as efficiently as possible.      A lot has to do with the technology platforms and how well it automates some of the crowdsourcing work flow.

  • If you have implemented a crowdsourcing strategy,   how have you measured impact?    How do make it efficient so it returns the most value?
  • Are there other examples of crowdsourcing in the nonprofit or philanthropy or cause marketing sector that fall into these categories?  How did they measure impact?   What worked in terms of the design?



15 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Beth Kanter, nptechblogs and others. nptechblogs said: Crowdsourcing: Measuring the Impact of the Crowd in Funding and Doing (via @kanter) […]

  2. Amazing insides, there are a lot of take aways which i can implement in the projects that i do with non profits.

  3. Rob Wu says:

    Agreed — in crowd related activities (just like in real life groups), you have to be very clear in what the 1 or 2 actions you want the crowd to take. We’ve learned that it’s best to not dilute actions by adding multiple options.

    Thanks for the primer and resources on crowd-based activities!

  4. GiVE 365 at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and similar programs (from which many of our ideas came) like the Future Funds at Community Foundations in Charlottesville, Greensboro and the Gulf Coast are good examples of the hybrid approach to crowd sourced philanthropy.

  5. smossayeb says:

    really enjoy your posts and tweets 🙂

  6. hadji says:

    We are rookies in crowdfunding so we could use yuor help with our campaign. We are not a non-profit though but a social business.

    thanks for the article, instructive.

  7. I had a post a few weeks ago that was inspired by some of the content in The Networked Nonprofit, about how much congruence there is between social network thinking and the grassroots community organizing that was my initial entry point into all things “crowd”-related. This post is another great example of that–some of the key principles of effective organizing are to be intentional about how you invite people to engage, to find truly meaningful things for people to do, and to connect them to others in significant ways, all of which figure into your very helpful discussion of how to harness the power of crowds. We may use different language to talk about how we see the world and how we value people, but they are really the same concepts. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Good post thanks for the info I’m going to link to this on my twitter page so my follower see this, I’ll be back soon keep up the good work.

  9. Good post thanks for the info I’m going to come back soon! great work.

  10. […] with OpenIDEO to Save Lives Note from Beth: I written a lot about crowdsourcing and measuring the impact of the crowd, so I’m really intrigued by this project because they are using crowdsourcing from creative […]

  11. Coleen MacKinnon says:

    Love your site-have passed it on to many! Particularly interested in ‘crowdsourcing’ or mobilizing communities having used the techniques in Australia for a public policy reform campaign. Just wondering if you can recommend other sites with great mobilization success stories. Thanks!

  12. Eleni says:

    Hi everyone!

    I’m Eleni from LoudSauce. is building a new website aiming to help social media managers of non-profit organizations. LoudSauce provides a platform where supporters crowdfund ad space in Outdoor & TV so the non-profit can grow its audience dramatically and reach millions. It’s an exciting new program that looks poised to have a big impact on the
    social sector.

    Currently, the LoudSauce team is conducting qualitative interviews to develop a deeper understanding of non-profit social media managers’ day-to-day lives in order provide a meaningful and relevant service. We are kindly looking for people who would share 10-15 minutes of their time to answer some questions, over the phone, by email or chat.

    Would you consider talking to this team of young social entrepreneurs for a few minutes? 

    If so, please get in touch with me at or 415-758 8343.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Eleni Miliou
    Social Media Strategy, LoudSauce

    P.S. — What LoudSauce means by “crowdfund ad space”: people can pool money together online to help non-profits buy outdoor and TV ads, leveraging hundreds of supporters to reach millions. In return, donors get their photo included on the bottom of the billboard or TV ad. LoudSauce has run a series of test campaigns, raising $24,000 in ad space for movements like Story of Stuff (2m on TV) and ($10k in 6 days), and is now working on the next version of the platform. 

  13. […] Crowdsourcing: Measuring the Impact of the Crowd in Funding and Doing ( […]

  14. […] Crowdsourcing: Measuring the Impact of the Crowd in Funding and Doing ( […]