Growing Pains: What’s Next for Crowdsourcing?

The following post is part of TriplePundit’s coverage of the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon. To read the rest of our coverage, click here.

By Eliza Huleatt

Crowdsourcing projects, such as Pepsi Refresh and Chase Community Giving, have been successful at building participation that leads to donor dollars for important causes. But as crowdsourcing loses its novelty, will it still be an effective tool for creating awareness around important causes? Matt Mahan, from, states that crowdsourcing is simply going through some growing pains, but that looking ahead, there is still promise for this fundraising tool. Discussion at the 2011 Net Impact Conference focused around the idea that crowdsourcing is not new (think Charles Lindbergh’s flight prize in 1927) but rather utilizes new technologies. So, where do we go from here?

Mahan’s theory is that crowdsourcing is still valuable for nonprofit organizations as long as it creates capacity, attracts new followers, and teaches something valuable to the organization. If an organization participates in a project simply in pursuit of charitable prize money, they may be disappointed. Mahan describes the future of as a “centralized management platform” that allows users to be more strategic and proactive about their philanthropic choices, a step that Causes sees as crucial in the future of crowdsourced fundraising.

Max Schorr, Co-Founder of GOOD Magazine, agrees, noting that creativity, respect, and authenticity are keys to creating a powerful crowdsourcing project. As we move into the next generation of crowdsourcing, individuals are tired of “vote for me” types of campaigns and will start to ignore projects that are expected or uninspired; however, with inventiveness and, more importantly, with trancparency, crowdsourcing models can continue to be successful.

Another active player in the field is daily deal site Groupon. Groupon’s philanthropic component, G-Team, has been around for a while but has recently expanded to many new cities. Kyle Klatt, G-Team’s Manager of Development, describes the company’s effort as trying to “move members from buying things to investing in their communities.” Groupon subscribers in certain cities have the opportunity to make small donations that will fund small projects on the local level once a minimum threshold of donations is met. Klatt’s tip for companies hoping to engage in a crowdsourcing project is to go back to the root of your company’s mission and explore what you really want to accomplish. “Build a CSR program that matches your company and matches the roots of what you do well and what is important to your employees.”

So what’s next in line for crowdsourcing? Finding the right people to participate in and promote these projects will be a main challenge, but by mixing targeted marketing with traditional grassroots efforts organizations can find creative, diverse, and engaged crowds to tap. Kyle Klatt adds that in the future, post-campaign results and analysis will also be important. As with anything else in CSR, crowdsourcing will need standards and metrics.

Causes, GOOD, and Groupon all agree that having a better understanding of the impact an organization hopes to accomplish is critical. In order to move past gimmicks and contests and to really create change, project sponsors and the people who support them need to commit to a longer-term effort. Returning to basics, incorporating philanthropy into everyday life, and figuring out how to turn engagement into impact are important next steps for organizations hoping to take advantage of the power of the crowd.


Eliza Huleatt is a 2012 MBA Candidate at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

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