My latest contribution to the Stanford Social Innovation Review opinion blog is up – you can read the post and join the discussion on SSIR, or read the full post below.


Have you thought about running a contest or crowdsourcing ideas for your organization or community group? If you have, you certainly aren’t alone. In a previous job, I had the opportunity to help run crowdsourcing contests for new and innovative technologies that help nonprofits and the world. One of the biggest lessons from my experience running contests and watching the crowdsourcing phenomenon expand online is that if you don’t have access to a tipping point of people, you won’t get the responses or participation you’re after. There’s a new platform hoping to help you do just that: iStart.

The Value of Crowdsourcing

There are many ways you could approach crowdsourcing, but the value of such a tactic usually focuses on these three components:

  1. Expose your organization, campaign, program, etc. to people in the crowd (as in, expand beyond your community)
  2. Recruit new volunteers, donors, or activists that are excited to continue working with you
  3. Receive ideas, products, services, or support for free/cheap (keeping in mind that your time is still a cost)

Whether you’re holding a logo competition or looking for a mobile application that supports rural medical workers, crowdsourcing can play a valuable role by accomplishing that goal, and expanding your organization’s reach in the process.

iStart and options for nonprofits

I’ve been poking around on the newly relaunched iStart platform lately and want to share some of my reflections (and hopefully get some of yours, too!).

The ins and outs

After a start as a business plan competition tool, iStart is now open for many kinds of crowdsourcing contests organizations want to run. Much like the NetSquared Challenges platform, it offers users the option of entering contests and searching through submissions across contests to find ideas. It also gives you options for saving searches and getting alerts when there are new proposals that match your criteria. Most exciting for organizations is the option to administer your own contest on the platform!

The platform requires that participants in your contest submit an abstract, but what is included in that submission is up to you. They also support a range of files so your contest could be a logo redesign or a social media policy, a video clip or a conference session proposal.

It isn’t free – and that’s okay!

Running a contest on iStart isn’t free, even for nonprofits, but I think that’s okay. Crowdsourcing is still something that many organizations think is “easy” and when we think something is easy we don’t put many resources into it. That’s a major reason why many times organizations don’t feel like their crowdsourcing efforts really “work” – they didn’t fully plan for all the effort it takes in recruiting and facilitating a contest.

The fact that nonprofits do have to pay to use the platform (but will save themselves the headache of moderating submissions on their own website, through emails or comments, or however else) means that there will [hopefully] be some strategic planning ahead of launching the contest to identify if it’s really the best tactic to deploy.

Making it work for you

Go check it out and see what you think! Jump right to the FAQ for information about the pricing and getting started process. But, if you think you want to dive in to the crowdsourcing world, here are a few things to keep in mind to make it work for your organization:

  • Have a plan – know why crowdsourcing is right for what you’re doing, and how you will engage participants after the contest is over
  • Communicate – be sure your email list, your Facebook page, your Twitter followers, and all your partners know you’re running this contest before you launch it so they can get ready to participate and to spread the word for you
  • Have rules – make your rules for participation clear and public
  • Give it time – don’t hold a contest for 1 day; people need a couple weeks at least to see the contest has launched, think about or work on their idea and then submit
  • Stick to your word – if you say you’re going to pick a winner then you probably should, if you say there will be 3 finalists then there should be 3 (or more if there’s a tie); but if you don’t get the kind of submissions you’re after be sure to stick to your word and pick the winner (and work with them to develop it further or include in the rules that winning doesn’t necessarily mean your logo will be used for example)

Have you run a crowdsourcing contest before? How did it go and what did you learn? Are you thinking of diving in – what questions do you have about the process or strategy? Looking forward to your questions and discussion!

New on SSIR: Tap the crowd with iStart
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