Crowdsourcing for Non-Profits – Using Volunteers to Get the Job Done!


You might have heard the term ‘crowdsourcing’ before today, but what does it really mean? Crowdsourcing refers to the ‘the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers’. Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, editors at Wired Magazine, coined the term ‘crowdsourcing’ in 2005 after conversations about how businesses were using the Internet to outsource work to individuals. Howe and Robinson came to the conclusion that what was happening was like “outsourcing to the crowd,” which quickly led to the term “crowdsourcing.”

Crowdsourcing can be as simple and as complicated as

  • Sharing of Opinions
  • Sharing of Expertise
  • Learning New Skills
  • Doing Real Work

You already know one major example of what crowdsourcing is and what it can do. Ever heard of this ‘little’ website called Wikipedia? It’s “the free encyclopedia any can edit” and the biggest crowdsourcing project out there!

Using Crowdsourcing for NPO Projects

From the American Association of Museum’s 2012 TrendsWatch comes this quote:

“Museums have adopted crowdsourcing partly in response to an increased desire on the part of audience to ‘do’ in addition to ‘view’. Technology enables broader, deeper more accessible engagement with a growing universe of amateur experts who may not otherwise be engaged with the museum and may reside half-way around the world.”

In layman’s terms, you can become a valued volunteer from the comfort of your own home by sharing your skills and expertise!

Many museums and other NPO’s have already harnessed the power of crowdsourcing. They’ve attracted amateur experts in the field of geology, birding, genealogy, web design, graphic design, photography and astronomy, just to name a few examples.

Crowdsourcing, Can Anyone Do It?

I wouldn’t say anyone can, because every project needs a strong leader, a budget and a solid plan to get started, but yes, most anyone who wants to, can get started with crowdsourcing. Without an experienced leader, however, the crowd’s enthusiasm might dwindle then fizzle, and the project will most likely die. I have listed a few pros and cons of crowdsourcing next, and this might be a good guide for you if you are going down that path for your NPO.


  • Access to higher number of volunteers (Your NPO is not restricted to location to find volunteers)
  • Access to ‘amateur experts’ and ‘retired experts’ at no cost.
  • Get more work done (You can outsource small or large labor intensive and tedious tasks)
  • Minimal cost (You’ll need a budget for staff training and management, as well as technology, but no need to budget hourly pay)


  • Need for a Project Manager (Should be NPO staff member = extra staff hours)
  • Need for IT Manager (Can be outsourced, but your NPO will need to budget for this)
  • Quality Control Management – It is imperative that someone is in charge of quality control of the finished product(s) and/or project.
  • Time Consuming – Since no one gets paid, the pace of the project can be leisurely and drawn out. Finding the right motivation to continue the project on a deadline and in a timely fashion is going to be very important.

An Example of an On-Going Crowdsourcing Project

Crowdsourcing Project ‘Digitalizing of Magazine’ in The Netherlands


  • NPO – National Christian Magazine called ‘De Wekker’
  • Crowdsourcing Project – Digitalization of magazine. Publication has been in existence since 1888.
  • Technology – Digibron by Erdee Media Group, a digital publisher.
  • Volunteers – Any person interested in helping out.
  • Volunteer Requirements – Access to a home computer. Knowledge of Dutch language. Willingness to help other volunteers, undergo training and stay with the project long-term.
  • Skills Needed – Basic understanding of internet and computer.Training – ½ day training program, required. Free to all volunteers.
  • Support – Online forum.
  • Success – Twelve years of articles have already been clipped in their first project year  (May 2013-2014) and are ready to be proofed for quality.

My father happens to be the volunteer-coordinator for this project and just trained 10+ new volunteers. Timing of my research for this article and his involvement in the project and his recent second training session were perfect. While speaking with him, I could feel his enthusiasm for the job, the great connections he’s made and his passion for the cause.

Participants from the crowdsourcing project in The Netherlands, at a recent training session.
Photo Credit: RD, Anton Dommerholt.

Here are some additional tips about crowdsourcing he has provided. I like each of these tips and I wanted to share these with you:

  • Quality control is extremely important! After just a few months, project managers realized the need for quality checks and at this point, my father has taken over all final edit duties.
  • Continue recruiting new crowds as you’ll loose a % of your volunteers each year. Some initial volunteers never showed up to the training, several had to stop due to illness or changed personal circumstances. It’s important to continue looking for new talent and volunteers and train them on a regular basis. Social media is a great way to start looking for and find new recruits for your cause!
  • Sharing project status updates with volunteers is directly correlated to continued enthusiasm for the project. Checking in on the forum and sharing personal progress, success stories and project progression is important for morale. The digitalization project my father is involved with is a national project and the volunteers live all around the Netherlands. In theory, they will only have met that one time during their training session. Their online forum has become a great source for motivation!

Other Examples of Successful Crowdsourcing Projects by NPO’s

A Citizen History Project by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called ‘Children of the Lodz Ghetto’ Upon visiting this project website, you can immediately gather vital information about the ongoing project, progress and expectation. You can immediately join the project and start your research if you’d like to help out, too.

The Rosetta Foundation’ a not-for-profit volunteer translation facilitator. I found the most fascinating research done on this project by Sharon O’Brien and Reinhard Schäler as it relates to ‘motivating factors’ of their volunteer translators. The outcome of their survey and research echoes what my father already told me. Finding the right motivation is crucial to the success of the project!

From their research we find the following motivating factors:

  1. Support for the cause and opportunities to increase professional experience emerged as the two greatest motivating factors. There is clear evidence here for both personal and social motivations working in tandem.
  2. Feedback from clients, from project managers and professionals was rated highest among future motivating factors.
  3. The introduction of payment or competition was rated as a low or even negative motivating factor.
  4. There is evidence in the testimonials provided that a feeling of connectedness and belonging to a group was highly valued and could contribute to motivation

Are You Ready to Get Started on a Crowsourced Project? 10 Pointers to Success!

Before you launch your own project, I suggest you take a look at these pointers.

  1. Define the project clearly.
  2. Create a plan of action.
  3. Assign a manager.
  4. Create a clear job description & develop a training program.
  5. Secure needed resources (technology, training).
  6. Find the ‘crowd’ – use social media platforms, email marketing and current supporters to start with. Be very specific with volunteer job requirements and expectations.
  7. Train, supervise and motivate your volunteers.
  8. Update volunteers with project progress throughout the project.
  9. Support your volunteers. Ideas for ways to stay in contact and to support your crowd include an online forum, Facebook Groups and Google Hangouts
  10. Recognize and Reward. When appropriate, recognize important milestones as you reach them and acknowledge those that have helped you get there.

Want To Join a Project? Cool Crowdsourcing Projects!

Via Sharable, I found the following three projects you can start on right now!

  1. FoldIt ‘Solve puzzles for science’
  2. DuoLingo ‘Learn a new language while translating the web’
  3. HelpFromHome ‘Home based micro-volunteer actions that benefit so many worthy causes’

photo credit: crsan via photopin cc

Dorien Morin-van Dam
Dorien is the face behind the orange glasses and is founder of More In Media, a social media consultancy. She consults with clients in the non-profit sector, retail and service industries, as well as PR and community associations. Besides social media consulting and management, she enjoys teaching, speaking, blogging, networking and running marathons. Proud to be Dutch by birth and American by choice, Dorien makes her home in Myrtle Beach, SC with her husband, 4 kids and 3 labradors.
Dorien Morin-van Dam

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