By now, you’ve likely heard of Gmail and Google AdSense creator Paul Buchheit’s blog post titled Collaborative Charity. In it, he declares,
“I’m going to donate a bunch of money, but I want random people on the Internet to decide where it goes.”
This is crowdsourced philanthropy. You remember crowdsourcing from Who Wants to be a Millionaire. That lifeline — “ask the audience” — was the perfect example: asking a large group of people to offer their ideas on a solution to a problem. Wikipedia is another great example.
But why would we try this with philanthropy?
Well, it’s a simple case of market majority. While a lone philanthropist doesn’t necessarily have the breadth of knowledge to determine the best grant recipient, the market majority — the crowd — will most likely be able to shake out the highest priority need.
And one of crowdsourcing’s biggest benefits in the philanthropic field may be transparency. Making decisions based significantly on the suggestion of public majority means less chance of ethics or bias being called into question. And making your values and conditions clear to your “crowd” simply demands greater public transparency in order to ensure an informed decision.
There are still many unanswered questions about crowdsourced philanthropy: Will it be successful? Will it become a trend or a viable model for giving? Who exactly is the audience? Perhaps Paul Buchheit’s experiment will help us begin to understand the answers to those questions, but many more experiments will be needed to label this a success.
And one thing is certain — philanthropy will need to master technology in order to get the most benefit out of this, and most other, field trends.
Good Examples of How Philanthropy Can Use Crowdsourcing
Philanthropy Enabling Crowdsourced Solution: This is an old example, but a good one. In it, the Rockefeller Foundation funded an opportunity for a non-profit in India to generate solutions to a problem via crowdsourcing.
Philanthropy Using Crowdsourcing for Strategic Planning: The Peery Foundation is currently using a twitter hashtag notation stream to publicly discuss some significant strategic planning questions. The hashtag — #PFWhiteboard — suggests that foundation representatives, and anyone else who has a thought or good suggestion toward their progress, are “whiteboarding” solutions via twitter stream. In my experience, hashtag conversations have been a bit clunky to follow, and you don’t necessarily get a broad market spectrum of input; but the Peery Foundation is experimenting in public transparency, crowdsourcing ideas toward their strategic planning process, and taking full advantage of available technology in this process. I look forward to following the conversation and to getting great ideas from their brainstorming.
These are just a couple of examples of how philanthropy can use crowdsourcing in rather low-risk ways. And while they’re no doubt just our “first steps” toward experimenting with this idea, they offer springboards for more complex ideas in the future. You don’t have to put yourself out there like Mr. Buchheit, but you can use this age-old technique to create opportunities, define solutions, or narrow down choices.