I received comments via twitter suggesting numerous other ways philanthropy is using/funding crowdsourcing. While the jury is still out on whether crowdsourcing will provide true benefit as a new funding model, the experimentation going on is garnering lots of discussion. I’ve distilled a few of the arguments here:

Potential Pros: Crowdsourcing exposes more “real people” to philanthropy — and the organizations working to provide needed goods and services — and the concept of weighing which organizations are doing the best and most beneficial work. Also, the majority voting together will discover the greatest need (a bell curve theory).

Potential Cons: A danger that crowdsourcing will lead to popularity contests, giving an edge to organizations who are savvy with marketing or who have full coffers for influence. Also, a fear that the masses will agree on philanthropic risktaking, which some philanthropists deem necessary for the development of truly innovative ideas.

More Examples

And here are a few more examples of philanthropic crowdsourcing — let me know your thoughts:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Through the Knight News Challenge, the Knight Foundation is crowdsourcing ideas for funding. In this initiative, the foundation planned to “invest at least $25 million over five years in the search for bold community news and social media experiments.”

Target projects are “innovations that use new or available technology to distribute content in local communities,” with the following parameters:
1. Use digital, open-source technology.
2. Distribute news in the public interest.
3. Test your project in a local community.

To date, three years of funding has been awarded. And while the initiative itself is an example of crowdsourcing funding ideas, several of the funded projects involve crowdsourcing.

One example is Ushahidi, an organization that seeks to expand an initiative to crowdsource crisis information. The strategy is to develop a free web map and timeline that journalists and citizens can use to contribute multiple reports of large news events. By allowing anyone to contribute news stories, the service would broaden information distribution even in places too dangerous for or inaccessible to mainstream media. Imagine the difference in news coverage of the recent demonstrations and uprisings worldwide had this been in place.

The British Government
Just this week, Britain suggested it was time to begin dabbling in crowdsourced giving, reports The Independent.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy gave the details stating, “Under the proposal, Britain’s Department for International Development would set aside about $65-million that the public would control by voting online between 10 aid projects in Africa and elsewhere.”

Everyone’s Doing It?

Small to Large; Corporate and Foundation; Open and Controlled. A breadth of organizations including the Case Foundation, NetSqaured, and American Express have tested their theories of crowdsourcing in philanthropy, including:

  • Controlled experiments, wherein foundations maintain the role of determining grantees, but the public is sourced for suggestions and input, and
  • Open experiments, which more resemble “contests”

You can read more about these foundations and their crowdsourcing programs at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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