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When the London-based St. Gregory’s Foundation needed to spice up its letterhead, edit a video to put on YouTube, and retouch a photo for publicity materials, the foundation did not turn to a professional graphic designer or editor. Instead, it posted the tasks to the microvolunteering platform Sparked.
Within a few days, the foundation had several responses to each problem. The solutions came quickly and free of charge, allowing the foundation to spend more time focusing on its mission – helping disadvantaged families in countries of the former USSR.
As we wrote last week, cloud labor is quietly changing the way companies operate. Not only the for-profit sector, however, has been taking advantage of crowdsourced labor. Increasingly, platforms are offering NGOs the ability to tap into large groups of volunteers to complete small back office tasks, enabling cash-strapped organizations to make their workload more manageable.
One of the earliest microvolunteering platforms was The Extraordinaries, an app that allowed users to complete small tasks while waiting in line for the bus or at the doctor’s office. After some time, the team behind the project decided to turn the app into an online platform, which they called Sparked. In addition to recruiting 75,000 independent volunteers, Sparked teamed up with large companies like Kraft, LinkedIn, and SAP to offer non-profits access to highly skilled and motivated professionals.
The platform works by matching solvers to non-profits and challenges. Solvers name their skills and receive challenges that cater to their strengths. Non-profits select the sort of problem they need help with and the duration of the challenge. In order to help NGOs formulate the challenges in a clear and concise way, Sparked provides a number of templates to choose from.
“They first pick a category, and then they see about four or five challenges that were popular, got good responses, and are marked successful by other non-profits,” explained Joseph Pigato, vice president of marketing at Sparked. “We then encourage them to edit the templates a little so everyone is not posting the exact same challenge.
“When we introduced the templates, it really helped non-profits post challenges,” he continued. “Especially with something technical, people are afraid to ask a question in the wrong way. People know what they don’t know, and that was prohibitive.”
Some of the most popular categories of challenges are design, marketing, social media, and (not surprisingly) fundraising.
“A lot of fundraising is elbow greasing and consultants can’t help too much,” Pigato admitted. “But people will also ask for help editing and copywriting fundraising letters or brochures, or helping with annual reports.”
For non-profits, the benefits of accessing a pool of professionals to help with everything from design and translation to marketing and proofreading are clear. There is also an incentive for companies, however, to have their employees volunteer during short periods of decreased productivity.
“Our model is actually more convenient and time efficient than normal volunteering,” Pigato explained. “It may be once every quarter, half year, or year that a lot of people take Friday off and go plant trees or paint a community center. When you look at those eight-hours, you lose a full day of productivity. With us, we’re hoping that employees go on Sparked when they’re having their coffee break or when there is a little bit of downtime.”
To help get employees to volunteer, Sparked allows companies to set up internal teams to compete against one another. The platform also borrows elements from social networking sites, with volunteers setting up profiles and providing feedback on each other’s solutions.
In order to help non-profits better engage with their fans on Facebook, the Sparked team is developing a new product, the SparkedSocial Customer Advisory Board (CAB), which will also be available to for-profit companies. A Facebook platform, SparkedSocial will allow fans to interact with an organization or business by giving opinions on potential products or helping to run viral marketing campaigns. CAB’s goal is allowing companies to gather better market research data and encourage brand ambassadors.
SparkedSocial’s long-term success will depend on how motivated CAB members will be to participate and how valuable customer input is – neither of which can be known until the platform opens to the public in about five weeks. Pigato believes that more activity on the new platform, even if much of it is around businesses, will ultimately benefit the non-profits.
“With the funding we get from that,” Pigato said, “we can do a lot more sophisticated matching analytics and challenges, which will all support microvolunteering.”
While it remains to be seen how successful its Facebook platform will be, Sparked has already helped countless non-profits complete tasks they could not do on their own. “Thanks to you both for doing this in double-quick time,” wrote Sarah from St. Gregory’s Foundation, after a pair of volunteers helped with editing a photo for publicity materials. Having run 13 successful challenges on Sparked, it’s a safe bet the foundation will turn to the platform again in the future.