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 to approach crowdsourcing, but the value usually focuses on three components:
• Exposing your organization, campaign, program, etc. to people in the crowd (as in, expand beyond your community)
• Recruiting new volunteers, donors, or activists that are excited to continue working with you
• Collecting 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—here are some of my observations.

The Ins and Outs
After a start as a business plan competition tool, iStart is now open for many kinds of crowdsourcing contests that 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. It also supports a range of files, so your contest could be a logo redesign, social media policy, video clip, or conference session proposal.

It Isn’t Free—and That’s OK
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 tend not to 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 plan for all the effort it takes to recruit and to facilitate a contest.

The fact that nonprofits do have to pay to use the platform means they will save themselves the headache of moderating submissions on their own website (through emails or comments, or however else). It also encourages strategic planning ahead of launching a contest, which helps organizations identify whether it’s really the best tactic to deploy.

Making It Work for You
You can jump right to iStart’s FAQ for information about pricing and getting started, but if you think you want to dive in to the crowdsourcing world, here are a few things to keep in mind:
• 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 of your partners know that you’re running a contest before you launch it so that they can get ready to participate and to spread the word for you.
• Establish rules. Make your rules for participation clear and public.
• Give it time. Don’t hold a contest for a day; people need a couple of weeks at least to see the contest has launched, think about or work on their idea, and submit.
• Stick to your word. If you say you’re going to pick a winner, then you should. If you say there will be three finalists, then there should be three (or more if there’s a tie). In case you don’t get the kind of submissions you’re after, either plan to pick a winner and work with them to develop their submission further, or include in the rules that winning doesn’t necessarily mean the winning submission will be used.

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?