I've long been a proponent of adopting best practices and successful strategies from other businesses and organizations. It's a great way to stimulate your organizational thinking and leverage growth without re-inventing the wheel.
So when, my good friend and sometime collaborator and co-conspirator Rachel Emmer sent me an article recently from the McKinsey Quarterly, "The Social Side of Strategy" it led me to think about its application in the nonprofit world. The article highlights several corporate efforts to enhance strategic planning through crowdsourcing strategies. Crowdsourcing is an effort to create a virtual crowd of people around a particular shared interest in order to leverage their synergy. A fundamental principle in crowdsourcing is it needs to be an open call to a largely undefined group of people (you never know where a good idea will come from) and typically it is delivered through the Internet.
Crowdsourcing is relatively new and remains largely untested, so there is no conclusive data that illustrates how it can be successfully applied, especially in a nonprofit environment. Many benefits and pitfalls remain in the shadows. However, one potential benefit found by the authors, which I find encouraging is: "it helped to build enthusiasm and alignment behind a company’s strategic direction.” That's what really got my brain spinning.
As we all know, two of the best ways to create momentum and commitment is through engagement and inclusion. These practices create "buy-in" and they are the cornerstones of a shared vision. However, all too often when working to develop strategic direction, only a few at the top, perhaps only an executive committee, are or become involved in setting this critical direction.
In support of this concept, the article went on to state that a common problem with strategic thinking is: "strategy setting sometimes suffers from insufficient diversity and expertise, with leaders far removed from the implications of their decisions and hampered by experience-based biases." Essentially, many at the top are too often, too close to the problem. Prior experience and the day-to-day details divert our thinking away from the larger picture and a focused vision.
More often than not, in developing our strategic efforts, we forget to seek the advice and counsel of those at ground level, those who are affected by our actions. That’s for many reasons, one of which is that marketing research consumes valuable resources; something most nonprofits find in short supply. Crowdsourcing may offer an inexpensive alternative for your organization to control costs and garner valuable insight regarding need and effectiveness, which in turn may allow you to develop new and ground-breaking strategies.
By employing crowdsourcing techniques, you have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of issues, problems, success, and solutions from those to whom it matters most. Crowdsourcing presents a natural next step in the evolution of traditional marketing research and a way for nonprofits to engage and include stakeholders in important decisions and directional efforts.