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Crowd Sourcing chapter Ts—> the network era

March 03 2009 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim



Taking the tasks, virtually all the tasks, associated with achieving our mission and flipping them out to as many people as possible is how we drive a movement of coastal care. It's how we find our next gear... and until we do these things with some ubiquity, we won't fully achieve either.

This includes crowd sourcing a soundtrack for a campaign. It includes letting anyone make campaign stickers to raise awareness. It includes t-shirt design contests.




If this, pushing a simple t-shirt design out on the internet, feels like I'm stretching the relevance of a subject... you're thinking maybe I'm taking something small and suggesting it's more important than it really is. If you are feeling these things then, I will be so bold to suggest, you're are not understanding what the potential of this movement is. We need to add a zero or two to the number of supporters this mission has and there aren't too many options out there to achieve this that don't intersect the web.

The hub era.
When we started 25 years ago we were a few people in a single office. That's a nice model for regional focus but it cannot scale to meet needs of issues spanning any meaningful geographical scope. It's also tremendously limited in terms of how much a single-digit staff can do in a given day. The governor on this model was money, if you had x dollars you could hire y staffers. To double the impact you'd need 2x money for 2y staffers. Both the success of this era and the limitations of this era fed into the next phase.

The hub and spoke era.

Our first chapters sprung up around 1990 and were geographically close to the Global HQ. These were supported by a small staff. As that number of chapters grew we were forced to invest in building out a regional support model. By "forced" I mean that in order to directly impact chapters in any given region we found the best way to do that was to invest in staff in that region. Around 1998 Ed Mazzerella published his Chapter Growth Plan which documented the plan for the next decade. Fast forward to 2009 and 1/3 of our staff is in the field focusing on chapter support and policy issues. This era built on the previous one added a layer of support to amplify our mission in more regions. The challenge with this model is that it still doesn't provide enough support for any given issue and doesn't deliver the on-demand muscle needed to address fast-tracked, flipping issues such as offshore drilling or wave energy.

The governor on this model was a combination of available money, chapter activism and volunteer hours. If you had x dollars you could invest that money to fund y staffers (to help support volunteer activists) and take on z campaigns. To double the impact you need scale those investments. In my opinion the return on investment in this era is a relatively linear equation (invest a $1, get a $1.50 of value... invest $2, get $3 of value). Both the success of this era and the limitations of this era fed into the next phase. What prompted the next phase more than any natural maturation on our part was the fact that the world changed around us, there have been fundamental shifts in the way people communicate.

The network era.
Read this timeline on the rise of Barack Obama. It would be hard (perhaps impossible) to argue that the network era is doing anything except redefining the way we interact, work, play, learn, live, support, etc.

Surfrider Foundation entered a new era a few years ago. This era, like previous time periods, is building on previous eras. But it also has some unique characteristics, I've written these a few times.

The governor on this model is odd in that the limiting factors are much harder to pin down due to the fact that they are being created right now... as I type this. It's clear that money, while still very important, doesn't have the top-end limiting-factor role it used to. When theme park launches choose to tell seven bloggers instead of spending $20,000,000 on an ad campaign... and killing it regarding effectiveness... something large has shifted.

We, like many organizations, have found we simply can't afford to scale staff to meet these demands and these opportunities. We must seek alternative methods to achieve our mission.

Today the mix is money, chapter activism and crowd sourcing.

To double the impact it's clear you don't need 2x money. Instead you need a few killer viral elements and ways to plug people into the campaign no matter where they reside. It's my opinion that to multiply effectiveness by ten, which our coasts demand, we must embrace this new era with everything we have.

The San Diego chapter needs a fresh t-shirt design and pushed out the call for a graphic to the web. Now, anyone... a 10 year-old in Biarritz, a 60 year-old in Alaska, a 30 year-old in Orange County... people of any race or gender and with any characteristic you can think of can participate. With this very simple ask the San Diego chapter can get designs from members and supporters but also from ANYONE else. The freshest design, the "best" design may come from a graphic artist totally unaffiliated (to date) with this organization and our movement. The best design may come from a professional, an amateur... from anyone. Spend some time on Threadless for a good example of t-shirt design crowd sourcing.

This is our future.

Now...what if EVERY one of our chapters launches a similar contest?
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