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Crowdsourcing Preservation

May 7, 2012

The term "crowdsourcing" is attributed to Jeff Howe who coined the term in a 2006 Wired Magazine article. The term, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as "the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers," is now used to describe everything from products such as Wikipedia and YouTube to, a Chicago-based t-shirt company that allows consumers to post designs and the community votes to decide which designs will be produced and sold.

It's no surprise that this innovative tactic was quickly embraced by the philanthropy sector as a platform for community engagement. The inaugural American Express Partners in Preservation program in San Francisco in 2006, and the American Express Members Project in 2007 and 2008, were among the first examples of corporate usage of the crowdsourced philanthropy model. Both programs put the power in the hands of community members whose popular vote influenced which charitable projects received needed funding.

The rise of social media surely fueled the crowdsourcing movement, offering easy-to-access, low-cost channels with the power to raise awareness and reach large audiences with information about important causes. As a result, Partners in Preservation has adapted its strategies, utilizing Facebook (, Twitter (@partnersinpres, #preservenyc) and You Tube ( to complement and extend its web presence (

This evolution has also significantly influenced the preparation time required by the historic sites competing for $3 million in grant funding in this year's Partners in Preservation New York City program. From the beginning it was clear that the sites, both big and small, were eager for help in developing their outreach campaigns and building their capacity to rally support behind their organizations. Understanding this need, the Partners in Preservation team created several partnerships with nonprofit organizations to help the 40 sites develop their outreach strategies and the means to engage community members in their preservation campaigns.

Social Media for Nonprofits provided social media training and one-on-one coaching to help individual sites develop a customized approach to promoting their participation in Partners in Preservation through social media channels.

Reel Works Teen Filmmaking engaged NYC high school students in producing three-minute videos that captured the history of the sites and detailed their preservation needs. Videos were provided to sites for use in social media, online, and during on-site events. (See

New York Cares recruited and organized volunteers to help sites with preparation projects and to staff Partners in Preservation events during the recent Open House Weekend.

With the Partners in Preservation New York City program in full swing, it's clear that the sites have embraced the opportunity to expand their outreach strategies to "get out the vote." It's our hope that the tactics and strategies learned through participation in this program will enable these important New York places to engage the community beyond the four-week voting period, turning voters into long-time volunteers, donors and patrons, and expanding the impact of this program for years to come.

So, be sure to vote for your favorite NYC historic site once a day, every day, between now and May 21 on The four sites with the most popular votes are guaranteed to receive their full grant requests while the rest of the $3 million in grant money will be distributed by a local advisory committee.

 If you have a comment or question, please share it here.

P.S. Did you know that 75% of shoppers who read social sharing comments have clicked on the product link in their friends' Facebook posts? Source: SOCIAL IMPACT study by Social Labs.


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