One of the great temptations for church communicators these days is crowdsourcing. It’s an old debate that flares up every now and then under different guises—spec work, contests, crowdsourcing—and it has the potential to snare unwary communicators. It sounds like a great deal, but you might be missing the ethical implications.
So what is crowdsourcing? 99Designs is one of the most prominent (and controversial) examples. Basically you hold a contest for designers, asking them to create something for you—a logo, T-shirt, book cover, etc.—for a set price. Lots of designers create stuff for you, you pick your favorite one and only pay that designer. It’s fast, easy and cheap.
That’s a win, win, win—right? You’ve got little or no budget, it’s for a good cause—why not?
Michael Hyatt, über blogger and former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says go for it.
We’re not so sure.
We don’t want to rehash the issue. The juggernaut post with Rick Warren in 2009 was ugly and we’re not looking to duke it out with Michael Hyatt. But we don’t agree with him either. We’re also not the lone voice: Steve Fogg offers four reasons he won’t crowdsource design.
Here are two of the main ways we see this debate:
It’s time to get with the digital age. The democratization of the Internet has devalued all sorts of professions and they’ve had to find ways to survive. It’s no different for designers. No one is forcing designers to participate. If designers didn’t find it worthwhile, they’d go somewhere else. It’s a great way for new designers to learn the ropes. 99Designs is making millions for designers and it’s just a new way of doing business. Get used to it.
The church isn’t simply about doing business. It might make financial sense to get the best work for the cheapest price, but that would also justify sweatshop labor. Crowdsourcing sounds a lot like exploitation. Hungry designers compete to get paid and you profit from their eagerness. One lucky designer goes home with a paycheck, everyone else just worked for free. Designers aren’t forced to participate, but that doesn’t justify exploitation. Victims of exploitation are often willing because they see no other option or they’ve been manipulated. All of this serves to devalue the artist, devalue the work and ultimately devalue you and your communication. The church should do better.
It’s Your Call
Bottomline, you’ll have to make your own decision. But beware of the potential temptation. Not everything cheap and easy is good. As you struggle with this ethical dilemma, I think we can agree it’s important for the church of all places to value people and their work. That includes freelancers and volunteers, as well as staff.
If you can find a way to crowdsource your design and everybody can leave with their integrity, great. But if not, maybe you should find a different way to go.
Editor’s Note: Ed Lauber raises a fair point in the comments that my argument is with crowdsourcing design specifically and not just crowdsourcing. It’s worth considering that there are ways to crowdsource things that aren’t exploiting people. Kickstarter is a great way to crowdsource funding. I’d also guess there are ways to crowdsource even design that don’t take advantage of people. Getting feedback in the Church Marketing Lab is probably a good example. As you can tell, we need to think deeply about these issues and focus on integrity in our communication work.