If you only find time to read one business article this month, you may want to make it Scott Cook’s piece in the Harvard Business Review (October 2008) The Contribution Revolution – Letting Volunteers Build Your Business. Cook, a co-founder of Intuit has done a solid job of outlining the whys and the ways to build a user contribution system which will play a part in the growth and value of businesses ultimately benefiting customers and shareholders alike. They are what you and I call volunteers. As Cook points out there are a surprising number of business models that rely almost entirely on user contributions to add value to the product—think E-Bay or Facebook for starters. Essentially, E-Bay opened a store on the Internet that relied on its customers to fill the shelves and create an inventory. Wikipedia blew up the 200 plus year old model of encyclopedias by creating a volunteer led expedition into knowledge capture and the thing that makes Facebook most valuable–the profiles of its users are all created by volunteer labor.
Cook ponders a number of other user contribution systems at work today and offers a range of constructive ideas about how companies can more effectively engage users in enhancing the value of their products and services. The article reminds us about the importance of creating truly meaningful user contribution experiences and leveraging those contributions. Small victories matter and while organizational resistance is to be expected there’s value in ramping up to embed the process organization wide. In an era when many not-for-profits struggle with volunteer engagement Cook reminds us of the high value propositions user contribution systems make to organizations. For association professionals, this article is a fresh reminder of the importance and high value potential of volunteers. It’s also a solid source of fresh ideas for renewing your association’s engagement toolkit yet again.