NFL's Cleveland Browns launch crowdfunding pilot to improve recruitment and retention 

By Vanessa Pineda on May 07, 2018

Could the 2018 NFL season finally be a turning point for the Cleveland Browns? For a team that’s had enough rocky starts on the gridiron these past few seasons, the front office rank and file is turning to a Kickstarter-like approach to give a jolt to innovation.

Taking cues from the growing popularity and benefits of crowdfunding, Browns’ front office staff recently completed their first-ever crowdfunding campaign run for and by employees. Staff, including player personnel and research and development, proposed ideas specific to improving recruitment and operations. The clincher for idea prioritization: participants were each given a portion of virtual dollars representing actual budget to fund the ideas they wanted to see actualized.

The idea campaign was announced while the entire team was together before training camp last fall, and before scouts separated to their respective regions around the country. Cultivate Ignite, a crowdfunding platform designed specifically for internal use, allowed peers to collaborate on each other’s ideas and act as investors to fund the best ones.

Employees were given ten weeks to nominate and brainstorm on idea proposals. Then, over another two weeks, they crowdfunded. Of 23 ideas, 9 were funded.

“We decided to expand and formalize [our standard ideation] process by running a crowdfunding campaign to unlock the ideas that were hidden in our department,” said Kevin Meers, Director of Research and Strategy.

Part of the crowdfunding experiment was to keep the process for idea submissions relatively open; the main parameter was that ideas had to be something relevant to the Browns’ front office operations. The team wanted to avoid “we should trade for this player” suggestions and focus on solutions to front office problems: “we should run X process differently” or “this would really help me be more effective in my job.”

To provide focus to the ideas the team requested, the Browns defined three submission categories for ideas: “small” ideas requiring $1k or less to implement, “middle” range ideas requiring a budget of $1K-$25K, and “large” ideas requiring more than $25k.

The next step for the Browns will be to outline a plan of action to turn the funded ideas into actual projects, determining staffing and converting virtual dollars into real team investments. In the meantime, the crowdfunding campaign has been a positive cultural catalyst.

According to Meers, the initiative created greater transparency and gave credibility to the funding process. It also gave employees “skin in the game” and has increased their engagement in the organization’s mission. “People definitely appreciated having more of a voice and a clear, defined process for how to make themselves heard.”

One of the biggest lessons learned from the pilot? Though crowdsourcing has the advantage of being more of a grass-roots, bottom-up effort compared to typical organizational initiatives, top-level champions are still necessary to stimulate a sense of purpose and spur creativity.

With innovative practices like this, the Browns of old may see a resurgence. A strong team is made up of players both on and off the field. And, it’s clear those off the field are taking strides towards more innovative operations. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The concept of crowdfunding was novel for everyone involved,” said Meers.


If you're interested in using crowdfunding inside your organization, contact us to learn more about Cultivate Ignite and how we can support your effort. 


By Vanessa Pineda

Vanessa is the Director of Professional Services at Cultivate Labs.

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