In a recent post we detailed how the alumni community of the Virginia Military Institute came together and leveraged the power of crowdfunding to support a fellow graduate gravely injured in the manhunt for two suspects of Boston’s marathon bombings. They raised $71,306 over their goal — proving once again that crowdfunding is a powerful tool where those with a worthy cause or big idea.
The concept of crowdfunding is similar to that of the annual fund — several small gifts pooled together to support a larger project, yet crowdfunding sites also give donors the ability to review several projects and support those that align with their interests. Donors become a part of a community with similar priorities that join together to make a difference. Since these sites are powered by big data, users are able to “highlight progress in real-time.” Thus, allowing donors to see the return on the good they are doing.
Along these lines, we’d like to spotlight a project that three students at Harvard recently launched, called Project GreenCampus, to connect students, alumni, and staff with opportunities to fund sustainability projects on campus. It targets projects that the university has committed to, but which they don’t have the funds right now to implement. Sachin Desai, a 3rd year student at Harvard Law School and co-founder of Project GreenCampus, reached out to us to define the inspiration behind this initiative. He explained that Harvard had set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals after broad student-driven efforts, and while they suspected alumni and other members of the Harvard community were well positioned to help, there existed no platform with which to engage them in these efforts. Inspired by the success of Kickstarter campaigns, Project GreenCampus developed a platform tailored to fit the university context, as they believe that universities “do best in fundraising if they grow off the ‘social network’ of its students and alumni.”
Sustainability projects are a good match for crowdfunding platforms because they are “small, easily segmentable, can be small or large, have interesting stories behind them, and often have student involvement directly or indirectly” explained Desai. Project Green Campus has announced two specific efforts: the replacement of overhead lights in the Quad with new, energy-efficient LEDs and a dishwasher in Cabot Cafe designed to reduce water use. The project is still in the pilot phase and it is only accepting donations for the Quad lights endeavor, but the team is please with the initial success. Having advertised the campaign mostly through word of mouth to their close networks of alumni friends and students, 42 people have donated to the project and they’ve already exceeded their $800 goal! Desai says they’ve learned a lot from the pilot, but that the real test will come in the fall when they launch bigger projects with a new website and bigger debut.