The Promise of Crowdfunding in Development

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Alumni live in a long-tailed world: a place where it’s possible for them to watch Ice Road truckers on their smartphone and, at the next moment, purchase Chilean bamboo sunglasses from their Facebook news feed. For advancement offices, this means that standing out is increasingly difficult!

How Can Institutions Raise More Money from Alumni?

The days of alumni giving back to their alma mater “just because” are dwindling.

With a 25% growth in nonprofit organizations on the whole over the last decade and as 84% of Millennials opt to donate online, institutions will need to work harder to enchant their constituent base. Crowdfunding, in the modern sense, is a collective effort which “inspires supporters to fundraise for your mission through their own personal networks online, through social media, and through email.” Crowdfunding is beneficial for its ability to spread awareness and capabilities around personalization, but in addition to that it simply makes fundraising fun and transparent.

Instead of sending direct mail to constituents as part of an annual fund appeal or soliciting alumni at their fifth reunion, crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and white-label solutions like USEED allow for real-time, instant donor gratification.

How are Alumni Relations and Development Using Crowdfunding?

Crowdfund Capital Advisors have estimated that crowdfunding could reach over four billion dollars in donations by the close of 2013, at a growth rate of 92%. Unsurprisingly, more and more institutions are catching on to the promise of crowdfunding in their advancement efforts.

Leadership at the University of California recently undertook a project to create their “Promise for Education” campaign, a customized interactive site which includes everything from highly produced celebrity alumni videos to allowing users to connect with Facebook to make their “promise.” In making a “promise,” students, alumni and faculty are all able to act as fundraisers by requesting donations in exchange for completing a challenge or doing something out of the norm — everything from donning school themed superhero capes to teaching alumni yoga on campus. In a short period, the campaign has already covered costs with $1,052,000 raised.

Other crowdfunding alumni efforts are more grassroots in nature. For example, a campaign initiated on Indiegogo by alumni at VMI supported their classmate Officer Dic Donahue, who was critically wounded in gunfire following the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings. While keeping supporters well informed on Dic’s progress, and serving as an outlet for sending along other means of encouragement, the campaign successfully raised over $80,000.

How Advancement Offices Can Get Started with Crowdfunding

As advised by advancement crowdfunding expert Andrew Gossen, Senior Director of Social Media Strategy at the Cornell University Alumni Association, a great way to start with alumni crowdfunding is to explore it as a complement to existing annual fund activities. Imagine adapting different annual expenditures, like new seats in a campus auditorium or electricity in the cafeteria, to be supported by crowdfunding campaigns. By testing different initiatives through crowdfunding, institutions can discover what causes resonate most with their constituent base and raise more money from alumni.

Enabling constituents to take charge of fundraising efforts and to pick the right crowdfunding platform can be an intimidating process for many advancement offices, but it might be the cost of securing an institution’s future!

Does your institution have stories of crowdfunding success?

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