We talked with Kyle Post, director of crowdfunding and digital fundraising at Rutgers University. Kyle has been in this newly created position for a little over a year and shared what he’s learned about crowdfunding during his 15 months on the job.
What exactly is a director of digital fundraising?
It’s a new position the university created last year to focus on crowdfunding, but we’re now investigating peer-to-peer fundraising as well. Essentially, I cover any fundraising that a student or alumni group wants to do in the digital realm. We help student clubs, groups of alumni, or faculty and staff looking to raise between $2,000 and $20,000. You can see what we’re currently working on at this link.
What have you learned so far?
Groups come in and sometimes think that crowdfunding equals instant money—but it doesn’t work that way. It requires a lot of thought, planning, and outreach.
We start with an application and a conversation to get to the heart of what the group wants to accomplish. You can tell within the first couple minutes whether the project is for real. I’ve found there are three elements to a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Does the group have a reasonable goal?
- We want to make sure that the dollar goal and timeline make sense and match the giving capacity of the group’s audience.
Is this an entire group of enthusiastic fundraisers or a solo effort?
- We want each project to have a passionate group behind it. The lone wolf method doesn’t work. Successful initiatives stand apart because there’s a lot of enthusiasm and people willing to do the work up front, like building a website and writing emails, to make the projects happen. The ones that aren’t as successful only have one or two people trying to do everything.
Do they have the reach necessary to make this happen?
- If they’re trying to raise $10,000 but only have 12 people to reach out to, that’s not going to cut it. We want to see broad reach: Is there already a network or contact list that they can connect with? A lot of our clubs keep their own databases of alumni or former members, so the more people on those lists, the better.
Once you understand what makes a good project, you start feeling better about giving those projects the green light. They’re motivated, they have a good base, and they have an opportunity to succeed.
What kind of results have you seen?
Last year, we raised more than $200,000 from 24 crowdfunding projects. Thirty-six percent of our projects hit their goal. The national average success rate for all crowdfunding campaigns is somewhere between 30-32 percent, so we’re above average, but I’m not satisfied. I’m trying to get to a 50 percent success rate. I only want to pick projects that I believe will be successful.
Crowdfunding hasn’t been around very long, but next-gen alumni (1990s and younger) are most apt to do this. Seventy-five percent of our crowdfunding donors were next-gen alumni. We had about 1,200 donors give to our crowdfunding campaigns, which was split between 700 alumni and 500 friends. Out of people who gave, half had given the year prior but about 25 percent had never given to Rutgers before. Ever. We’re talking about 200 fresh donors who had never given before. That’s exciting!
So what’s next for digital fundraising?
We’re all trying to figure it out, really. It’s in its infancy—you need to figure out where the sweet spot is, but no one knows exactly where it is yet. At Rutgers, our next step is to focus energy into alum-driven projects, so I’m working with alumni relations to try and find more of these initiatives because they really boost participation.
We’re also looking at peer-to-peer fundraising for specific projects, which will allow individuals to raise money to support a larger goal—just like those 5k fundraisers where every runner is part of a larger fundraising team. This would help give groups more flexibility to feed into the same project.
In many ways, our industry is on a treadmill and we’ve stopped running. The treadmill is still moving, but we’re slipping backward. We try to keep pace by doing the same things we’ve always done: getting the old guard to give. But eventually, if we don’t start moving ahead, we’re going to fall off the treadmill. We have to be open to doing things in new ways to get our industry running again.
[bctt tweet=”We have to be open to doing new things to get the advancement industry running again.” username=”evertrue”]