Mia Fill is the Crowdfunding Program Coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder and an expert in digital storytelling. Though the campus platform, she has managed nearly 50 crowdfunding campaigns and encouraged donations from over 2,500 supporters.
1. For someone in the initial stages of launching a platform, what would you recommend as a good number of projects to start with?
I think if you have never done crowdfunding whatsoever, start with one or two. If you’re really trying to get your program up and running, aim for five and have them in very different areas. I wouldn’t launch projects on the same topic because if you can have a varying array of interests, it’s really engaging for different audiences. Just don’t overwhelm yourself. You want to think about traffic to your page, but that’s not what you want to focus on right off the bat. It’s really about building your program: what works for your campus, what works for your staff. That’s what’s important.
2. How many projects do you feel you can manage at any time? Have you had a threshold?
We’re still building. My goal is to have at least 10 active projects. With a background in project management I can take on more, but I think the reasonable amount would be 10 for us. It’s really based on how much staff you have in place. I’d hate to launch a bunch of campaigns and have them left to their own devices, so it depends on how much bandwidth you have to manage and supervise them. There are some great features on our platform where you can categorize campaigns by interest or college, so when we do have that huge volume that we want to launch we can categorize them to make sense on one page.
3. How do you encourage students to use your platform versus other platforms?
There are a lot of things I talk about: the experience itself and the hands-on support we provide. Since there’s no cost to use our platform, we really want to highlight that experience that comes with using it. Also, because we run our gifts for the university through the foundation they’re tax deductible, which isn’t offered on public platforms. We also use the “keep what you raise” model. It takes some of the pressure off of the campaign team wondering if they’re going to get any of the money and lets them focus on quality.
4. Do you recommend professors using the platform for school-related research projects?
We do allow research campaigns, but we have a very heavy approval process around that because there are a lot of policies and fees in place already. We’re fundraising, so we want to make sure we’re not sidestepping anything that is mandatory for research projects or just student fees themselves. I do recommend that you look into it, but try not to step outside of your university’s existing research policies.
5. How many individuals do you have approving projects?
Right now it varies. I’m working to formalize our review process and bring in as many parties as we can that are logical. We try to pair campaigns with the college or program their campaign is through as an advocate, so it also depends on the campaign’s sponsoring department.
6. Can you share any initiatives CU Boulder is using to build awareness and encourage giving among specific constituencies (for example young alumni, students, etc.)?
In the context of crowdfunding a lot of times I rely on those campaigns that have strong departmental support. If we’re sending out a campaign to the listserv for the school of education or their alumni base, it’s going to bring that traffic to the platform. That in itself is awareness that we have a crowdfunding initiative without actually saying “Did you know we have this platform? We’d love for you to come take a look and donate.” It’s a little more natural.
7. Do you have a review process before campaign teams post updates?
Yes. They’re usually reviewed by communications, but I try to bring in as many people as I can. An extra set of eyes never hurts! Also, with the platform you can set the review process: whether it’s 1 or 5 people that sign off before campaign teams post something or the platform super admin (which is myself) posts it for them.
Listen to Mia’s full interview for more great tips!
8. Do you provide project teams with lists of college donors?
No, we do not. What I do is encourage them to partner with me to reach out to their sponsoring department and have a meeting with them and say “OK you’ve approved our campaign, we’d love to create content you’re comfortable sharing.” Then the sponsoring department can decide what listserv or channel they want to send it to — do they want to target their alums, do they want to put it on their social media page — things like that.
9. What types of offline fundraising are teams utilizing to help jumpstart their campaigns?
I’ve had to explain that donations don’t always have to be money. If you’re just raising money you’re not reaching people who will donate time or their own resources. For example, we did a campaign for an aerospace student group who was building a space pod exhibit. They were prototyping asteroid mining and in their campaign goal they budgeted for all these different pieces of equipment. When they reached out to the campus community, they found a lab that offered to lend a lot of it to them.
We took the monetary value of those things and added it through offline fundraising to their campaign goal. That way they still felt that instant gratification and morale boost. Donations don’t always come in as dollars and that’s ok. We really want to partner with other units across campus and the boulder community for unique and even matching gifts, so we try to think outside the box.
10. Is there an average donation size that you see?
About $85, a bit higher than industry average.
11. As far as donors go, are you seeing a mix of alumni, students, and friends or do campaigns tend to sway one way or the other?
It depends. We’re really working to build our alumni base and we have a great mix of alums already involved. In our pilot year, we had 70% new donors to the university which is huge. With a lot of the student campaigns, it can be a lot of friends and family, but I think it really depends on your campaign team. If they’re comfortable and supported in reaching out to your institution’s community, then you see a higher percentage of alums. If they’re not comfortable asking for money, we typically only see them ask friends and family. Still, those are all new donors to the university, and we try to appropriately build them into our pipeline.
12. Do you do any ongoing stewardship with donors after the project has ended?
Yes. We compile donor data since our gifts are run through the university. Donors through crowdfunding are much different than donors to the university or to an annual fund, so we try to focus on why they gave. Did they give because it’s someone’s grandmother? Or did they give because they’re an alum from engineering and they wanted to help a student group? If that’s the case, there may be other things that they’re interested in as university initiatives.
13. Is there any expectation that the platform will generate a certain amount of funding from the projects?
I think it’s in line with one of our campus goals of revenue diversification, but we don’t put a dollar value on that. We’re trying to build the program. What we focus on is figuring out how to set these teams up for success. That, more than anything else, sets up the amount of money you raise.
14. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
I think back to the first time I ever met with a campaign team and helped train them: I wish I had known what to really focus on. It’s one thing to do a total brain dump of everything there is to know about crowdfunding, it’s another thing to tell campaign teams what they need to know and have them walk away understanding what’s important.
I’ve learned how to make crowdfunding as a concept something that people can absorb — how to nurture that buy-in and awareness — working on tools for prioritizing what campaign teams actually need to know. One thing I do try to do is personalize our outreach with campaign teams. When you go through a public platform it’s kind of like ok, good luck, you signed up, great! Here’s a PDF manual, have fun. So I try to avoid that.
The technology used to support a successful Day of Giving is only about half of what goes into a day’s fundraising success. People, planning, variety and smart segmentation all play a role, too.
The Knight Foundation’s Day of Giving Playbook is the most comprehensive guide book we have seen. Though it is designed for community foundations to connect, support and empower community fundraising initiatives, the philosophy remains sound in the university fundraising sphere.
Here are some top takeaways:
Start Planning Early
Start planning six months in advance. The biggest difference between success and less than your goals is planning!
Don’t be afraid of too much detail. Targeted segmenting of contacts, specializing your messaging for each affinity group, and writing social media plans (even down to specific posts!) in advance will all help you knock your day out of the park.
Set Measurable Goals
Set explicit goals so you can measure your results. Whether these goals are based on the number of gifts, the number of people who engage with your giving day web page, or the dollars raised, make sure you know what you want to measure.
Select Your Engagement Methods
It can be very helpful to set challenges, identify matching funds opportunities, and collect prizes to award participants on the big day. Remember, prizes don’t have to be tangible: a shout out on your official social media channels could mean a lot to a student or group.
Rally Your Giving Day Team
Crowdfunding can be a lot of work, and having the people you need on your side as you plan, organize and run your Day of Giving is essential to your success. You may want a different person for each of the roles below:
Orchestrate activities for all other team members on the Day of Giving.
Oversee the team leading up to and on the Day of Giving.
Organize on-campus day-of events.
Input offline donations (i.e. donations by telephone, check or cash in person at Day of Giving events). Manage challenges and calculate winners.
Rally on social media platforms, run social media tools (i.e. Juicer).
Participate in on-campus events, by handing out information, engaging with the student population, etc.
Build a Work Plan
The work plan included in the Knight Foundation’s resource is an excellent place to start. Below is an example of the configuration in the example:
Communication to the Campus Community
First 2 weeks of December
Promote using official social media channels
Get students and organizations involved in promotion.
Make sure to specify how each student can help on the day.
Begin video contest: get participating fund groups involved in pre-promoting themselves.
Campus TV crew
Know Your Budget
You probably have some budget allocated to help cover advertising, staff salaries, and event necessities. You will also likely have a budget for matching funds. We recommend reaching out to businesses in your community, organizations that have a stake in your Day of Giving’s success, and other community stakeholders to gather matching funds.
Consider Incentives for Student, Staff and Community Participation Prizes, bonuses, social media shout outs, and Day of Giving branded material items, like t-shirts, can help boost community participation. Consider what kind of room is in your budget for these types of items, and how much human power and time it will take to make it work. Include this in your budget planning.
Have a Crisis Action Plan
The web can be an unpredictable place, and things like merchant service outages and other issues may occur. Ensure you are prepared in case of internet gremlins.
Prepare Your Communications
This can help you stay ahead of the game, even months in advance. Remember to consider what makes each particular group care about your Day of Giving. Your messaging should connect each group of potential donors to a) why they care; b) what kind of impact their donation can make; c) how they can see the impact after the Day of Giving and keep up with whichever initiatives they support.
Brand Your Messaging
It’s essential in the university environment to put your best branding foot forward. There are likely requirements surrounding what kind of messaging you should use, and details such as color contrast on the web can seem daunting. Keeping your messaging on brand can also help to build trust with potential donors: create messaging that they recognize as affiliated with your organization, and trust is much stronger.
Create a Communications Calendar
Having your communications all planned out is essential for running a successful 30 day crowdfunding campaign. It’s easy to see that it’s all that much more essential to have a plan in place for your Day of Giving.
*Pro tip: segment communications by channel, and then spread each channel’s deployment across several people. This can help keep spirits high and stress low when the day arrives.
Use the example below to get you started. Remember, you’ll have help from multiple team members, so split the work of collecting and segmenting lists and writing posts. These categories are examples only – you will have unique channels.
Know what Metrics you Need to Track
Remember, it’s important to know your goals and your target audiences so that you can accurately track your success.
Here are metrics you should track for you Day of Giving:
Total number of donors
Total amount raised (both per campaign or area of interest, and overall)
Total number of individual gifts
Total page views
Your website may be able to track the following metrics, in addition to the above:
Pages per visit
New or return donor totals
Age group of donors
Number of alumni and active students
With well-tracked metrics, you’ll be able to see things like the number of returning donors on following Days of Giving; how much engagement raised for millennials; the preferences of your donors; and much more.
A key component of any successful Day of Giving is advocacy from organizational champions that help get the word out.
This can be staff, faculty, alumni, or past donors; the important thing is to reach out (ideally more than 3 months in advance) and identify who within these groups is willing to help tell your story and inspire their networks to action.
You can find these members through a variety of tactics: at donor or staff events where you can announce your upcoming initiative, through major gift officers who can ask for support using an existing relationship, through very tailored direct email aimed at your most likely advocates, and (most personally) a call from you or your leadership.
Try to follow this timeline to create your own giving day communications kit:
90 Days before Launch
Send your initial announcement to your network to warm up potential supporters.
2 Months before Launch
Send a ‘Save the Date.’
Use an electronic postcard – you’re hosting a big event!
1 Month before Launch
Send weekly or bi-weekly announcements if possible. Don’t fatigue your database, but it’s important to keep things top of mind. Segment and tailor messaging for alumni age groups to have better open and engagement rates.
Once your ambassadors are identified, you need to have a clear plan and documented timeline for what you are asking them to do for your giving day communications.
This includes several elements:
Concise, templated social media posts with a clear call to action.
A distinctive hashtag to collect all social activity.
‘Pre-launch’ and ‘Day of’ email templates for ambassadors to send to potential supporters.
Image collateral to use in social and email promotion.
If you’re not sure where to start, follow the below template for a killer communications document:
Thank you for supporting [Giving Day Name]! This is an online fundraising initiative lasting 24 hours that encourages alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff and friends to make a difference to [Institution Name]. Before our event and during from [Start Date] to [End Date], we’re counting on loyal and caring [Mascot Name] and their friends to spread the word and make an impact through giving to a wide range of worthy projects! Thanks for your help, we couldn’t do it without you.
Questions? Contact [Designated Support] at [Email and/or Phone Number]
1 Week before Launch
Announce [Giving Day and/or Campaign names] on your social channels.
Share the [School/University] [Hashtag] and follow us on [Facebook Link] and [Twitter Link] to like and share posts.
Tag friends in your posts.
Email your personal network. You can also use [Email Template] if you’re not sure where to start.
2-3 Days before Launch
Download the official [Giving Day Name] pictures from [Images Link]
Change your Facebook and Twitter profile pictures and cover photos to [Desired Image Link]
Continue posting about [Giving Day Name] on your favorite social media channels and tagging friends in your posts.
Make your gift early at [Platform Link].
Day of Launch
Email your personal network that today’s the day! Again, here is an [Email Template] if you’re not sure what to include.
Post/share on social media throughout the day. Here are some templates we’ve created to help [Link to 3-4 Facebook and Twitter Templates]
Tag your friends and encourage them to donate and show support on social media.
If you know someone who made a gift, send them a personal thank you or social media shout out.
Day after Launch
Thank your network for participating via posts or via email.
Share the [School/University][Hashtag] Facebook and Twitter posts
Once you have created this and your champions have helped you reach your goal, make sure to show gratitude. Thank them first and foremost with a personal note acknowledging their impact. They will be there again to help next year with your giving day communications if you do!
John Taylor is a crowdfunding expert, educator, speaker, and advancement consultant. He is an Industry Advisor at Community Funded where he participates in developing best practices, advising new product development, and helping platform administrators achieve their fundraising goals.
A mere 7 years ago I thought that Crowdfunding was the next worst thing to hit higher education, second only to text-to-give campaigns.
At institution after institution, I saw it eroding the annual giving program and turning prospective donors off. Appeal after appeal was made from different departments requesting support for different projects/programs on nearly a weekly basis – in fact often daily. I totally got how Crowdfunding might work in response to a specific disaster or unified initiative. But what I saw was Crowdfunding being used in excess, destroying the relationship building efforts that institutional advancement offices had worked so hard to create.
And then I figured it out.
Crowdfunding was not to blame. Institutional leadership was. While I blamed Crowdfunding for eroding support to the annual fund, I realized that Crowdfunding was simply offering another annual fund giving vehicle. The problem simply was that institutional advancement had not gotten out in front of the Crowdfunding initiative and saw it instead as a competitor – not a partner!
In higher education, I believe that the key to operating a successful and cooperative Crowdfunding initiative is for it to be initiated through institutional advancement.
“Issues” arise when you have no coordinated approach to Crowdfunding. You have 14 different department heads and 27 different researchers simultaneously trying to raise money for their pet projects – and, oh, they also retain their own Crowdfunding vendor without even considering an interface with the fundraising CRM. Then when the annual giving office issues their spring appeal not knowing that these 41 other initiatives exist, alumni ask: “Why are you bothering me? I’ve already given!”
We need to get our collective act together.
Advancement must embrace Crowdfunding as a viable mechanism for many of our constituents. Times are changing. Gone are the days when donors are willing to make unrestricted gifts to a school for us to do as we wish. Project-oriented fundraising is clearly the way to go and Crowdfunding platforms make this easy as pie.
What is critical, though, are a few key factors:
1. Coordination by the Advancement Office
General appeals for annual gifts are still effective, especially for the older generations. We need to coordinate marketing of the various campaigns to ensure we are not inundating our alumni with appeal after appeal.
2. Institution of an Internal Campaign Approval Process
It is one thing to raise money for a new research initiative. It is another to solicit funds to replace a department’s microwave. Institutional Advancement needs to be involved in identifying and approving the Crowdfunding activity, ensuring it is aligned with institutional priorities.
3. Implementation by a Single Crowdfunding Vendor
This is the best way to realize reduced institutional costs and ensure a standard approach. Of course, that vendor platform should also allow for each unit conducting a campaign to customize their giving site – although Advancement must ensure that each conforms to the institutional branding standards.
4. Integration with the Advancement CRM
With the common platform, Advancement must develop an automated interface, to the extent possible, to reduce the duplication inherent in manual data entry.
In higher education, we must embrace Crowdfunding as simply an additional mechanism to solicit funds for philanthropic endeavors and activities. In doing so, we also must respect our donors’ solicitation preferences and frequency of requests for funding. Some will prefer a focused project approach. Others might only respond to direct mail or email. Others might prefer the occasional phone call.
The best, and perhaps only, way of doing this is to let Institutional Advancement coordinate all fundraising activities and track all donor preferences in the fundraising CRM. Doing this will ensure a successful fundraising program, and outstanding Crowdfunding campaigns.
Community Funded (www.communityfunded.com) provides powerful yet easy-to-use digital fundraising solutions including Crowdfunding and Day of Giving products and services that help higher education, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations exceed their fundraising goals.
Meg Weber is the Executive Director of Annual Giving and Gift Stewardship at Colorado State University. She is an Industry Advisor at Community Funded where she participates in developing best practices, advising new product development, and helping clients achieve their fundraising goals.
When Colorado State University launched our crowdfunding platform, we learned very quickly that a huge role for our team would be helping potential project creators understand the reality of fundraising.
An example: early on, a faculty member called me to talk about a project he had seen on Kickstarter that raised almost $500,000. This project (let’s call it Random Awesome Device, or RAD) had an initial goal of $65,000, so it had achieved huge success. Our faculty member had a similar project in mind, something just as cool that would also make a positive impact on the world, just like RAD.
So, of course a $250,000 goal was realistic.
As we were talking, he pulled up the RAD page on Kickstarter. Immediately, I noticed that it had more than 8,000 supporters and a media section filled with words like:
“Featured on the TODAY show”
“Profiled in the New York Times”
“Covered by Forbes”
Did this professor really think that his project would get that kind of attention? The university marketing department has hundreds of compelling stories to tell, would his be a priority? How would he get his project in front of the tens ofthousands of people necessary?
We affectionately refer to folks who think this way as “Field of Dreamers;” people who still believe in the mantra of “if you build it, they will come.”
Except they won’t.
This conversation and others like it have helped us come up with a list of questions we like to ask our project creators before they even set their goals. We try to arm them with information about what to expect, and, most importantly, what is realistic.
Having a good, honest conversation at the beginning of every campaign is incredibly important.
This helps them and it helps us. We want all our project creators to feel successful and be proud of their campaigns. And if they set a goal that is attainable, and then achieve it, we not only get some good word of mouth on campus but other project creators tend to seek us out. Alternatively, if a project creator sets a goal that is too ambitious and fails, they often blame the platform, or the school, or our staff (which obviously is inaccurate, but still doesn’t feel great).
It’s not a position any of us want to be in. And neither do they.
So, to avoid any misunderstandings, here are some important questions to ask to effectively evaluate a campaign and set expectations:
1. Do you understand that you are responsible for the success or failure of this project?
This the main thing that we look for: crowdfunding project creators who are enthusiastic about their project and who want to carry the burden of the project on their own shoulders. We will do everything in our power to help every project succeed, and we expect our project creators to do the same. A good project has a creator who knows that they will tell their story better than anyone else, and they will understand their own networks better than we can. A good project creator is willing to put themselves and their project forward. If they don’t believe in their project enough to promote it actively, why would anyone support it?
2. Do you understand the essential elements required?
We have a lot of first-time conversations with potential project creators. In the first meeting, we are sure to share that they will need to have a good video, a strong marketing plan, a decent number of pre-committed gifts, and that they will be making personal asks to a large network of individuals, not including any alumni groups we might reach out to on their behalf. If they come back for a second meeting, we probably have a good project creator on our hands.
3. Are you willing to spend the time to learn how to succeed at crowdfunding?
We want all our project creators to undergo some training on the tactics that work for creating and marketing a project for success. Crowdfunding creators need to have some skin in the game and dedicating time to learning is a great indicator that they feel this way.
4. Do you know without question where at least 30% of your gifts are coming from?
Bottom line: statistics show that 90% of projects succeed if they have 30% of their funding in the first 48 hours. Those gifts don’t just magically show up. They are usually solicited personally, ahead of time, by the project creators.
5. How big is your network?
Be sure to clarify how they define “network.” People they know personally and will ask personally will behave differently than contacts on a social network. Personal emails convert at a much higher rate than social media posts.
Overall, while the mechanism of crowdfunding is online, the asking should be personal.
Even still, something else to keep in mind is that the average gift on our platform (and on most platforms in higher education) is about $70. To achieve a $5,000 goal requires a minimum of 71 donors. If a campaign has a 50% conversion rate on e-mail (which is generous…) a campaign creator would need to e-mail 142 people.
A good follow-up to this question is to sit down with your campaign creator, do the math, and find out if they know enough people they can solicit donations from.
6. Is there a marketing plan?
An effective marketing plan includes day-to-day plans, has specific details, and identifies accountable parties. The answer to this question needs to be deeper than “yes, we will market this project” or “we’re going to post it on Facebook when we launch.”You aren’t doing your project creators any favors by letting them coast on promoting their project.
Ask them how they plan to update donors on their progress and successes. This is during the project and after. During the crowdfunding project, people expect to see progress reports. Sharing successes as the project hurtles toward the finish line is not only good stewardship, it is also an effective solicitation method.
After the project is funded, we try to retain as many of our crowdfunding donors as possible. Our project creators are valuable partners in the stewardship process. They are an active participant in thanking our donors and making sure they see that the dollars they gave were put to good use.
At the end of the day, we never have these conversations to scare anyone off from using our platform. We want as many users as we can get!
But for us, arming our project creators with information, things to think about, and suggestions for success ensures that when they are ready to hit the launch button, they are teed up to hit it out of the park.
Integrating crowdfunding on your campus as a centralized storytelling platform begins from within. To this end, getting buy-in from the internal stakeholders that will be critical to your long-term success is an important first step.
The goals of stakeholder buy-in are:
Building awareness/excitement for the platform on campus
This is a source of potential ambassador campaigns, as well as voluntary evangelists.
• Social Media
• Inclusion in direct mailers
• Inclusion in phonebank scripts
Remember, these are just guidelines. A good rule of thumb is to look through your campus directory well before your outreach efforts to establish which departments would be the biggest value add to the platform. Keep in mind how active departments are in campus fundraising, personal connections you or others in advancement might have, and the available resources each department has on hand.
Crowdfunding Campus Stakeholder Meeting
Once you have your list of desired participants, we encourage a formal stakeholder meeting that gathers as many of the interested parties as possible. Stakeholder meetings are a great way to share the vision for the crowdfunding campus platform, answer questions, and build awareness for the opportunities the platform presents.
A stakeholder meeting will typically include:
Presenting the vision for the platform
Basics of crowd fundraising and its value to different stakeholders
Facilitating conversation and discovering potential team members
Overview of goals & timelines
Q&A / Discussion
If you do this correctly, not only will you find willing allies, but you’ll inspire excitement and interest for the impact the platform can make on campus and in the world!
In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in the world of Advancement Services. You know, the “back office.” The “support staff.” The “we’ll dump more admin stuff on them because they have the time since they aren’t out there raising money.”
Ya, that Advancement Services.
You should remember that if it weren’t for us you would not be able to mail/email prospects. You wouldn’t have a clue how much money has been given and by whom. You couldn’t issue a legal tax receipt, and you certainly could not follow-up on 3,000 outstanding pledges. Read the 3rd edition of my Advancement Services book series: Enhancing Fundraising Success to learn more.
But I digress.
Here’s the operational issue I have with day of giving campaigns: institutions often forget the “little people.” Let’s pretend that your annual gift volume is 5,000 transactions – now what is your organization staffed at for processing?
Probably 1 person.
Just what the heck is the Advancement Services Office supposed to do when a quarter of those transactions come in ON ONE DAY? Are you really willing to wait 2-3 months for those gifts to be entered onto donor records – and do you promise not to ask the Director of Gift Entry to keep a daily log of how many gifts have been processed and how many remain?
In order for these days of giving to not be a fad they must serve a purpose in cultivating new donors. These new donors deserve the same immediate recognition that old donors receive, without sacrificing the time it takes to recognize existing donors appropriately.
Immediate electronic tax receipts notwithstanding, they deserve another thank you letter – on paper – within a week of the gift. And very likely another within 30 days depending on the dollar amount. Not 3 months later.
Therefore, we must consider these campaigns holistically, not just whether we can get more gifts than the other school down the street (oh, the fear I have seen in the eyes of staff at two local schools “competing” against each other).
We must sit down 6, 9, 12 months before launching the campaign, and all come to the table to think about the infrastructure issues and staffing demands doing these right – from a DONOR perspective – will require. That means building seamless interfaces between your online giving platform and your database of record before the first gift comes in.
The key is you need to import both the gift and biographic information directly from one system to the other rather than having to rekey anything.
Okay, nothing is foolproof and suspected duplicate records will need to be triaged. But the point is, that interface MUST exist, so make sure the platform you are using offers this functionality.
Please stop killing off Advancement Services professionals! If you are considering a day of giving, make sure your systems integrate for seamless gift transactions.
It was only 10 to 15 years ago institutions followed the Paretto principle closely, securing 80% of their gifts from 20% of their donors. Then things began to shift.
Many institutions now exist in a world where 5% of their gifts come from 95% of their donors.
One reason for this shift has been the increase in mega campaigns and a hyper-focus on transformational gifts. Inspiring seven, eight, and even nine-figure investments can be truly game changing: transforming programs, departments, and even the universities themselves and ushering in enormous positive societal impact. These gifts can enable institutions to fulfill their missions in rich and powerful new ways.
Another reason for the shift is a decline in the engagement of alumni and “friends.” This is mainly due to insufficient resources for annual fund programs and a continued devotion to solicitation methods that generations of alumni no longer respond to. Traditional strategies and tactics for engaging donors continue to lessen in effectiveness, and the population of alumni that engage via phones and direct mail continues to shrink.
Being bound by the conventions of the past is taking a toll on those building major gift pipelines, and it’s spiraling institutions toward a precipice of instability as they lose engaged donors thinking of big investments. Additionally, a generational gap is building as studies indicate that millennials are becoming a disenfranchised donor population for universities.
All of this is taking place in the shadows of the greatest transfer of wealth from baby boomers to millennials.
The question is: do you really want to risk not engaging the new generation?
Furthermore, the ability of institutions to develop sound measurements and goals, project revenue, and build quality pools of faithful donors will become a much more difficult proposition without the aid of digital technologies.
Today’s perspective donor is hungry for meaningful communication received in the way they desire. Crowdfunding and a hosted Day of Giving through a centralized platform provides this communication. A centralized hub of fundraising provides numerous ways to grow engagement and build the pipeline:
1. Connecting Younger Generations Through the Appropriate Medium or Channels
Online access, multimedia content, social media engagement, and peer-to-peer asks to give are the primary ways millennials engage. Running a campaign is empowering, increasing volunteerism and deepening affiliation.
2. Demonstrating Impact, Transparency, and Vision for All Generations
A centralized platform has content that is rich. Storytelling is powerful, and seeing and hearing it in real-time through updates, images, and video means delivering impactful messages. Budgets can be clearly provided, and donors see progress and others investing in campaigns, compelling them to participate. This is a personal experience as told through the eyes of campaign creators, and participating in a campaign can be very connective.
3. Empowering Donors to Self-Identify Their Passion
With a centralized platform, donors can view many opportunities for investment. They self-select and invest in specific campaigns demonstrating their passion for specific areas, as opposed to being pigeon-holed into giving to specific funds that might relate to the college they graduated from, but no longer pertain to their relevant interests.
4. Integrating Development Efforts and Opportunities
Donors get connected through several levels of communications and many opportunities are laid out in a compelling fabric of amazing stories taking place at the institution. Marketing and awareness of the positive societal impact taking place throughout the institution is brought to the forefront, and in a humanizing way.
5. Harnessing a New Level of Stewardship
Making a direct connection to where the donor invested can keep them engaged throughout the campaign. The ability to thank donors is immediate, it’s online through email or video – in the way they engaged with the campaign and is done by the person or team of people running the campaign.
The bottom line is: embrace crowdfunding as a key avenue for increasing your major gift pipeline, and don’t let your future ‘Michael Bloomberg type’ donors pass you by because of out of touch engagement strategies.
What a relief! You just wrapped up a successful crowdfunding campaign or your day of giving was a smashing success. Well friend, take a moment, celebrate your victories and then get back to work! You have some stewardship to do.
Hopefully, as a part of your marketing plan, you thought ahead of time about how you can best steward these donors. Many of them have just made their first gift to you! Stewardship is a key component to transitioning these folks from a one-time donor to a consistent giver.
The best kinds of stewardship are intentional, donor-centered, and timely.
Before You Launch
Make a plan: You should know exactly who you want to thank and how will thank them far before your first donor makes a gift.
Prepare: You can design and write and maybe even record all of your stewardship pieces well in advance of when you need to send them. If you are updating on results, the only X factors are your final numbers. Get these pieces done in advance so that the day after, when you are tired (and let’s be honest, maybe a little over it) all that needs to happen is updating a couple numbers or words to reflect your results.
Day of/During Campaign
Get Social: Many of your donors learned of your efforts through their social media channels and you can thank people right away with social. For CSU’s day of giving, if someone tweeted at us that they made a gift, we tweeted a thank you right back at them.
Get personal: Lynne Wester, Donor Relations Guru shared two personalized videos from Whitworth and Purdue that she received via twitter for gifts made on their giving days. They are great; one is very personal, the other is a bit more general, and both made her feel special. Think she’ll give again to those universities? I bet she will.
Update supporters regularly: Show progress, say thanks, and give some action items for your supporters. Actions can be: share our project/day, give again, recruit other supporters, whatever. Just be sure to let your gratitude shine.
Following Up with Your Donors
Share your success: People want to know they were part of a successful endeavor. Don’t ask them to participate and then leave them hanging about the results. At a very minimum, the day after you wrap up, use social, send an e-mail, communicate as pro-actively as you can that you met your goals and you couldn’t have done it without your donors. One important note about this: Who met the goal? Did you? Or did your donors? Be careful not to use too many “we” statements in your stewardship pieces. Your donors are the ones who did it. Your team worked hard to get them there, but let your donors own the accomplishment.
Wrap it Up: Once all your gifts have been processed and you know your final results, share again. Thank again. Send new content, maybe a video with footage from on-campus events that day, or more in-depth impact of the difference their gift is making.
Treat ‘em right: I’ve heard of an institution or two (I won’t name names) that pulls their crowdfunding only donors out of other University communications or stewardship efforts. Don’t do that. Treat your crowdfunding donors to all the communications and outreach that you can. They’ll tell you if they hate it. Most will appreciate it. Make sure they hear from you outside of more solicitations.
Ask Smarter: Asking is part of the stewardship cycle. What’s lucky for you is you have additional information now. You know more about what your donor cares about and what they want to support. Give them the courtesy of being sure that when you do come back for another gift, you paid attention to what they told you.
If you treat donors who give to special projects, be it a crowdfunding campaign or a day of giving right, you increase your odds of getting them back. Stewardship is a key part of any campaign. Don’t forget it when you are making your plans!
The information and opinions expressed in this blog are for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. John Taylor is not an attorney nor does he play one on TV.
My previous article discussed how I have come to embrace crowdfunding as an enhancement to the fundraising activities of an organization. However, I also cautioned that implementation requires full integration with the advancement/development office. I listed a few reasons why I feel this is important.
One reason I omitted – because it deserves its own discussion – is that if you approach crowdfunding the wrong way, you could get into legal trouble.
Fundraising activities must be conducted under the jurisdiction of federal and state law. If you represent a nonprofit organization and want your participants to be able to claim a tax-deduction for their contributions, there are strict IRS regulations and state laws you must adhere to.
If the advancement office is not involved in helping campaign groups understand these rules, not only can fines be levied, but you stand the chance of losing your tax-exempt status. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but this is the reality.
Crowdfunding, just like direct mail, phonathons, and personal solicitations, needs to be implemented by the legal book.
While I’m not going to go into the various state regulations here, it’s important to note that some 3 dozen plus states have their own solicitation registration requirements you must follow before you ask for a penny from donors in those states. To check the applicable laws in your area, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials.
What I am going to cover are the three key legal considerations you should be aware of to crowdfund without consequence.
1. Don’t Give Away the Farm.
Lots of organizations like to give incentives to folks encouraging them to give: t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, etc. And that’s just fine. But the IRS has actually imposed limits on what you can give if you want to protect the full deductibility of the gift. In 2016 (yes, that’s right – the IRS changes the limits every single year) you can only provide these tchotchkes if the donor makes a minimum gift of $53, and the combined value of all benefits is under $10.60. Key takeaway: make sure to check-in with any crowdfunding teams who have product-based campaigns or plan to incentivize with rewards to make sure they meet these criteria.
2. If You Do Give Away the Farm, Know the Hurdles.
Yes, you can technically give donors benefits/incentives that exceed these limits and still offer some deductibility. But know it gets complicated. In order to be in compliance, you must issue receipts that reflect not only the total amount paid, but describe in detail the benefits that were provided, what their values were (itemized), and the net tax-deductible amount (or at least a statement telling the donor to do the math and calculate their deduction – but that’s not very donor-centric). So, while it’s possible to navigate around my first recommendation, know the work involved and plan accordingly.
3. What Happens in Vegas Should Happen in Vegas.
Don’t turn your crowdfunding site into a gambling venue. I know, I know: you would never do that. But keep in mind if your organization has ever made a statement along the lines of “All donors are entered into a drawing for an iPad – pre-loaded with Pokémon Go,” you already have. Put into IRS terms, that’s a “game of chance.”
Consider these two important points before you attempt any kind of raffle strategy:
Any payment that results in some form of drawing entry – regardless of the amount paid and the value of the prize – 100% negates the tax-deductibility of the payment.
Even if you don’t care about tax-deductibility, every state has its own laws pertaining to “gaming.” Some do not allow it at all. Others have interstate gaming restrictions. Others have limits on the number of these activities an organization can conduct each year if not their primary business. And others could cause a nonprofit organization to lose its tax-exempt status.
Bottom line: leave gambling to the dice-throwers in Vegas.
The laws governing fundraising activities may seem intense, but as crowdfunders it is simply a matter of being informed. All the more reason to seek advice from your advancement office before you launch – just make sure those t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted!
Community Funded (www.communityfunded.com) provides powerful yet easy-to-use digital fundraising solutions including Crowdfunding and Day of Giving products and services that help higher education, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations exceed their fundraising goals.