Crossing the Chasm: How the University of Denver is Trailblazing Higher Education Crowdfunding

3 Fundraising Ideas That’ll Boost Your 2018 Campaign Efforts


Your organization is only as successful as your fundraising, so make sure your fundraising ideas are top-notch!

You’ll want to pick ideas that are practical for your organization to carry out but also within the realm of your donor base’s most popular interests. Take into consideration what’s feasible for your organization and what has the most potential for the biggest revenue. If your donors are excited about your fundraisers, they’re sure to be successful.

Check out our top 3 fundraising ideas to boost your 2018 campaign efforts:

  1. T-Shirt Fundraising Campaign
  2. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaign
  3. Matching Gifts

If you’re ready to make the most of your fundraising with some stellar fundraising ideas, let’s dive in and find the perfect idea for you and your donor base.


Fundraising Idea #1: T-Shirt Fundraising Campaign

Fundraising Idea Overview

T-shirt Fundraising combines two powerful tools: merchandise sales and crowdfunding campaigns.

Crowdfunding campaigns harness the power of social media and allow you to accept donations from friends, family, and peers. With the easy capability of sharing, your peers can share your campaign with their networks to expand your potential donor base.

On the other hand, t-shirt fundraising is an easy way to visually unite your supporters and create a community. It also activates a new tier of donor, because the investment is smaller and they get something in return for their donation.

Combining these two fundraising methods grants you access to the best of both worlds and a fundraiser your donors can’t say no to!

How to Get this Fundraising Idea Started

You’ll need to invest in a t-shirt fundraising  provider in order to successfully run your campaign. Select a platform that helps you design your merchandise and handles inventory so you don’t lose funds.

There are a few main steps once you’ve decided on a provider:

  1. Choose your products. If you select a platform like Bonfire, you can easily select multiple colors, styles, and fits so every supporter can find something they love.
  2. Design your merchandise. With a platform provider, you’ll be able to design aesthetically pleasing products, even if you’re not a graphic designer. Look for software with an extensive design library.
  3. Set your prices. Choose a t-shirt fundraising site that lets you set your selling prices. Take your base cost into consideration and adjust your profit margin as you see fit to reach your goal.
  4. Schedule your campaign. Different platforms allow for different campaign lengths. With Bonfire, for example, your campaign can last anywhere between 7 and 21 days.
  5. Customize your page. You’ll want to customize your fundraising webpage so it feels like you. Add in compelling copy as well as powerful photos and videos. This page is your chance to share your story and connect supporters with your cause.
  6. Promote your campaign. Spread the word with your page’s social sharing options so your network can donate to your campaign. You’ll want to post updates on your campaign’s progress to keep your fundraiser on people’s minds.

Keep in mind that this fundraising idea is accessible to every supporter. Because it’s based primarily online (and inexpensive to run), every donor has the opportunity to donate to your cause.

The bottom line:  T-shirt fundraising campaigns are easy to master and promote, and provide the perfect opportunity to share your mission. Plus, hosting a t-shirt campaign is a fundraising idea no supporter can say no to!

Bonus! Check out Bonfire’s How to Design a T-Shirt for more tips on customizing amazing merchandise that your donors will love.


Fundraising Idea #2: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaign

Fundraising Idea Overview

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, also known as social fundraising, P2P, or team fundraising campaigns, allow you to use your supporter’s networks to gain revenue.

By turning your donors into fundraisers, you have the potential to raise more money and strengthen donor relationships.

Plenty of nonprofit organizations use peer-to-peer fundraising in their overall strategies because it’s a relatively easy and cost-effective fundraiser. Since your supporters are fundraising for you, the only expense to your organization will be your peer-to-peer fundraising software.

How to Get this Fundraising Idea Started

There are plenty of ways to go about starting a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, so we’ve narrowed it down to just 4 steps for you:

  1. Set your campaign goals. You’ll want to plan your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign around your organization’s needs. Think about tying your campaign to an event and determine your timeline.
  2. Choose your platform. Just like t-shirt crowdfunding, you’ll need a platform in order to host a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Choose one that aligns with your goals and needs.
  3. Set up your page. Once you’ve decided on a provider, start customizing your page so it feels like you. You’ll want to upload plenty of photos and videos that illustrate your cause and what you do to further your mission. You’ll want to create templates for social media posts and emails as well.
  4. Encourage your fundraisers. Remember that the donors you’ve recruited to raise money on your behalf aren’t seasoned fundraisers like you are! Remember to coach them and give them email and social media templates to promote your campaign.

Just because your fundraisers are the ones raising money doesn’t mean you get to sit this campaign out. Remember to stay on top of your fundraiser and help your supporters raise money.

The bottom line: Peer-to-peer fundraising boasts incredible fundraising potentially that you can easily capitalize on, especially when your supporters reach out to their networks for support.

Bonus! Check out BidPal’s Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Guide for more helpful tips and tricks for this fundraising idea.


Fundraising Idea #3: Matching Gifts

Fundraising Idea Overview

Matching gifts are corporate giving programs that allow employees to double their donations!

Most employers match donations at a 1:1 ratio, though some offer 2:1 or 3:1 ratios. For example, if an employer matches gifts one for one and an employee gives $100 to an eligible organization, the company will then donate $100, making the total donation $200.

Many employers won’t match contributions made to religious organizations but will match donations made to projects that religious organizations may carry out. For example, a company might not match a gift to a synagogue but will match a donation to the community soup kitchen the synagogue runs.

Typically, there are gift minimums and maximums that companies specify in their guidelines. The most common minimum is $25 but can be as low as $1 whereas maximum gift matches range from $10,000 to $100,000.

How to Get this Fundraising Idea Started

With the fundraising potential that comes with matching gifts, you might be wondering why more organizations don’t take advantage of corporate giving programs. Most donors aren’t aware of these corporate programs, so it’s worth your organization’s investment in matching gift tools to help promote the matching gift process.

The matching gift submission process takes roughly 5 steps:

  1. Contribution is made. Your supporter donates to your organization or project and your organization informs your donor on matching gift programs. They should be able to search your software to learn about their employer’s program.
  2. Matching gift request is submitted. Your donor then submits a matching gift request to their employer following the instructions and resources you provide.
  3. Company reviews the request. During this step, the company will determine if your nonprofit is eligible based on their guidelines.
  4. Nonprofit verifies the donation. Here, your nonprofit will confirm that the employee did, in fact, contribute a gift so there’s a possibility for a matching gift donation.
  5. Nonprofit receives matching gift. If your nonprofit is eligible, you’ll then receive a check matching the initial donation, thus doubling the gift amount.

These matching gift database providers offer all the information you need to inform your donors on how to submit a matching gift request and complete the process. Investing in matching gift tools allows your donors to easily research their employer’s matching gift program and policies.


The bottom line: The more informed your supporters are about this corporate giving program, the more likely they are to take advantage of it. Plus, they’re more likely to submit their matching gift requests if they know how much it can help you!

Now that you have our top 3 fundraising ideas to boost your 2018 campaign efforts, there’s no room for failure. All that’s left to do is choose the best idea for you and start raising money for your cause. Happy fundraising!

Crowdfunding Campaign Description Guide

After your video, your campaign description is the most important place on your campaign page to tell your story and get funded.  Every campaign description should include the following information:

  • Who We Are: This is your opportunity to briefly describe who you are.
  • What We Believe: Here is where you talk about your passion that drove you to seek donations through crowdfunding.

Example: It is our belief at Copia Community Farms that sustainably raised produce coupled with a sustainable lifestyle is our formula for quality life and quality produce. We are passionate about being able to enjoy fresh, locally-sourced, delicious produce being something everyone in our community can enjoy, whether they can afford to pay for it or not.  

  • What We Are Doing: This is where you dig into some more detail about your campaign, the specifics of what you are trying to accomplish, and the impact you hope it will have.

Example: We will be supplying a handful of forward-thinking restaurants with a consistent source of local produce but we will grow as much food as we possibly can! The food grown beyond the needs of the restaurants will be donated to the food bank or provided directly to friends, family, and others in need of wholesome food.

We have bartered in exchange for the land and water that we use to farm which has eliminated the majority of our upfront costs for getting Copia Farms up and running, ultimately allowing us to provide our produce at the most affordable price.  

So far this growing season we’ve been spending our time and energy on building a greenhouse.  We have built our entire beautiful greenhouse for free by up-cycling windows, doors, and lumber that was had been left unused in a field or was heading for the dump.  We have accrued a mass of tools and irrigation supplies with which we will work the land.

  • What We Need: Here is where you are very transparent about how much you are asking for and why you need that amount. Focus on what it will allow you to accomplish. Make clear what how you will use funds that come in if you EXCEED your campaign goal. This gives people the incentive to continue donating, even after you have reached your financial goal. Use a budget to outline your needs for easy reference.

Example: We are asking our community to help us raise $5,000 to make Copia Farms as sustainable and carbon-neutral as possible as we provide great food to our community.  See our budget for exactly how we will use this money.

  • How You Can Support Us: Always drive it home with the 3 specific ways your community can support your campaign.

Example: We would be thrilled to say that Copia Community Farms is community funded, and to do that we ask for your support in any of the following ways:

  • Donate to our campaign 
  • Sponsor a reward 
  • Promote our campaign to your community and social networks.

Thank you for everything, and feel free to stop by the farm!

Building a Culture of Philanthropy: The 5 Pillars

Development professionals often talk about a “Culture of Philanthropy.” But what does that really mean? It seems to be the holy grail of all large philanthropic organizations. But how do you actually achieve it?

While the precise definition may be slightly different for some organizations based on sector, size, and existing initiatives, at its core a culture of philanthropy simply implies that you have a community of people committed to telling and supporting relevant stories to enhance each other’s wellbeing.

An engaged community steeped in philanthropic values is a living force. Not a piggy bank to shake now and then, but the legs, hands, and heart of everything your organization does. It’s powerful, self-sustaining, and enables entirely new possibilities.

So how do you achieve it?

Like most things worth doing, it doesn’t happen overnight. Cultural evolutions can take multiple years, especially in the fundraising industry where people move between organizations at such a high frequency.

Think about building a culture of philanthropy as a process more than an endpoint.

The first step is redefining how your organization views your community. Many organizations think in terms of silos: donors vs. alumni vs. faculty vs. staff vs. students, etc. They treat these silos very differently. Messaging often flows at them rather than between them, eliminating the chance to share a common experience.

The reality is an organization has one community.

From leadership to entry positions, billionaire alums to first-year students, it’s imperative that everyone in your community is provided the opportunity to engage, contribute, and share. Organizations must adopt a “first amongst equals” mentality, understanding that one donor making a huge gift means nothing without others doing their part.

The second step is to ensure your organization’s vision, mission, and values are not only clearly established, but top-of-mind. Every member of your community should embrace the vision of where you’re all going and why, the mission that drives the actions to get there, and the values that will always be preserved.

Re-establishing or reaffirming these narrative elements gets people excited for where they work, reminds people of why they work, and catalyzes conversation between your organization and community. There are many ways to tastefully bring these elements front and center: designing posters that clearly outline each, including them in email signatures, featuring them in the header of your website, and filtering them out into the larger world through your language, brand, and actions.

Here are two great articles published on this topic: How to Connect Employees With Your Company’s Mission and Are your employees engaged with your company values?. While both of these speak to the private sector, they are also applicable to the nonprofit sector.

Once you’ve redefined your community and provided a common story through your vision, mission, and values, you’ve essentially “prepared the soil for cultivation.” Cultivation is the “act of improving,” and improving your philanthropic culture is the entire subject of this conversation!

Of course, this is fun and easy to talk about, but I suspect you’re here to do something about it. In order to provide a framework for a strong culture of philanthropy, you must focus your energy on the five pillars: Inclusion, Transparency, Empowerment, Collaboration, and Celebration.


The 5 Pillars

Community members should always feel like they belong (inclusion), believe in the purpose their community exists (transparency), have opportunities to tell their story (empowerment), have the power to help others tell their stories (collaboration), and feel like their contributions are valued (celebration).

Each of these pillars requires specific attention, but together they provide the foundation for uniting your community with a common philanthropic purpose.

1. Inclusion

Inclusion begins with the decision you made earlier to see every person with value and as a single community contributing differently, but equally.

Everything that’s considered and executed in your fundraising strategy must be inclusive. It’s essential that development offices break down their silos and integrate within the institution as a whole. You can’t completely separate development from marketing, donor relations, the alumni office, etc.

For too long development has worked in a vacuum to raise money while being shunned as “fundraisers” that nobody wants to work alongside. This is a byproduct of the past 30 years where the pressure to secure donations has forced development offices to look at the majority of donors as database numbers rather than as individuals. It’s created a dynamic where affiliates want to protect their communities from a barrage of marketing tactics that might dissuade people engaged in their story.

This paradigm must change. Working together yields much better results overall and with greater efficiency. A golden thread should be pulled through each of the silos within your organization to unite them together around complimentary collaboration.

If each of these groups is united by the mission, vision, and values, each can play their role in serving the institution in a complimentary fashion. Leadership must endorse, support, and encourage this transformation as well. There should be regular meetings between development and relevant departments as well as cross-functional projects between team members.

If your organization has not considered OKRs (outcomes and key results) it’s a great way to unite team members. Check out this overview explaining The Fundamentals of OKRs. This again applies to nonprofits as well as for-profit companies.


2. Transparency

Transparency is required to solidify inclusion because it builds trust. No one wants to be included in something they can’t rely on!

Transparency is essential to cultivating a culture of philanthropy because people want to know their capital is being used as they think it is, that it’s being used responsibly, and the direct impact they’re having.

In The Importance of Transparency, The Nonprofit Times explains that “there is an increasingly savvy and information-hungry public. It means that a mere lack of transparency can now cause suspicion or even damage to an organization’s image.”

This is certainly true from a donor’s perspective, but it’s also true from an organizational perspective for faculty, staff, and stakeholders.

“By opening up internal operations, successes and failures to the public and to employees, we demonstrate transparency as a company, allowing them to trust us, to recommend us, to tell us when we err, and to choose us again.”

Transparency is also directly tied to authenticity. In today’s world of mass marketing exhaustion, it’s authenticity that breaks through the barriers people have established to avoid the next mass CRM email, direct mailer, or scripted phone call. Authenticity is the Trojan Horse of fundraising because it resonates with individuals at a human level.

Here is another great resource on transparency for anyone who wants to dive deeper.


3. Empowerment

Empowerment is the act of giving people greater authority and autonomy. Essentially, it’s giving people a voice.

Empowerment is fueled by inclusion and transparency: no one can truly feel empowered without feeling valued and informed. It starts with giving people responsibility as part of the whole by providing the knowledge and tools to participate.

You may have heard the expression “many hands make for light work.” By positioning people within your community to authentically share their stories you’re enrolling an army of evangelists to spread the word to people you would never otherwise reach. It shifts the responsibility of the development office from creating stories for your community to curating those stories.

Empowerment causes what has been a centralized responsibility to shift to a decentralized model, which emulates that actual peer network of any institution:

The more empowerment you facilitate, the stronger your community becomes over time. A study published by the American Journal of Psychological ResearchPower and Empowerment in a Nonprofit Organization, concludes that empowerment has a tremendous impact not only on an individual but on the organization as a whole.

“It’s clear that some of the measures that pull for empowerment have an impact on a better sense of self and that perceived control over one’s work environment can also lead to greater mental health. Yet the results would seem to underscore the importance of power and empowerment in terms of the development of the health of the organization.”

Organizations that empower their stakeholders improve the confidence and mental health of individuals, the overall health of the organization, distribute the work of fundraising, promote authentic storytelling, and reduce the demand on development offices as the only source of funding for small groups.


4. Collaboration

Collaboration can have many meanings. By definition, collaboration means working together but you can also use this word to mean supporting one another.

When groups effectively collaborate, individuals are actively building social capital and bonds, inspiring results that surpass those achieved in a silo. Cross-functional collaboration is most effective because you converge different personalities with different areas of expertise creating diverse approaches to problem-solving.

Administrative and staff collaboration should be focused on three main areas:

  1. Donors – How can you collaborate to provide the best donor experience imaginable?
  2. Efficiency – How can you collaborate to reduce the level of effort to get the same or better results?
  3. Innovation – How can you collaborate to pull the best and brightest ideas together and turn them into reality?

With an interdisciplinary team, you’re able to explore a wider spectrum of tactics and solutions. It also breaks down the walls that have often separated departments. It informs individuals of what others are working on and adds variety to what can be monotonous and routine work, also known as boring work!

In his blog Five Ways to Get Extraordinary Results from Collaboration, Harbrinder Kang explains five actions you can take to foster inter-departmental bonds within an organization:

  1. Build relationships and networks that lead to trust
  2. Turn human interactions into results
  3. Evolve the culture for productive collaboration
  4. Balance decision-making and consensus building
  5. Leverage patterns of collaboration

Staff, faculty, and other stakeholders should also be encouraged to become philanthropists in the spirit of collaboration.

It’s not about the dollars. It’s about the fundamental question why should someone give to an organization stakeholders aren’t willing to support? I’ve heard the line “working here is my gift to the organization.” This implies it’s about money when participation is just as valuable.

Viewing collaboration as a transaction allows you to present a range of opportunities rather than simply asking for dollars. Donors need to understand the different essential resources they can provide to make a story a reality.

Remember: participation relies on a story being told well enough, the outreach being authentic, and the demonstration of impact significant. If all of these elements are in place, donors will gladly collaborate to help make it happen!


5. Celebration

Celebration represents the authentic human expression of appreciation. This is the most important of the five pillars, and it’s the fun part, too!

Everything from a storyteller demonstrating empowerment, to a community member showing generosity, to a brilliant idea produced by a cross-functional team is a reason to celebrate.

Celebrations can take the form of large events or simple social media posts, but the most effective ones put people in front of their peers and specifically highlight their actions. By widely acknowledging the behavior of an individual or group and demonstrating the impact of their contribution, you create a higher likelihood that others will seek to emulate the experience.

Celebrations must be authentic, impactful, and delivered in a meaningful and personal way. Here are some examples:

  • Acknowledge in an internal memo, campus newspaper, social media post, or mass email empowered storytellers in your organization and their impact collaborating with the community.
  • Host a “Fundies” award ceremony where you award things like the most funded project, first project to receive support from 100 donors, largest team collaboration, most creative project, donor who supported the largest quantity of campaigns, etc. Creativity is your only limit!
  • Take out an ad in a local newspaper or leverage digital advertising purely to acknowledge donors big and small for their contributions.
  • Have a pizza party for all storytellers using peer-to-peer fundraising in a given month.
  • Create a month of donor recognition and publicly thank 10 donors each day.

Celebrate in any way that emphasizes the things that are meaningful to your community. Celebration reminds us that we’re human and helps us appreciate one another for the important roles we each play.


If you have a desire to build an engaged culture of philanthropy, understand it will take work and you can’t do it alone.

Remember: it’s not an end goal, but a process that needs to be tweaked as you go. If you’ve not seen this article by Jennifer Harris on Holistic Fundraising, I encourage you to check it out as it supports many of the concepts I’m proposing here.

It’s also important to consider the technology you use in this effort: technology that encourages each of the five pillars will help you strengthen your culture more quickly. You will also need your leadership to be part of this transformation, if not to catalyze it, if you hope to accomplish meaningful change.

I’m reminded of a mantra one of our clients taught me when she was making the leap of faith to convert her institution’s culture. She said, “McCabe, we just printed this phrase out on paper and put it all over our office: This is easy, and we can do it! And every time it gets hard, I say it over and over again to remind me to have confidence in our decision.”

In my own life, I find myself life saying these words now and the best part is… it really works!

Culture of Crowdfunding Philanthropy: Interview With an Annual Campaign Team

75 Event Ideas to Support Your Crowdfunding or Giving Day Launch

As you approach any digital fundraising initiative, it’s always a good idea to reinforce your launch with an on or offsite event.

This increases overall participation, can provide an outlet for those who prefer donating offline, and is a catalyst to draw in donors who wouldn’t have otherwise known about your platform. The options are endless: from competitions to parties, events that require registration to those that simply generate awareness, there’s always something you can tailor to your goal and audience.

To help you get your brain juices flowing we’ve compiled a list of 75 events that you can rename, customize, and otherwise make your own. Enjoy!


1. March Madness Open House

2. April Fool’s Day Fundraiser

3. Easter Egg Hunt

4. Mother’s Day Breakfast

5. Earth Day Hike

6. Arbor Day Community Garden

7. Pub Crawl

8. Bake-off

9. Bake Sale

10. Casino Night

11. Football/Basketball Tournament

12. Video Gaming for Good

13. Board Game Night

14. Local Concert

15. Silent Auction

16. Ice Cream/Smoothies/Snow Cone Social (PIC)

17. Hot Drink Handout (Use Branded Cups)

18. Eating Contest

19. BBQ/Green Chile Cook-off

20. Movie Night

21. Fashion Show

22. Afternoon Tea

23. Kayak/Swim Race

24. Bowling Tournament

25. Dance-off

26. Relay Race

27. Student/Staff Variety Show

28. Lock-in

29. Haunted House

30. Yard Sale

31. Trivia Tournament

32. Throwback Thursday Dance

33. Carnival

34. Skills Clinic

35. Obstacle Course

36. Wacky Sports Tournament (think sumo suits)

37. Pop-Up Restaurant

38. Wreaths & Wrapping

39. Caroling

40. Family Fun Day

41. Dollars for Dares

42. Raffle Fundraiser

   -Best Seat in the House – 2 front-row tickets to an event

   -Treasure Chest/Gift Basket

   -Silly Sweepstakes

   -White Elephant

43. Animal De-Stress Day

44. Bingo

45. Gala

46. Calendar Sale/Giveaway

47. Pancake Breakfast

48. Scavenger Hunt

49. Penny/Piggy Bank Drive (PIC)

50. Dodgeball/Kickball Tournament

51. Karaoke Night

52. Lip Sync Competition

53. Film Screening

54. Rubber Duck Race

55. Pie Throwing Contest

56. Pumpkin Carving

57. Dunk Tank

58. Food Truck Fundraiser

59. Kids Camp

60. Read-a-thon

61. Serve the Community Day

62. Services Auction

63. Pajama Day

64. Field Day

65. Photo Booth

66. Restaurant/Coffee/Ice Cream Shop Partnership

67. Guest Speaker

68. Mystery Box Handout

69. Branded Schwag Handout

70. Photo Contest

71. Guessing Game Contest

72. Art Show

73. Wacky Shirt/Hat Day

74. Windshield Washing (Partner with a Local Drive-Thru)

75. Garden Party

How Annual Giving and Advancement Services Can Work Together to Make Digital Fundraising Successful

John Taylor is an Advancement Services expert, educator, speaker, and consultant. He formed one of the largest Advancement-related listserves in the world, FundSvcs, now with over 3,100 subscribers. He has spoken at hundreds of conferences across the country, receiving the CASE Crystal Apple Award for outstanding teaching. He is the founder and former President of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals and an Industry Advisor at Community Funded.

In the fall of 2016 I published a piece I called, “Day of Giving or Day of Pain?” Its premise was simple: if Annual Giving launches a Giving Day initiative without coordinating with their Advancement Services team, the effort is likely doomed to failure.

Not a financial failure necessarily – at least from the perspective of bringing new money in the door. But an institutional failure, a data failure, and, above all, a donor relations failure.

Giving Days are often responsible for bringing in as many new donors as dollars. If Annual Giving hasn’t worked with Advancement Services well in advance of their launch date, it creates a data bottleneck in getting new records created.

Any timely stewardship initiatives will be postponed — and sometimes completely dropped.

Just recently, on one of the listservs I monitor, a Director of Advancement Services had the gall to ask: “Given the nature of crowdfunding, we’re thinking we’ll receive many small gifts from new donors who don’t have an affinity to the college, but rather want to support a student/friend. Do we enter all these new donors into the database?”


The mere thought that one of “my people” would even consider not creating a record for a new donor completely baffled me.

But then I figured it out.

Clearly, the Annual Giving and Advancement Services offices hadn’t worked together in advance of their crowdfunding launch. More to the point, they didn’t have the first discussion about the importance and value of this new, rich data and how to leverage its long-term benefit.

While I thought I beat this topic to death in my 2016 article, I failed to recognize one very important bit of information: lack of communication between Advancement Services and Annual Giving is not unique to Giving Days or Crowdfunding. It’s simply that these tactics are the newest victims of this disconnect.

This disregard for one another has been true since the beginning of time – or the advent of direct mail – whichever came first.

Advancement Services has typically been defined by the thinking, “If we build it, they will come.” They’ll go out on their own and develop a new technology or functionality in a vacuum, then try to cram it down the throat of Annual Giving. All when they could have simply asked “What do you need?”

Annual Giving, on the other hand, has always operated on, “If we can think it, they can do it.” They come up with a new segmentation strategy or fundraising platform and then try to push the data collection on Advancement Services. All when they only needed to ask, “Can you do this?”

Bottom line: independent thought is great! But not always effective in today’s highly competitive world of philanthropy.

Perhaps this chasm is the single biggest reason I so enjoy co-hosting the Meeting of the Minds Conference every year with Annual Giving consultant/guru/friend Bob Burdenski. The title for the conference is intentional: it’s truly a meeting of the leadership minds from both the Annual Giving and Advancement Services professions. It brings together two groups that inherently (genetically?) can barely stand being in the same room together.

We do this because, in today’s digital world, it’s imperative that we attempt what we’ve had trouble doing in the past: listening, learning, and communicating.

Trainers and counselors call this “active listening.” As part of my consulting practice, I have provided conflict resolution services for over 25 years, largely focused on teaching this practice. So, I’m offering some of those pointers here.

The successful programs and campaigns are going to be those that don’t think in a vacuum. Annual Giving and Advancement Services need to work together and move away from knee-jerk thinking and towards strategic planning.

And most important, on both sides of the fence, we must stop simply saying, “No.”

We have got to come to the table and be open to suggestion. Then, if what is suggested is not entirely possible, we must be willing and able to speak positively and proactively. We need to move forward by offering viable alternatives that serve both parties and involve input from both sides.

My preferred way of approaching the above begins with the joint development of an annual operating plan.

Often, these plans do not encumber nor require action on the part of another unit. However, they do inform and educate.

Advancement Services can see the strategic direction that Annual Giving wants to pursue and offer insights based on their expertise and what they’ve learned at conferences in the field. And the Annual Giving folks can begin to appreciate that the world actually doesn’t revolve around them! Kidding. Sorry. Annual Giving can get advanced notice about new technologies (prospect management subsystem, planned giving tracking system, new CRM, etc.) and plan accordingly.

It’s here, over a year in advance, that the notion of building a Crowdfunding platform or trying out a Giving Day can first be aired. The two teams, then, can work together to realign priorities or, if need be, decide to put a hold on one project (if the VP agrees!) to focus on this new initiative.

But active listening does not stop with the co-development of annual operating plans.

Both teams need to meet on a monthly basis to listen and learn what’s new on the horizon. They need to discuss any roadblocks encountered and agree upon priorities. The dialogue must be ongoing and routine – and I mean dialogue.

Forget the dreaded email threads that go on for 5,000 words. And AS/IT requests be damned. That’s not communication. If something urgent comes up or gets in the way, PICK UP THE PHONE!

Active listening. Planning. Communication. These are beautiful things. Try them.

Your new crowdfunding platform – as well as any new fundraising initiative – will then be on its way to success!

Q&A with Mia Fill, University of Colorado Boulder Crowdfunding Coordinator


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.

How I Learned to Love Crowdfunding: 4 Keys to Doing it Right

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.

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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 ( 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.



Evaluating a Crowdfunding Campaign in Higher Education: 6 Questions to Set Expectations

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 of thousands 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 is 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.