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.