Taking a cue from savvy students, colleges and universities are turning to online crowdfunding sites to rake in millions in alumni donations and program and research funding.

Figures like $2 million, $300,000, $10 million, and $900,000, abounded in a recent Washington Post story that revealed how small liberal arts schools are turning to the relatively new-ish startup concept of crowdfunding sites for alumni and student program donations—all through Washington D.C.-based crowdfunding website GiveCampus.com.

The success in receiving alumni donations, relates the article, is due to understanding how younger, more tech-savvy alumni like to do things: quickly, online and part of a social group.

“We all live on social media, so getting friendly reminders from your alma mater to give is not only effective, but appreciated,” said Tatum McIsaac in the Post’s article, who graduated from the liberal arts school Holy Cross in 2001 and donated via the GiveCampus campaign. “It’s a lot easier for me to make a quick contribution online than to wait for an envelope to arrive in the mail and write a check. I don’t even know where my checkbook is.”

Students have been crowdfunding for years, even for tuition; now colleges and universities are starting to follow suit, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in donations. And the timing couldn’t be better: according to the Council for Aid to Education, though overall contributions to colleges and universities rose to a record amount in 2015, most donations were large sums to Ivy League institutions. And though the overall amount rose, alumni participation is on the decline; meaning that while individuals are making larger contributions, less people are contributing.

The Crowdfunding strategy, it seems, is critical for higher education. But what are the crowdfunding sites that boast the most success?

(Next page: Top crowdfunding sites for higher education)

Before You Start

Crowdfunding, which harnesses the “crowd” to gain needed funding for a product or cause instead of specialized donors, and often enlists the use of social media to increase the ‘virality’ of a project to make it more successful, is unique for education. In the scope of university crowdfunding, most donations go to a specific fund or cause, and because the money goes to supporting a larger nonprofit organization, many donations are tax-deductible.

Also, because of the nature of university crowdfunding, its structure typically varies slightly from the usual crowdfunding campaign. Where a product-based campaign might offer the donor first release of the product upon production, most university-run projects do not have the same type of tangible product. For that reason, university crowdfunding campaigns typically offer giving levels or project-specific perks to incentivize donors. Levels usually explain what the specific donation amount will do to help the project, whereas perks will offer individual recognition to the donor for their support to the cause.

According to marketing blog HubSpot, all institutions should look for these three characteristics in a crowdfunding site before moving forward:

  • Who uses the platform? Most platforms highlight who is the best fit for their platform, so be sure the platform fits your unique needs.
  • What is the pricing structure? Many platforms only reveal pricing if you request more information. However, for those that offer this information up-front, monthly or annual fees, a percentage of the total donation, and additional payment processing fees are standard.
  • What features are included? “Whether it’s peer-to-peer fundraising pages, event ticketing and registration, or CRM integrations, make sure to review all features offered and find the platform that best fits your fundraising needs, not necessarily the one with the MOST features,” writes blogger Taylor Corrado. “Think less is more in this scenario if you’re just getting started with crowdfunding.”

20 Crowdfunding Sites for Colleges and Universities

[Listed in alphabetical order per section]

Specifically for Higher Education

AlumniFunder: Whether it’s a project to enhance the student experience on campus, raising capital to build a new science lab, or funding consumer development of a robotics product, AlumniFunder can help. The site features projects from institutions like Georgetown and Princeton. Pricing available via inquiry.

Experiment: This site helps researchers secure microgrants to support their scientific work. Backers fund directly to scientists, so there’s no middleman or overhead involved; however, the project must reach its funding target, or no one’s donations are charged. According to the site, there have been 20 published papers in scientific journals through funded experiments. Institutions using the platform include Duke University, Cornell University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Purdue University, UCLA, Brown University, and many more.

GiveCampus.com: With colleges like William & Mary, Holy Cross, Illinois Wesleyan, and Villanova to name a few, GiveCampus.com is a social fundraising and engagement platform that aims to empower institutions to not only get donations, but improve acquisition and retention. The site has helped more than 70 colleges, high schools and elementary schools raise $10 million since it launched last year. Schools are charged a subscription fee based on the amount of money they aim to raise. Subscriptions start at about $1,000.

Hubbub: Projects are created by students, university members, and alumni. The site reviews all projects for suitability, judging them on the quality of the presentation of the projects, their goals, and the level of organization and commitment demonstrated by the teams behind them. Hubbub covers the costs of payment processing fees, so that institutions always get 100 percent of the value of pledges. However, every project must achieve its minimum needed by its completion date or no funds change hands. Hubbub’s Pro-Site is a fully featured crowdfunding platform that can be branded by specific institutions, and has been used with success by universities and non-profits worldwide. At the University of York, crowdfunding using YuStart (the name for their Pro-Site) led to an increase of 33 percent in total donor numbers in just one year.

Piglt: A site for all education-related causes that encourages the institution’s community to be contributors, Piglt charges a 5 percent fee if the goal amount is reached and 8 percent if the goal amount is not. Loyola Marymount University and Skidmore College are just two institutions that feature PigIt.

USEED: This platform allows institutions to use advocates—students, faculty and alumni—and their stories to increase donations from an internal community, as well as the community around the institution. ASU has entered USEED’s beta program to allow students to use crowdfunding to raise extra funds they need to gain real-world experiences outside of the classroom, such as service abroad, starting a company, or creating a technology or work of art. Current USEED users also include: Knox College, University of Houston, Simon Fraser University, University of Louisville, uOttawa, Indiana Tech, Dallas County Community College District, and more. Pricing available via inquiry.

(Next page: More of the best crowdfunding sites)

The Most Successful Crowdfunding Sites In General

Classy: Classy, a mobile-optimized fundraising platform offers peer-to-peer fundraising pages, fundraising event ticket and registration, as well as fully customizable for branding platform. For those organizations using Salesforce as their CRM, they easily integrate to keep all contacts in one place while adopting Classy into the online fundraising strategy. Classy has a tiered pricing structure, which you can find here.

Crowdrise: Crowdrise specializes in charitable giving, especially for event fundraising, such as for the New York Marathon, Boston Marathon and the Ironman Race Series. One special feature is Crowdrise Impact Points: with each donation, projects receive points that help to promote the campaign to the front of the site. Campaign leaders can also cash in the points for Crowdrise gifts, such as T-shirts. For free accounts, the site takes a 5 percent cut, or charges a monthly fee of $49 or $199 that lowers to 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

FirstGiving: is a long standing crowdfunding platform. The platform is specifically tailored to the needs of the nonprofit, including customization and extensive reporting. It offers peer-to-peer fundraising pages, event fundraising and registration, and event ticketing with an integration with Eventbrite. The site also has features for team fundraising as well that’s important to bigger fundraising events, as well as a direct donation button for an institution’s website. Along with the platform, FirstGiving offers educational material, including webinars, e-books and a fundraising blog for those organizations who are new to peer-to-peer fundraising or who are looking for more advanced strategies. FirstGiving charges $500 a year for nonprofits and an additional 7.5 percent payment processing fee. There is also an additional 4.5 percent charge for event registration.

FundRazr: A crowdfunding site that started out as a Facebook app, FundRazr is less about connecting to accredited investors and entrepreneurs, and more about others seeking funds from people in a social network. Institutions or projects have the chance to be featured on the site’s front page. Contributors pay no fee. Recipients pay a 5 percent FundRazr fee plus Payment Provider fee of 2.9 percent + 30¢ per transaction. There are no additional fees or penalties.

GoFundMe: This site is dedicated to more personal projects than business enterprises, such as raising money for a new mascot costume or someone’s retirement gift. GoFundMe has raised over $2 billion, and while it thrives off of these personal goals and relief efforts, the site also makes room for creative projects. GoFundMe deducts 5 percent from each donation and charges a 3 percent processing fee.

Indiegogo: Indiegogo made a name for itself by supporting one of the most iconic crowdfunding projects, “Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.” Indiegogo charges 5 percent in platform feed, but that’s refunded for fixed funding campaigns if the project does not meet its goal. There’s a 3 percent + 30¢  charge for third-party credit cards. Additional fees are applied to PayPal contributions.

Kickstarter: The Kickstarter model attracts backers who can pledge for specific rewards, such as early access to a discounted price of the product, or recognition as a supporter in some way. Submissions are reviewed by the team of 89 based in Brooklyn, who charge a 5 percent fee for successfully funded projects. The campaign must reach its goal or no money is awarded and backers are not charged for their donations.

Razoo: Founded in 2007, Razoo originally supported nonprofits with 24-hour online fundraising campaigns called “Giving Days” that included games and prizes to encourage donations. Through those campaigns on the platform, over 14,000 organizations had raised $165 million. On Razoo, campaigns have hourly goals, leaderboards and random prizes for backers. Razoo provides charitable gift receipts, electronic payments, no monthly fees or setup costs, a 4.9 percent platform fee, and a 2 percent + 30¢ payment fee, all on a fully PCI-compliant platform.

RocketHub: This project-based platform is similar to Kickstarter, but what’s unique is that it also has a Success School to teach institutions the basics, prepare them for launching and running a project, as well as how to manage funders. Pricing available via inquiry.

StartSomeGood: This site provides a funding platform exclusively for social good initiatives, no matter if it’s nonprofit, for-profit or unincorporated. All campaigns have to meet a “tipping point” in order to receive funds, but they do not have to reach their listed ultimate goal. The company charges the standard 5 percent fee. The platform also requires that projects offer backers rewards, but it can simply be an acknowledgement listing or a thank-you note.

YouCaring: YouCaring offers free online fundraising for a variety of industries. The site operates on donations, and institutions need only to pay 2.9 percent + 30¢ credit card processing fees. The site also offers real-time chat and coaching, as well as personal support.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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