New Approach to Funding Student Activities? Crowdfunding, of Course!

Amanda Kohn by on Jun 17, 2015

crowdfundingOver the past several years, several schools tracked by Alumni Monitor have added crowdsourcing tools as a way for students and organizations to raise funds for their projects. This initiative, popular among start-up and standalone app makers for the past few years, offers the possibility of student-alumni connection and integration, alongside the power to raise funds.

Crowdfunding platforms specific to a higher education institution allow student-led campus organizations to raise money for a particular, well-defined project. According to the schools facilitating this style of fundraising, 100% of donors’ contributions benefit the student-led projects listed within the respective university’s crowdfunding microsite. Alumni and other supporters can select one or more student projects to help accomplish an identified goal. Similar to private sector crowdfunding platforms (e.g., Kickstarter, GoFundMe), each student project lists the percentage raised, number of donors and days remaining in the funds drive. Additional information about each project is accessible within the project’s crowdfunding page, which contains a link to donate and share the project on social media.

Of the 37 colleges and universities within the Alumni Monitor coverage group, four – Boston University, Cornell, Northeastern and Northwestern – currently offer an in-house online crowdfunding platform. BU launched its Boston University Crowdfunding platform in May 2014 (currently in beta-testing), while Cornell launched its Small Projects, Big Impact crowdfunding platform in November 2014. Northeastern’s Catalyst launched in March 2012, and Northwestern’s Catalyzer in April 2015. BU, Cornell and Northwestern’s platforms are powered by ScaleFunder, while Northeastern runs its microsite entirely in-house.


Northwestern’s Catalyzer Crowdfunding Microsite

Each of the student projects includes a description, promotional video and links to donate. Site visitors and backers can share the project via social media and email, and can connect with individual project owners or the student group through Facebook and Twitter. For its part, Northeastern’s microsite provides a project photo gallery, and allows donors to share the project on LinkedIn and Google+, as well as Facebook and Twitter. BU, Cornell and Northwestern’s microsites, meanwhile, provide donation levels, a donor wall and updates section – items noticeably missing from Catalyst. Their platforms also feature responsive design, which enables users to view consistent branding and color schemes across multiple devices and screen sizes.


Northeastern’s Catalyst Crowdfunding Microsite

In addition to financing projects, crowdfunding can help facilitate additional alumni engagement with alma maters. Incorporating a donor wall into a crowdfunding platform can help donors feel appreciated, and online and emailed updates can keep alumni involved with the project past their one-time donation. Cornell uses the donation levels, which on private sector crowdfunding platforms typically list “thank you” gifts for donations, to show how different donation sizes will affect a project (e.g., a $25 gift buys a three-piece towel set to help a low-income student). Simply donating money to a specific project may not be enough involvement for some alumni, but project updates showcase the effects of their contribution and their value toward reaching the designated goal. While the direct impact of crowdsourced donations is more transparent, such gifts do not always end up where they are most needed (compared to donations made to the annual fund). Moving forward, we expect to see more colleges emulate the approach of Boston, Cornell, Northeastern and Northwestern, but would recommend requesting unrestricted funds in addition to those designated to student activities and projects.


Cornell’s Crowdfunding Platform – Mars Rover Project Page

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About The Author

Amanda Kohn

Amanda is a Senior Research Associate for Alumni Monitor at Corporate Insight. Read more