9 EXPERT TIPS ON HIGHER ED CROWDFUNDING - Singlebrook Technology, By Jo Opot
February 11, 2014

Singlebrook Technology

Interview with Freeman White, Co-founder and CEO, Launcht

An increasing number of universities and colleges are using crowdfunding platforms to raise donations for everything from their annual fund to student entrepreneurs. However, there is little data, examples, or shared wisdom on how to implement a successful university crowdfunding platform. Unfortunately, many Higher Ed institutions end up re-inventing the wheel or mistakenly adopting best practices meant for entrepreneurs and non-profits that backfire or at the very least fall short of expectations.

To address this challenge, I interviewed Freeman White, CEO of Launcht, a white-label crowdfunding platform provider that has supported 15 Higher Ed institutions, including The University of San Diego Business School, Colby College, Central Michigan University and Pace University among others.

Here are 9 tips on Higher Ed crowdfunding from the expert:

Where to begin?

1. Secure buy-in from all your stakeholders. You will probably need to engage your in-house tech team, alumni engagement office, office of the president and accounting department, in addition to the campaign leaders. Make sure you get as many of them on board as possible before you begin buying the technology. This will not only translate into a larger group of supporters, but will also allow you to execute the campaign rapidly. For instance, Pace University and Kean University were able to plan and launch in record time primarily because they already had their ducks in a row.

2. Consider starting with a crowdvoting initiative. Crowdvoting is easier to implement because you do not have to go through the development office and you can use it to gain interest in a subsequent crowdfunding platform. Utah Valley University used crowdvoting for an online competition that selected Utah-based ventures to receive $5,000 grants. Over the campaign’s 30 days, the competing 30 projects had 16,982 unique visitors and collected 9,947 total votes. These impressive results not only won over all the stakeholders, but also made a great case for further crowdsourcing initiatives.

Who to engage?

3. Don’t build the crowdfunding platform yourself. Yes, you have a fantastic in-house tech team, but you can easily find cheaper, white-label crowdfunding software that meets your needs. Think easy-to-use, customized and lightweight. This will allow you to maximize your budget by acquiring out-of-the-box technology while using the bulk of the budget to engage your target demographic.

4. Identify the right tech partner. You want a platform that gives you control of your data, control of your brand image, absolute project approval and direct content approval. In addition, you want all the web traffic that comes in to remain on your university site. It is a tall order, and yes, you can have it all if you opt for a white-label crowdfunding platform instead of the monolithic external crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

What to expect?

5. Let’s talk numbers. How much will you raise per donation? The University of Vermont found that the average donation on their crowdfunding platform was $67. Similarly, Launcht has seen the average donation amount to be approximately $50, which means that this will not be the core of a large capital raise. However, it would be a great matching gift program, whereby dramatically increased participation numbers are used to engage larger donors.

6. Know your target demographic and choose a suitable campaign. The best donor segment attracted by a crowdfunding platform is tech-savvy young alumni. They are also stakeholders you have previously had a difficult time engaging with more traditional strategies like phone calls and email. In fact, University of Arizona noted that 90% of their crowdfunding donors were new donors. You should categorize crowdfunding as a new donor engagement strategy and select campaigns that are easy to understand with immediate results. Make sure you also have an equally savvy post-campaign strategy to keep them involved in the long term.

How to engage?

7. Get your grassroots team ready. Crowdfunding is not a “build it and they will come” initiative. The success stories often look effortless, but there is a tremendous amount of behind–the-scenes preparation and execution. Start with educating your campaign leaders on how to use the crowdfunding platform. Make sure you or your campaign leaders secure offline commitments of at least 30% of the campaign goal before the campaign even launches. You have a higher chance of raising your target goal if the campaign appears to have funders from the start. Once the campaign is running, make sure the campaign leaders continue to promote their progress through local or national PR, blogs, and social media to get the word out and drive even more traffic to your platform.

8. The show and tell. Suit up your campaign with a TIE (Tangible + Immediate + Evocative) appeal. To elaborate,

A tangible campaign is one your target demographic can see, touch or visit. Feel free to showcase the product of the crowdfunding during alumni or homecoming weekend.
As for immediacy, donors expect to see quick results within a few months of their donation.
Evoke an emotional connection with the campaign or campaign leaders. The easiest way to be evocative is with a 1-2 minute video. Campaigns that have a video are more successful that those that don’t, and a homemade video is still better than no video.

9. Start with showcasing at least 6 campaigns. Similar to the psychological comfort of seeing a range of food items on a menu even if you order the same dish every time, donors like to see a variety of campaigns taking place. This approach also promotes competition between the various campaigns and increases the number of campaign leaders driving traffic to the site. University of Vermont launched with 8 relatively different campaigns and not only saw very positive results, but also engaged donors through multiple campaigns even if they had arrived at the site for a specific campaign.