Colleges and universities have struggled with young donor fundraising for years. With graduating classes growing, these challenges have taken a toll on participation rates. The percentage of young alumni giving back is at an all-time low, and there are few signs that the trend will reverse itself in the coming years.
Many young alumni complain that giving to their alma mater feels too impersonal. Forty-six percent say they suspect gifts to their college would disappear into a budgetary black hole, and three-quarters say they would give to another nonprofit before their alma mater.
As a young college graduate recently told the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the prospect of giving back to their school “almost feels like giving your money to the mall.”
To combat their skepticism, a growing number of colleges and universities have turned to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows donors to support small projects on campus. It ensures that their gifts have a visible impact on a cause they care about, regardless of how much they can donate. It’s the perfect tool for young alumni fundraising.
But it’s not a silver bullet.
Over the past four years, as more higher ed fundraisers have experimented with fundraising, they’ve realized that there’s a lot that can go wrong. New programs may struggle to get off the ground, adolescent programs can fall short on stewardship, and mature programs might find that they’re not renewing donors.
EAB recently compiled the best solutions to these problems: Here are some of the best ideas we found.
Make sure the campus community knows about crowdfunding
Crowdfunding relies on more than just a “crowd” of donors. On-campus partners have to be on board, too. For example, at Dalhousie University, advancement leaders are strategic in engaging academics, development officers, and alumni relations staff to get the word out about crowdfunding. In the future, they’re planning on extending outreach to student services and athletics staff.
Choose the best projects upfront
Advancement leaders need to make sure that they get off on the right foot with crowdfunding. A critical mass of successful projects in a new initiative’s first year can provide the momentum needed to expand the donor base and ensure viability for years to come.
Hardwire stewardship so that donors see impact
Donors give to crowdfunding because of the promise of visible, transparent impact. Yet it’s easy to fall short on stewardship. Projects end, student leaders move on, and advancement gets caught up in other priorities. At the University of Pittsburgh, advancement staff aim to avoid missed stewardship opportunities by requiring project leaders to reach out to donors immediately after they give, six months later, and at the twelve-month mark.
Transition crowdfunding donors into repeat gifts
Crowdfunding donors develop loyalty to individual projects. Where possible, soliciting repeat gifts to recurring projects can boost crowdfunding donor retention rate. Arizona State University did just this, proactively identifying ongoing or annually occurring projects that donors can give to every year. Yet other projects are one-and-done affairs, and advancement leaders must decide how to bring those donors back onboard. At Carnegie Mellon, fundraisers reach out to crowdfunding donors to suggest related projects on a similar topic that might pique their interest. Meanwhile, at Temple, renewal appeals stress impact over loyalty.
Fundraisers are rightly excited about crowdfunding’s potential to make inroads with the next big generation of supporters to higher education. The path forward isn’t an easy one, but with some planning and inspiration, advancement leaders and their teams can get there.
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