Universities explore crowdfunding, social media to raise money


Came across this article about how schools are experimenting with new fund raising methods by trying to utilize social media/networking to draw attention and ultimately garner contributions toward various University projects.

As many of us have experienced, every piece of mail we get from our alma mater includes a stamped return envelope, every e-mail we receive has a link to make a gift and every attempted phone call we ignore from a number we don’t recognize other than the area code where our school is located is a veiled attempt to reach into our pockets. I found this “new” method of harassment (at least as I have traditionally viewed these attempts) could actually change my opinion on the matter.

Crowdfunding (which, if you recall from the Obama campaign case) can be a powerful tool to maximize donations. This concept allows people (alumni) to donate money, in any amount, directly to specific university projects and or student/faculty led initiatives. No more contribution requests to the “general fund” or “annual capital project” but rather, you can make that gift directly to what you are most passionate about, if anything. To me, this is interesting and could actually get me to click on that link.

Basically, universities are trying their hand at this concept by using social and digital media. The key component to its success however is dependent on the word of mouth or “buzz” created by these projects.


1. What do you think is a good social strategy to increase donations? If successful, should this replace traditional methods (calls/mail/e-mail)

2. Specifically, how can universities spread the word and generate buzz about specific projects?

3. Is this just yet another way to get our hard earned (or borrowed) money? Will it this time around?


7 thoughts on “Universities explore crowdfunding, social media to raise money

  1. I agree with you and feel that traditional outreach attempts for donations such as phone calls, emails, and traditional mail can be irritating and intrusive. An effective social strategy, in my opinion, should start with survey research of alumni to get a sense of what kinds of projects they would be passionate about and if they would be willing to donate. From there the university could craft targeted campaigns depending on the project. As I am positive many others hold the same view in that traditional methods are a bit of a nuisance I think a good social strategy should definitely replace them.

    Similar to our case study on social media marketing ROI, universities should identify influencers (in this case those who have large followings and post about their university) and entice them to get others excited about specific projects. The goal here would be to get as many alums as possible to open their wallets. Incentives for influencers could include cash, gift cards, etc.

    I feel like if there is en effective social strategy in place that taps into the reach of influencers and eliminates the need for traditional outreach methods for donations then people will not see this as just another way to get their money. I believe that requests coming from the universities for cash would appear more genuine because alums would see this as a way to actually make a difference in something they care about.

  2. I think that a good strategy to make people aware of these types of donation opportunities is through Facebook and LinkedIn. For those who have opted in to their undergrad or grad school’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages, being contacted through those social outlets would seem less intrusive than by phone or personal email. I also think that Facebook and Linked in are good venues to make alums aware of the option to donate to an organization within the school of their choice, in addition to contacting alums via email.

    Giving alums the option to donate to something that is more personal to them definitely seems like a more promising way to increase donations, especially from those alums who are harder to reach. As someone who formerly “harassed” alums to give back money to the school, I think my selling strategy would/could have been more appealing had I been able to offer up different charities or organizations that could be donated to rather than just the school itself. However, while this option of crowdfunding is appealing, I wonder how many schools would actually jump on board since a lot of the money donated by alums goes towards a school’s endowment.

  3. One thing that goes unsaid in this article is age-differential factor here. I think this is an effective way to reach out to millennial [born post-1980] alumni. However this will not work with all of the alumni from any school. Many older alums find the use of social media and email more intrusive than a phone call from a current student or a direct mail piece.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge with fundraising at any college/university is that every single alumni has had a different experience. Some have had life-changing college experiences, and they are willing to help the school out in whatever financial way they can. Others may have been positively impacted by a club that they were a part of and only want to give to that club or program.

    Remember, people want to invest in people. These crowdfunding sites are successful and will continue to be successful because alumni are able to positively impact a person. I would be more intrigued to see if a crowdfunding strategy worked to raise money for a new residence hall or a new student center. People like to invest directly in people [research projects, scholarships, etc.].

  4. I think this is a great idea. I would imagine that schools would conduct this croudsourcing technique in some capacity, but still keep some traditional funraising methods. The reason being because if I were given the opportunity to contribute money towards a new sports arena (for example) or a new sidewalk outside one of the buildings, I would select the sports arena every time… and I woudl imagine that a lot of people would select the arena over the sidewalk as well. But schools do need to maintain their infrastructure, meaning that a lot of projects that don’t come with a lot of excitement have to get paid for.

  5. I think it is a great idea. Social media only works when people feel passionately about a topic, place, person etc (hopefully this passion is positive but can also be negative if they have had a bad experience). If a college is successful at engaging students past and present through social media, it is probably offering relevant content that inspires audiences to feel passionately about their experience. If audiences feel inspired and feel like their opinion is being heard, they are more likely to want to contribute financially to the future success of the college. It is a more creative and inclusive way of raising needed funds, especially if it is for a specific project e.g. new building. I think transparency and constant updates on how the money is being spent is key and social media is an ideal way to do this. If they know where their money is going, donors will feel happy about their donation and may repeat in the future.

  6. I have to admit, when I read the title of this post, I immediately thought “are you kidding me?” – universities will do anything to raise money and harass alumni. I feel the exact same was as the author: every time I see an email, letter, or receive a phone call from my undergrad college, I immediately delete. My personal opinion has always been that I had a truly amazing college experience, however paid an exorbitant amount of money to attend the university. Why do I have to “donate” more money?

    However, after reading this article and post, I feel that crowdfunding via social media is an excellent idea for colleges or universities to generate funds. I feel that the older generations do feel a connection to their university and will donate money via the traditional methods of snail mail. However, the millennial are the ones with the tighter pursestrings that the universities have trouble convincing to donate. Crowdfunding toward specific university projects seems like a brilliant solution to me. When the college calls me and asks to donate to “the university,” I feel no need to donate money. However, if I was asked to donate to the lacrosse club for new uniforms, or to the marketing society for a specific event, or to the business school for a new building, I would feel compelled to donate, as these were aspects of the university that are close to my heart. I think that universities are on to something here, as utilizing social media and crowdfunding are the way to the millennial’s pursestrings!

  7. I agree that this is an interesting and beneficial way of fundraising. I would be encouraged if I could donate to a specific department or initiative.
    I imagine that the biggest benefit will be not the money that is raised but the direction it gives the school. Determining what projects to fund could have a number of positive consequences like higher enrollment and better reputation.

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