Crowdfunding in a Pandemic: $22M in Success and Best Practices for the Fall

Eric BillingsAssociate Vice President, Digital Product ManagementAugust 24, 2020

Co-written by Kristin DeMarco Carroll

RNL ScaleFunder partners adapted quickly this spring to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and saw success in their digital fundraising efforts. Over the past months, we’ve seen the launch of 400 crowdfunding projects that raised more than $22.2 million ($9.4 million online).

As many institutions gear up for crowdfunding this fall, there is no shortage of uncertainties. Students may or may not be on campus this fall, and their clubs, organizations, and causes will be impacted. Will that affect crowdfunding application volume from students? Most student teams will not be traveling or competing this year. Faculty research and special projects will also be impacted.

We learned from how COVID-19 impacted us this spring that we cannot just stop fundraising. Instead, we must continue to be flexible and adapt. This could in fact be the opportunity to try shifting your crowdfunding approach and partnering across campus with those who may have not had time for crowdfunding before this challenging time.

Crowdfunding in a pandemic and athletics: Capture donor love and the spirit of competition.

Just this week, several major athletic conferences announced the cancellation of fall sports. While this certainly changes the fundraising landscape around athletics, it also provides an opportunity to slow down and focus on fundraising around individual team sports.

This fall could be the time for your team to reach out to your athletics colleagues who otherwise would have been busy with sporting events and concentrating on wins vs. losses. Create a new landing page (known in our platform as “groups”) within your crowdfunding site that can host a friendly fundraising competition between your athletic teams and engage your constituents in a new way. The spirit of competition does not have to disappear completely!

Crowdfunding in a Pandemic: Athletics
University of Massachusetts Amherst:

Engage faculty and staff with crowdfunding campaigns for immediate needs

Budget cuts and tight resources are impacting campuses across the country. With students not on campus and a shift to online teaching, this could be an opportunity to boost morale for your institution’s faculty and staff by dedicating some focus on the areas that matter to them: research funding, soft-funded program support, and retirement or memorial projects.

This is an opportunity to empower your faculty and staff to reach out to their vast networks to fund their research and program projects—many of which impact the pandemic and associated scientific and social needs. Provide faculty and staff the tools they need to be successful and let them take off with a campaign. It’s a win-win for everyone involved—they fund their research or program, this support can help offset budget deficits, and it will boost acquisition and retention of donors. Put in place great stewardship them after the fact!

Additionally, this also may be the right time to explore how crowdfunding can help your internal constituents raise dollars toward retirement or memorial gifts. This burden should not fall solely on your major gift and annual giving teams—the work can be shared by those directly connected. Peer to peer is key!

Crowdfunding in a Pandemic: Dean's fund
University of Pittsburgh:

Support Virtual Events with engaging crowdfunding campaigns

Most gatherings that usually happen in the fall (like galas or 5K races) will not be held this year. That does not mean you are forced to lose the support these events generate. This is another opportunity to use dynamic crowdfunding pages and peer-to-peer fundraising to your advantage.

Chairty runs are a great example Most of your 5K races involve team or individual fundraising, and the RNL ScaleFunder ambassador program is a great way to channel this type of involvement. Have your event attendees or team members as ambassadors and create competition by tracking their impact. Encourage attendees to have their own virtual gala or 5K race, and then use their posts to drive excitement through updates.

See these examples from Stockton University and Wittenberg University for ideas on how to set up these virtual events.

Crowdfunding in a Pandemic: Virtual Galas
Crowdfunding in a Pandemic: Virtual Races

Even with uncertainty surrounding students returning to campus and limited student crowdfunding campaigns, we know there are exciting opportunities on campuses this fall. Use this time to tackle projects that are typically left on the backburner, forge new partnerships with your faculty and staff, and stay flexible in evaluating fundraising efforts.

The opportunities are endless with crowdfunding. Don’t forget that you’re not alone in this. Many of our partners have come together to share best practices and ask questions around crowdfunding via a Facebook group, Higher Ed Crowdfunding, organized by David Jakielo at Duquesne University.

We recent reviewed many of these best practices for crowdfunding in a pandemic, and our new feature and technology roadmap in a webinar. You can watch the recording, or reach out to us directly to find out how you can transform donor engagement with better and more exciting crowdfunding.

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About the Author

Eric Billings

Eric Billings is a passionate fundraising professional with just over a decade of industry experience, including major gift fundraising, planned giving, and annual giving. He has focused a majority of his career exploring innovative and...

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