Donations to universities and educational institutions have been around for a long time in the form of government grants, endowments, contributions from alumni, etc. But crowdfunding for universities is a relative newcomer to the fundraising scene.
Crowdfunding is fast emerging as a funding alternative for students and universities. Universities are using crowdfunding for student fundraising, research, Education for Enterprise and Alumni & Engagement. Students and academics are all tapping into this new financial potential. Crowdfunding is a powerful tool that can be used to pursue individual dreams and for the betterment of society.
Crowdfunding for universities is expected to open new strategic opportunities. It makes innovative ideas that otherwise might not see the light of the day more likely to be noticed. It will also change the way universities create new revenue streams for themselves from donors and platforms.
Here’s a brief outline on the various ways universities can use crowdfunding:
- Student fundraising – The universities allow an established platform to facilitate crowdfunding on their own website. These platforms help the fundraisers to connect with donors within the university and elsewhere. Popular areas of student fundraising include sports, tuitions and student societies. A few students from The University of Surrey decided to step up their Theatre Society. They wanted their members to get more involved with prop-making, set building, etc., but this required money. Along with the University and a branded platform called Crowdfunder, the students raised £635 of their £500 target from 47 backers.
- University Research – Researchers are using crowdfunding to find new and additional funding, and for validating ideas and demonstrating the impact of their projects. Crowdfunding provides them with a marketing opportunity to showcase their innovation or invention.
- Education for Enterprise – Universities are unlocking countless opportunities for their communities by including crowdfunding in their curriculum. They’re working with students to plan, create and launch student projects. The platform provides educational materials and workshops to enable learning at the university.
- Alumni – Universities are also reaching out to their alumni for support for student projects and university development projects. The alumni, in turn, can use the university’s crowdfunding platforms to promote their businesses, social causes and community projects.
- Beyond Campus – Universities, with crowdfunding platforms, are connecting with local communities to advance the common good. This can involve local authorities, employers and community groups. For example, the University of Surrey is the main sponsor for Crowdfund Surrey, a regional initiative created to promote economic development and crowdfunding opportunities.
It would also be prudent to raise funds on platforms that are specifically designed for crowdfunding for universities, research projects and schools. This is because no tangible benefits/end products are associated with this form of crowdfunding. These projects might get lost in the multitude of other exciting funding drives. Also, many crowdfunding platforms – including one of the more popular ones, Kickstarter – do not support crowdfunding that specifically targets universities and/or research. Some of the top crowdfunding platforms for universities include:
Some of the platforms that support crowdfunding for Universities / Research / Schools are Crowdfunder, Microryza, Consano, Fundageek, and Fundly. However, it’s best to check the following University sites to see what’s on offer.
- Arizona State University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Boston University
- Bowling Green State University
- Cornell University
- Dalhousie University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Michigan Technological University
- Penn State University
- Pepperdine University
- University of California Los Angeles
- University of California Santa Cruz
- University of Colorado Boulder
- University of Maryland
- University of Mississippi
- University of Rochester
- University of Texas Austin
- University of Texas Dallas
- University of Texas San Antonio
- University of Virginia
Well, crowdfunding can’t and won’t definitely replace government scholarships and grants. But how many of you are lucky enough to get such scholarships? As universities everywhere take up an increasing number of projects, it’s clear that government funding and alumni support alone aren’t enough to fund the needs. It’s no surprise that crowdfunding is catching on fast.
Nicola Noble, an Occupational Therapy Student at Plymouth University, had qualified to represent Great Britain at the European Championships in the Sprint Duathlon. She just missed out on a sports scholarship. But Nicola didn’t let her dreams die: she turned to crowdfunding. She set a target of £500, but raised a whopping £1,620 from 84 backers in just 28 days.
Though Nicola raised more than she needed, don’t expect to raise the entire amount your project needs through a crowdfunding campaign. Your campaign should only be used to offset some of your expenses (like supplementing ongoing studies, the purchase of equipment/software, or funding of experiments, etc.).
The [funding platforms charge a fee] anywhere between 7% to 10% of the total collected funds. This is why some universities host their own crowdfunding platforms. This ensures that a substantial amount is directed toward the actual project. Further, the donor’s money is managed by the university’s accounts. The project teams are accountable for the donor’s money. Plymouth and University of Maryland, for example, run such campaigns in partnership with accredited platforms.
There are plenty of reasons why crowdfunding is a powerful tool for creating a better society:
- Limited resources – There is government support in the form of grants and endowments. But these don’t seem to meet the needs of universities and researchers.
- More transparency – Crowdfunding helps researchers approach a wider audience and allows people with similar interests to contribute money. This, in turn, leads to greater transparency and accountability from the researcher’s end. In the end, it is about the exchange of ideas that will lead to a better society, not just about money.
- Reduce paperwork – Research scholars, academicians and students find themselves filling out grant forms all the time. By the time they submit one grant application, they need to work on the second one. In crowdfunding, if you create a successful campaign, you earn more time to concentrate on your work instead of applying for more grants.
- Follow your passion – Students can fund their education on their own. You don’t have to depend on parents to fund your education. Crowdfunding allows you to follow your dreams. You can make requests for books, boards, tuition fees, etc. In turn, you can promise certain years of work after graduation, devote time to charity, etc. Crowdfunding has also helped scientists and researchers raise money for academic pursuits of their choice.
- Access to academicians and entrepreneurs – Leaders are sitting up and taking note of crowdfunding. They are always interested in new innovation and funding innovative ideas. Recently, Paul Gu, a Yale University major and co-founder of UpStart, was funded by Vice Presidents and CEOs at various tech companies and professors from top-tier universities.
How to use crowdfunding to support your research…
Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is hoped, will learn to want what is worth having.– Ronald Reagan
Today, there is no reason to be upset if you don’t get a grant, because there’s always an alternative funding mode. In this section, you will learn [how to crowdfund] your university project successfully.
- Be realistic – A crowdfunding campaign needs to be modest and realistic. A convincing narrative is a job half-done. You need to tell your audience how your research will benefit society. If you’re raising money to fund your education/sports needs, then think of some unique, creative rewards you can offer.
- Marketing strategies – Include a lot of visuals in your story. A compelling pitch can be in the form of a video, too. This needs full-time commitment from your side. A reasonable social media presence is a MUST for a successful crowdfunding campaign. You need to take your campaign to people, convince them and do a bit of self-marketing to get funded.
- Fundraising model – The two basic funding models for research include the “all or nothing” model and the “keep it all” model. In the former, you’re allowed to keep all the money you raise only if you reach your fundraising goal. If not, the money is returned to the donors. In the “keep it all” model, the money is disbursed to the student/researcher/university regardless of whether the funding goal is reached or not.
- Update yourself – Keep yourself updated with the latest trends in the industry. You can visit neutral organizations comprised of industry experts (like crowdfunding.org). Also, find a list of well-established platforms that cater to your specific needs. Get a feel for the different types of successful campaigns.
- Choose platforms carefully – There are a plethora of crowdfunding platforms today. On the surface, they may all look like an interface between the donor and the university. But that’s not the case. Not all platforms support crowdfunding for universities or scientific projects. Look for an accredited platform with transparent terms and conditions. Also look for platforms that have a number of ongoing university-related campaigns.
Crowdfunding for universities, research and students is undoubtedly the next big thing. Both educators and students want to tap into this new prospect. But… what if someone out there puts up a nice, creative campaign with attractive rewards – but is not genuine? What if it’s a bogus campaign? What if donors can’t distinguish between what’s real and trickery? Though the popular crowdfunding platforms have rigorous processes in place, the system is yet not completely foolproof.
What if someone copies your online project? The intellectual property rights of a crowdfunded project is another valid concern that has yet to be addressed.
There is also a lack of clarity about how the university will cover its operating costs under a crowdfunded project, while the rules are pretty clear when a project is government funded.
A small idea could change the world. Money shouldn’t be a deterrent – so harness the power of the crowd to make your dream a reality. Crowdfunding is the emerging star, and there’s no reason why students, researchers and universities should avoid it!