Acquiring New Donors through Crowdfunding

Posted on 05/01/2019

While crowdfunding has found its place in the fundraising toolkit of some non-profits, many annual giving professionals at colleges, universities, and independent schools are still trying to figure out how and where it fits into their mix. Part of the challenge is that at educational institutions, fundraising efforts are often geared toward existing constituents, namely alumni and parents. This is especially true for annual gifts.

AGN research shows that for a typical educational institution, approximately 3 out of 4 gifts received throughout the year will be from alumni and and parents, with the remainder coming from groups such as corporations, foundations, employees, fans, and other friends. However, in the case of crowdfunding campaigns, data shows that the opposite can be true. It’s not unusual for just 1 out of 4 gifts made to crowdfunding projects to be from alumni and parents while the vast majority come from other groups. Why is this?

Part of the reason may be that alumni and parents are often preconditioned to the needs and priorities of the institution as a whole. In fact, many schools start talking with their constituents about giving as soon as they step foot on campus. And while projects that are very specific in nature might be of interest to some alumni and parents, they likely won’t resonate with the entire community. Crowdfunding campaigns can be very effective for these type of niche fundraising efforts since they depend on the network and advocacy of those who have a special interest in a project’s success.

UCLA used crowdfunding to raise money to help maintain and restore classic Laurel and Hardy titles in its film and television library by targeting fans—many of whom were outside of the university’s traditional alumni and parent community. The campaign included a combination of personal outreach to Laurel and Hardy fan clubs, mass e-solicitations to previous donors, and volunteer-led peer-to-peer outreach to push donors to the crowdfunding site. Expenses were kept at a minimum, with only $200 spent on paid Facebook advertising to spread the news about the campaign.

The campaign also offered unique donor reward levels that appealed directly to the Laurel and Hardy fan base. All donors received first access to view the recently-restored film “That’s That,” while donors who made gifts of $50 and $100 received acknowledgement on social media and tickets to the opening screening of the film. Donors at progressively higher levels were able to secure reserved seating for the screening, a tour of The Archive, and even have their name added to the film’s credits with a gift of $5,000 or more.

The Laurel and Hardy campaign was a big success: more than 300 donors made a gift, and $50,000 was raised for the restoration efforts, surpassing the original fundraising goal of $45,000. The campaign also drew in a diverse international group of donors, many of whom were not traditional alumni or parents, with more than half being first-time donors to UCLA.

If you’re looking to engage a broad audience, it’s true that crowdfunding may not be the right strategy. But for more unique, specialized campaigns that will appeal to donors outside of your typical base, using this modern approach may be just the way to gather the crowd you need to achieve results.


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