By Brett de Gaynesford, Deputy Development Director, Somerville College, University of Oxford
The student leadership of The Somerville Choir came to the Development Office last January for help. They had ambitious plans underway for a summer Choir Tour to the US and needed to raise £20,000 to fund it. One major challenge was that the funds were required urgently, as travel costs were increasing with each passing week! We thought the project was great. The students had worked hard to strengthen and raise the profile of the Choir and their efforts had paid off – The Somerville Choir was now considered one of Oxford’s leading choirs. The US trip would challenge them to further grow and develop as an ensemble and would underpin their efforts to build and extend their reputation internationally.
We were keen to help and the members of the Choir were willing to contribute to their cause. So in addition to traditional fundraising, we decided to try crowdfunding, which was (and is) growing rapidly in Higher Education fundraising. As an added benefit, we would empower the Choir to fundraise on their own behalf, and would provide a way to directly connect potential supporters with our student beneficiaries.
I researched and contacted a number of crowdfunding providers – one of which was Hubbub, which specialises in helping “anyone in education”. The Hubbub team were friendly and keen to help and it was definitely the right fit for hosting our crowdfunding project.
We ultimately raised £6,506 in 3 weeks from 60 donors including two donations of £1,000 (one because a donor saw the project promoted on Facebook). We opened the campaign to the Choir networks first and then to alumni… and a surprising chunk of our gifts came from beyond the College alumni network. In all, this was the best experience I’ve had in assisting students fundraising for one of their own projects – it was pretty low-maintenance… and fun!
You can view our project here
At Somerville College we will soon be launching our own branded Hubbub Pro-site so that we can support more of our students’ projects and use it to greatly expand our online community. If you want to know more about Hubbub you can view their own crowdfunding campaign. Jonathan May, Hubbub’s founder, explains their mission and discusses how crowdfunding can help development offices: http://spsr.me/cchubbub.
Here are the key tips that I learned about how a Development Office can support student-led crowdfunding projects:
What type of projects should you support?
It actually doesn’t matter! The biggest factor behind project success is not the project itself – it’s the person or team behind it. The energy, commitment and enthusiasm of our Choir were essential to the success of the project.
How can you ensure that level of engagement?
Make a call for projects! There are a variety of avenues to try: student government, student societies, sports teams, student businesses and social enterprises… even academic research projects could be crowdfunded. Those who are excited by the opportunity to crowdfund will make the most successful project creators, so limiting and vetting the projects is key. It is also important to advise project leaders that they and their teams must be self-motivated, to help them organise an appropriate timeframe for their activities and to ensure that everyone understands that success is dependent on the team’s active engagement with and promotion of the project
Teach the project team how to ask for donations.
Sometimes the teams behind even the most worthy projects feel awkward asking for funds. We asked Hubbub to give our Choir a workshop in crowdfunding. The students were nervous when it began, but by the end they were motivated to start crowdfunding – they were prepared to ask for donations and they knew who they were going to ask. As is common with telethon training, Development was able to enjoy witnessing the transformation of the students as they gained confidence and skill in fundraising. Another added benefit is the skill set and professionalism they develop through this process.
Motivate them to raise at least 30% of their target – quickly!
Like traditional campaigns, crowdfunding success relies on momentum. On Hubbub, 86% of projects that raise 30% of their target, go on to meet the full target. Our model required the first half of donations to come from the project team’s own networks, so we asked our Choir to raise half their target before we shared it with alumni. This meant that alumni, who in most cases were not personally acquainted with the students, would be encouraged by the support the project had already gained. You can help your project by working with them to develop template emails, Facebook posts and tweets – and by reminding them to remember to ask for donations!
Matched funding and Gift Aid
As another potential boost to the project, why not create a matched fund, which could then be incorporated into your crowdfunding target and online project? Also, consider a crowdfunding provider (like Hubbub) that also collects Gift Aid declarations.
At a time when many educational institutions worldwide are struggling to meet their Annual Fund targets, crowdfunding offers an innovative and powerful new tool that connects donors directly with their beneficiaries. I highly recommend trying out a project. Best of luck!