Higher Ed Hero Spotlight: Crowdfunding at ASU

pitchfunder_logo_ASUF_colorLast fall, Higher Ed Hero posed the question, Could Crowdfunding be the Future of Higher Education Fundraising? While Crowdfunding is mostly known for raising money for artists, musicians and start-ups, there is certainly a place for it in Higher Education. In fact, the very nature of Crowdfunding lends itself well to the community-based support that allows most colleges to thrive. From legacy donors to young alumni, current students and other parties, your college is only as strong as those who support it. Crowdfunding allows colleges to grow support, either in general or for specific campaigns, by leveraging the social networks already established. As an example of how this is working in Higher Education today, Higher Ed Hero is turning the spotlight on Arizona State University’s Crowdfunding program, PitchFunder.

In an interview, ASU’s Senior Director of Annual Giving, Shad Hanselman, told us what makes their program successful: “PitchFunder gives faculty, staff and students an established crowdfunding resource to develop and launch their own campaigns. While there is room for self-discovery in this model, anyone who creates a campaign also has an account manager to guide them through the process.”

Another aspect of PitchFunder that is different from its commercial counterparts (such as Kickstarter) is that it doesn’t operate on an all-or-nothing basis. A campaign that sets a goal will not be canceled if that goal isn’t met, which is sometimes the case with other crowdfunding websites. “If a campaign has a goal of $5,000 and only hits $4,500, the creator of that campaign can still retain those funds because we want them to build on that campaign,” said Hanselman.

The PitchFunder initiative began in January of 2013 and became an open enrollment program in October of 2013. A core objective of the program is to help coach and foster a culture of philanthropy. ASU sees PitchFunder as an opportunity to not only raise more money for ASU with an engaged audience, but also as an educational tool for those running the campaigns. As more groups and individuals get involved with PitchFunder, the more the culture of philanthropy will grow and in turn, increase support of PitchFunder projects.

Establishing their own crowdfunding program specific to ASU, also gives the university more control over campaigns. This is one thing that is needed for Crowdfunding in Higher Education and one of its challenges.

There are other challenges when it comes to Crowdfunding in Higher Education. Hanselman stated that “because of the large numbers of potential donors, campaign managers may have unrealistic expectations on results. Also, with different campaigns often appealing to the same segments, there is a lot of coordination that is necessary.” This early challenge is also a valuable learning lesson. As ASU’s PitchFunder program progresses, there will be lessons to be gained from their experience.

Crowdfunding is a natural progression of 21st century digital media. People can band together behind a cause online. This makes it convenient for appealing to today’s fast-paced, digital world. In higher education advancement, there are advantages such as leveraging alumni, who may be spread out across the nation or the world. Without having to travel or take too much of their time, alumni can learn about a cause, the people running it and other alumni who have supported it. Crowdfunding in higher education, therefore, represents a way to overcome many of the challenges advancement staff face today.

To learn more on ASU’s PitchFunder, check out their press release here.

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