5 Challenges When Launching a Crowdfunding Program in Higher Ed - and How to Overcome Them

You might be considering building a Crowdfunding Program from the ground up without any external support. We commend your courage, and let us be the first to say that it has been done, and it has been done successfully.

But as it is with any large-scale project, you will experience your fair share of challenges – more so still if you do it independently without prior experience in building this type of program.

So after five years working alongside 40 higher education institutions who have implemented programs much like the one you’re about to create, allow us to share a selection of challenges you may encounter so that you can proactively prepare for them.

 

1. Setting measurable and attainable goals

Goals and milestones serve to unite key stakeholders under a shared vision, and they provide the ability to track daily, monthly, and annual progress toward an overarching mission.

However, poorly constructed goals for a Crowdfunding Program often lead to disappointing results. Here are a few you’ll want to avoid at all costs:

  1. Non-existent goals: No goals equals a whole lot of uncertainty. We recommend finding the healthy balance between two types of goals: Outcome Goals (what your program can achieve in 12 months) and Process Goals (what you’ll do daily to get there). 
  2. Conflicting goals: Without full team buy-in, every person involved in creating this program will have different expectations, which could lead to confusion and frustration. Setting clear goals together with your leadership team ensures that everyone understands what the prize is and provides clarity on how to make important decisions. 
  3. Unrealistic goals: An overly ambitious expectation could lead to public failure and personal disappointment if you don’t put it in check with smaller, strategic process milestones. If you have never built a program like this, you might want to learn from others who have done this successfully.

Unfortunately, developing strategic goals often fall by the wayside in favor of more glamorous initiatives, so make it a priority to develop outcome and process goals before launching your program. In partnership, we’ll consult you as you set them early on and provide insight into how other institutions like yours strategically set and track their own program goals.

 

2. Defining crowdfunding policies

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Every higher education institution has a governance policy in which all units and programs within it must comply, and your Crowdfunding Program is no exception.

Your Crowdfunding Program itself should also have a set of guidelines that govern it. For example, who is eligible to fundraise with it, and for what can they fundraise? What are the requirements for crowdfunding with your institution? What processes will you put in place to ensure all teams receive their money?

More importantly, how do you know you’re making the right choices if you’ve never had to make them before? Missteps in this area could lead to a confusing – and therefore negative – experience for your early applicants, slowing down your program’s adoption and growth at the critical early stages.

USEED has already identified the most important policy considerations that should be made before a Crowdfunding Program launches. We even have a pre-drafted template that institutions can complete early on in their partnership with us, which allows them to dictate the rules of play while building an appealing program for their crowdfunders.

 

3. Promoting and marketing the program

Much like what first-time fundraisers experience, there is a notion that if you build something, an audience will organically form, recognize its value, and become self-motivated to participate.

This lack of strategic promotion is why crowdfunding campaigns on popular platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe overwhelmingly fail to meet their funding goals – if they raise any funds at all. It’s also the primary reason Crowdfunding Programs in higher education have trouble gaining traction campus-wide, especially in their infancy.

Launching a Crowdfunding Program is not a switch you turn on. It takes work to spread the news and engage campus leaders to join an uncharted program like crowdfunding.

For example, leaders of Arizona State University’s Crowdfunding Program, Pitchfunder, have designed ads for the student portal that direct to their program website, asked their student ambassadors to network and share pre-drafted “elevator pitches” during Student Activities Week, established a renewal and referral program, and participated in many live events throughout the year – all in the name of promoting their growing program.

A successful program requires a great deal of marketing, grassroots promotion, and building strategic inter-departmental relationships (e.g., MarComm, Student Government, Mission Services). This can feel overwhelming if you do not have any prior experience – in this area.

Fortunately, USEED not only has the experience, but we’ve built out the support mechanisms for higher education institutions as they market and promote their new programs!

 

4. Training first-time fundraisers how to crowdfund

Have you ever trained a group of people who have never fundraised how to do it? What about dozens of teams? Hundreds of teams?

If your goal is to grow a healthy, self-sustaining program at your school that includes your student population, this is a real challenge you will face if you try to implement it alone.

Without the proper support, first-time crowdfunders may not know how to identify their core audience, communicate their needs effectively with that audience, and build a project page that is both engaging and in line with institutional standards.

From creating a compelling video to developing a sharable narrative, we train teams how to become effective crowdfunders though self-serve training modules (shown below) and customized virtual strategy sessions, which frees up staff time to focus on the big picture and the future of the program. 

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5. Organizing a pipeline of crowdfunding projects

When you first start your Crowdfunding Program, you might find it easy to manage the crowdfunding projects in the pipeline.

But as your crowdfunding program grows (which it inevitably will with your strategic promotional efforts), so will the demand to keep up with its management. This often catches institutions off guard, and they quickly find themselves in a state of reactivity as opposed to proactivity.

Furthermore, it is easy for your program pipeline to become bogged down with crowdfunding teams who enter it but do not leave it. This is common if they are not stewarded through the process. A bloated system like this can result in even more complexity as you try to determine who’s still in and who’s out.

USEED will help you organize this pipeline of crowdfunding projects through a reporting framework. This allows you to rest easy knowing that we have organized a system and actively follow up with teams to ensure they never become stuck in the process.

There is undoubtedly a steep learning curve in building, launching, and growing a Crowdfunding Program without outside support. While we hope to become your greatest ally as you embark on this journey, we are confident that you will make the right choice for you, your office, and your institution.

Now go make great things happen for the future of higher education!


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Kristen Gluch | Director of Content Development

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