Partner Spotlight: Micro Crowdfunding and the Unrestricted Fund
How will crowdfunding affect the unrestricted fund?
This is one of the first questions Advancement and Annual Giving leaders ask us when we discuss the concept of cause or project-specific micro-crowdfunding campaigns, which are often led by the student population.
In our quest to rally a comprehensive answer, we asked one of our partners, Amanda Chavero, who is Knox College’s Assistant Director of the Knox Fund, how crowdfunding has affected their college’s unrestricted fund.
Here’s what Amanda had to say:
Having worked with USEED for over a year now, I feel confident sharing that the involvement and engagement of students in the USEED platform has only enhanced our office’s fundraising efforts.
One of our biggest concerns when we signed on was that we would be losing our unrestricted annual fund donors to restricted gifts. Not only has that not been the case, as we’ve seen an increase in multiple gifts from individual donors, but without hiring a single additional staff member, we have enriched our donor messaging platform, increased the number and variety of solicitations that we send and have started to explore ways in which the data we collect from USEED campaigns can help us improve donor retention.
Perhaps it is because we are a small shop, but the nuance and segmentation that we have been able to incorporate in our fundraising strategy has proven invaluable. One of the advantages of crowdfunding is that donors have the opportunity to self-identify across affinity groups, and as we evolve our communication plan to celebrate the successes of past campaigns, we have uncovered new opportunities to reach out to these donors.
One example is our men’s basketball team, who successfully funded a campaign at this time last year. Last week, we were able to send a personalized email to those donors. In a very short message, we said that we remember and appreciate their support last year. We continued, explaining that, while the men’s team doesn’t have a campaign this year, if they wanted to renew their gift, the team would benefit from their continued support. We closed by inviting them to the season opener. It was signed by the head coach and sent out through iModules so we could track analytics.
We sent the email to 50 individuals – removing anonymous donors, current students, and friends (neither alumni nor family of current students). We had a 56% open rate and directly generated 4 gifts (it only counts those who clicked through from the email – it does not count anyone who may have navigated to the page through a different window). Two individuals unsubscribed from future emails.
While this didn’t generate a big gift, it does tell us that we are crafting messages that [donors] want to see. Sometimes the hardest part is not crafting the message, but getting our audience to engage with it. By allowing our donors to self-identify and selectively engage, we are increasing our ability to customize the donor’s experience with the College.
We are all familiar with how important it is to embrace a donor-centered approach to fundraising. And you can be certain that we are all very amused at how the complaints that, “all you do is ask me for money,” have quieted. Ten years ago, that was the chorus. Today, we send more solicitations than ever, but by balancing hard and soft asks and using a multi-channel approach that focuses on information the donor wants to see, our messages are well-received. (Our email open rates – including general newsletters to the entire Knox community – are consistently in the 20%-40% range, and targeted email asks, like the basketball email, are much higher.)
At the end of the day, USEED helps us work smarter. Not only do we enjoy greater flexibility and responsiveness in meeting the needs of our audience, we are simultaneously increasing the visibility of campus affinity groups who don’t usually get the top headlines in our community… and we didn’t hire any additional staff to do it. All of this, and I haven’t even talked about how our students graduate with tangible fundraising experience and a genuine appreciation for what our office does as they become the alumni we strive to engage.
In our industry, we don’t often get win-win situations. USEED is one of them.
Thank you, Amanda! It is because of pioneers and risk-takers like you that we are able to simultaneously support students in pursuing the initiatives that can transform their higher education experience and the unrestricted funds at colleges and universities around the world. We look forward to seeing what the future of crowdfunding at Knox College looks like because of you!